Social Emotional Learning – Now More Than Ever

Our young people are showing up and leading. Racism, police brutality, attacks on free speech, a global pandemic; they are out front saying enough is enough. We are watching history be made.

This is the point of social emotional learning; people standing in their full humanity, knowing they belong, naming and expressing feelings, asking for help, helping others, taking responsibility, and doing the work to nurture one another in community.

Social emotional learning (SEL) might sound like something we do for kids, and it is, but in large measure, it is about us – the adults. As people who have been shaped by trauma, social emotional learning gives us the tools to heal ourselves. As we engage with our kids, even (and especially) in stressful times, or when we’re not seeing eye-to-eye, we can show up in ways that cultivate empathy, build courage, draw out insight, and validate our child(ren)’s particular genius.

As this tumultuous 2019-2020 school year ends, Sound Discipline staff chose three social emotional learning topics to revisit with tools for learning and growing with your child this summer:  Repair, Contribution and Naming, and Understanding Feelings. To help you incorporate those tools into your family, we are revisiting the how-to of Family Meetings.


Mistakes are a powerful opportunity to learn, especially when parents model and teach how to repair our own mistakes. Unfortunately, many of us learned lessons from our mistakes that were unhelpful, like that we are bad, or that we must be perfect to be loved and accepted. These messages are deeply discouraging, and often make it less likely that we’ll take accountability for our actions. If we want to raise young people who can repair their mistakes, we must model how to make repair with our own mistakes. As we see our society grappling with how to repair the mistakes of systemic racism, these lessons for our kids are even more critical. Begin at home, with your family. Talk about how you might apply the tool of repairing mistakes to our larger community.


Making contributions to the greater community gives our children a sense of significance…the belief that they matter and that they are capable human beings. Contribution also alleviates feelings of anxiety and builds a sense of resiliency.

As parents we need to remember that to contribute to making change in the world, and even supporting our kids in their efforts, we need to take care of ourselves.  We need to spend time just being with our kids, creating joy and doing activities that fill our own cups. Then we have the stamina to do the work that needs to be done to help create a healthier, more equitable world for our kids to inherit.

Naming and Understanding Feelings

Like adults, kids experience complex feelings about their lived experiences and about the events they witness or see on the news. As parents, we have a really important role to play to coach our children to name and understand their feelings. In a society that shuns feelings, or where expressing feelings can be unsafe, we can affirm them and support our children to express and channel them appropriately. In this way, we are modeling empathy and compassion for our own and others’ emotions. We are teaching our kids to deal with their feelings in constructive ways.

Family Meetings

Provide structure to help a family come together to practice and use social emotional learning tools like naming and understanding feelings, repairing mistakes and planning contributions. They offer the opportunity for your child to have a voice, which helps build their resiliency, sense of hope and personal advocacy. During these challenging times, those messages make all the difference. If you haven’t tried family meetings before, now is a great time to jump in!

Family meetings generally follow this structure: compliments, planning, and problem solving.  When you have identified something to plan or problem solve, then brainstorm solutions (kids often have creative ideas that adults never think about.) Then agree on a next do-able step; be sure and record who will take action and when the action will take place. Remember to pass an object to give everyone equal talk time. 

These short videos from Sound Discipline explain each component of family meetings –

Putting Them All Together

Consider these activities for your family meetings, based on the 3 social emotional learning tools we recommend:

Celebrate the end of the school year

Creating a closure/transition ritual for your family is important to helping kids feel a sense of closure and readies them for what is coming next. Discussion questions: How will we celebrate the end of the school year? What would help us mark the end of the school year and get into our summer routine?  (family celebration, family field day, thanking teachers, creating a graduation book, ceremony, picture, or video).

Plan a contribution to your community 

Discussion questions: Do we believe our family can contribute to making the world a better place? What issues are most upsetting or most important to you now? What would you like to help with the most? What are some ideas on how to help?

Making and Repairing Mistakes

Discussion questions: What is a mistake you have made in the past or a family mistake we have made? Then pause to celebrate by giving a family cheer or signal to acknowledge the mistake. Did any of those mistakes make anyone feel bad? What kind of apology or repair might make the situation or person feel better?  What are some situations we see outside of our family that would be made better by trying to repair or making an apology and taking action?