How Parents Can Encourage Their Children’s Social and Emotional Development at Home

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

Throughout the past few years, 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.


No one ever said parenting would be easy, nor should it be. After all, you’re giving another human being to the world. You’re raising a soul who will, hopefully, leave the human family better than they found it.

Indeed, parenting may well be the greatest contribution you could ever make to the world. It’s little wonder that this incredibly important and powerful role is also among the toughest you can ever fulfill.

Very often, we become so immersed in ensuring our children’s physical health and academic development that we forget about or at least underestimate another critical component of healthy development: social and emotional learning.

The reality is that a child’s social and emotional development is instrumental to success and well-being across all domains of life, from mental and physical health to academic and professional achievement. Often, the school environment plays a pivotal role in fostering children’s social and emotional development. However, in the COVID era, children are spending an increasing amount of time at home. So how can parents help foster their child’s social and emotional development while at home?

What is Social and Emotional Development?

As the name suggests, social and emotional development refers to the constellation of skills that relate to interpersonal relationships and self-regulation. Not surprisingly, these are the skills that are essential to building a happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and highly functional adult life.

Social and emotional learning relates principally to the so-called “soft skills” that are not only fundamental to personal development and relationship-building but also career success. Children and adults with strong social and emotional skills are better communicators, problem solvers, and crisis managers.

They tend to have a higher sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy. They are also more empathetic and resilient and less impulsive, reactive, and emotionally dysregulated than those with poorly developed social and emotional skills.

Encouraging Your Child’s Social/Emotional Development at Home

Traditionally, school environments and peer relationships have been among the most important avenues through which social/emotional development occurs. Children learn to cultivate friendships, navigate complex relationships, and form a sense of personal identity through their interactions with peers and authority figures outside of the family group.

In our pandemic and post-pandemic worlds, however, children are spending more time at home and thus may have fewer opportunities to build relationships or forge a strong, clear sense of self outside of the family nucleus.

That’s doesn’t mean that your child’s social and emotional development is inevitably going to be stunted just because they may be learning from home or engaging with friends primarily through digital devices. There are important things that you can do right now to encourage your child’s social and emotional learning while they’re at home.

Model and Foster Self-Confidence

When your kids go out into the world and begin to engage with people outside of their family group, they begin to develop a sense of self that isn’t merely a reflection of or defined by their position within the family or household.

Healthy and enduring relationships with peers, teachers, and others outside of their kin group enable kids to not only begin forging their own identity but also to cultivate self-confidence. As children learn to build and maintain friendships on their own, resolve problems of their own accord, and experience being loved and valued by others outside of the family group, their sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy grows.

Fortunately, this is not the only way that your child learns self-confidence. Indeed, as a parent, you are your child’s greatest role model. What that means is that you can model self-confidence for your child.

So focus on demonstrating what confidence and competence look like in daily life. Never negatively compare yourself to someone else, especially when it comes to things like appearance.

Also, remember the power of body language. When you smile often and carry yourself with your head held high, back straight, and shoulders back, you’re going to project a sense of happiness and self-esteem that your child will see and, ultimately, emulate.

You should also model confidence and self-esteem by practicing self-care: getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthfully, and taking time to do the things you love. When you do that, you’re showing your child how to value themselves, how to practice self-care.

Nurture Your Mental and Emotional Health

Because your child takes their cues from you, you must prioritize your own well-being, both regarding physical health and mental and emotional health. Your child is likely far more affected by any distress you may be experiencing than you might realize.

That means that if you are struggling with mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, the odds are that your child will see it and learn potentially unhealthy patterns from it, no matter how you are treating it.

Ensure that you are exhibiting for them the healthy coping skills you want them to adopt themselves. Share your struggles with them in an age-appropriate manner.

Above all, take steps to nurture your mental and emotional health, including seeking professional help when you need it. Not only will you be a healthier, happier, and more “present” parent for your child, but you will also be teaching them crucial lessons about self-care, the importance of mental health, and the power of emotional self-regulation.

Set Boundaries on Technology

With kids spending more time than ever at home, mobile digital devices, such as tablets, have become increasingly important both to the academic and social lives of our children. This reality presents a powerful opportunity for fostering children’s emotional and social learning not only through the use of tablets to engage peers but also by establishing clear boundaries in how and when tablets are used.

For example, you might set limits on the times of day when tablets are allowed. You might require your kids to reserve morning and evening hours for family time while allotting just a few hours in the afternoon for the tablet.

This can not only teach children key emotional skills such as impulse control and self-regulation, but it also requires them to thoughtfully manage their relationships with peers and family members alike. In other words, they learn to recognize the needs of others, such as the need for parents and siblings to have both time for themselves as well as time with the child, time when family members’ full attention is on each other and not on their device.

The Takeaway

Social and emotional learning is critical to a child’s health development and future success and well-being. Fortunately, it’s possible to foster your child’s development even when they’re at home. It simply takes time, commitment, and strategy.

Categories SEL in K-12

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