Prioritizing Social and Emotional Development for Children After a Separation

At Inside SEL, our mission is to act megaphone, amplifying the great work being done by leaders in education and social-emotional learning across the country.

Throughout the past year, we have been incredibly fortunate to help build and interact with an amazing community of educators, administrators, researchers, parents, students, and other proponents of whole child educationMany of our readers will write to us with their own stories and opinions about the future of education, and we view it as part of our goal to help share high-impact stories with as wide of an audience as possible.

The following piece was authored by Charlie Fletcher, a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.


Though all of this is important, it can be difficult to really zero-in on how to instill these skills in children. The development of these skills can become an even more significant concern when there is a separation in the family. The emotional trauma of a parental separation can set children back in their social and emotional development, making it an even greater priority.

Building Social and Emotional Intelligence

Many parents clearly realize the benefits of instilling social and emotional intelligence skills in their children at a young age. After all, both adults and children with higher emotional intelligence are likely to be better communicators, manage stress and anxiety more effectively, and empathize with others at a higher level. Some even link emotional intelligence to increased self-awareness and greater long-term planning capabilities. 

Social and emotional intelligence are also tightly linked to greater employment success. For instance, studies indicate that emotionally intelligent individuals are more likely to:

  • Manage stressful situations and high-pressure environments more successfully.
  • Show better decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • Work to resolve conflicts.
  • Empathize with coworkers’ personal and professional difficulties.
  • Respond more effectively to constructive criticism.
  • Maneuver through difficult or awkward social situations with ease.

Although there are plenty of reasons to build social and emotional skills, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. Experts suggest a few different strategies for building emotional intelligence in children such as leading through example, building self-esteem, and encouraging critical thinking skills from a young age.  

Working through a Separation

There is no mistaking that a divorce or separation emotionally impacts a child. Plenty of studies have linked a higher risk of depression or anxiety, difficulties maintaining relationships, and struggles with emotional communication to children that experienced a difficult parental separation at any age. Some research has indicated that cordial relationships between parents and shared parenting after a separation can help alleviate some of these issues, which means it should be a goal for any set of parents who can no longer be with each other. 

Working through a separation can be emotionally trying for everyone, so it is important to have open and realistic lines of communication with the children. Obviously, not every detail of the separation needs to be discussed, but being open to answering questions and explaining the potential emotional positives of a separation for everyone can go a long way. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a great deal of stress on many relationships, and for a lot of couples, it was a make-or-break type of year. It has also been profoundly stressful for children with being out of school and having budding social relationships interrupted. A parental separation on top of that can be a real challenge to work through, and parents need to check in often with their children’s emotional health — another example of leading by example when it comes to emotional intelligence. 

Adding New Relationships

Sooner or later, there will likely come a time when separated parents are ready to start bringing new relationships into the lives of their children. Of course, this can be another emotional rollercoaster for kids, which can also provide another opportunity to work on social and emotional intelligence. Once again, leading by example through open conversations and empathy can go a long way in helping to strengthen these skills. 

To avoid any unnecessary boat rocking, it is essential to ask your new significant other about kids before introducing them to the children as this can be a relationship dealbreaker. Go slowly, as children may not always be receptive to a new person in their lives. Prioritizing providing support to the kids can be valuable in helping them cope and in building greater emotional intelligence during trying times. 

Although fewer young people are getting married these days, that is no reason to think that there is a substantial difference between divorce and separation in the eyes of a child. For many, the words don’t matter, it is the fact that Mom and Dad are no longer together under the same roof. This should also be considered when introducing new relationships — every failed relationship a child witnesses is another hurdle they will have to conquer to be fully developed emotionally and socially intelligent adults. 


Developing social and emotional intelligence in kids is difficult even under the best circumstances. During a separation, perhaps the best way to maintain this development is to lead by example and check in with them regularly on their emotional well being. The support provided during this time is critical in the long run. 

Categories SEL

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