Social Emotional Learning. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s a major buzzword these days and for good reason. SEL includes learning about our feelings: how to recognize them, how to manage them, and how to notice them in others. A hugely important social and life skill, SEL is finally being recognized and addressed in schools.
In our family, we’ve made sure it’s a big part of our home teaching as well. My kids watched Daniel Tiger, and we fill our bookshelves with books about naming and recognizing feelings.
We talk a great game.
“All feelings are normal. All feelings are human. And all feelings belong and can be worked with.”
But as an adult, I’ve found the hardest part is practicing what we preach. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to bottle up all “bad” feelings–sadness, anger, embarrassment–until I can be alone.
Crying in the bathroom anyone?
It’s a natural instinct and not necessarily a bad one. Clearly, we don’t want all our anger exploding all over our children. But what if our kids could watch us work through some of these feelings, could actually see their grown-ups process . . . say . . . sadness?
When my daughter was just under two, I broke down crying in front of her one day. It wasn’t anything dramatic that caused it. I was just overwhelmed. She stood close to me, looked at the tears on my face, and said “mama sad.”
And instead of my initial reaction to comfort her and say, “No, I’m alright,” I just said, “Yes, mama’s sad.”
I cried. She saw. And I was alright.
Last year we had to put our cat to sleep. My cat. Of 18 years. Who’d moved across the country with me and been my baby before I had the human ones. I sobbed. My children saw. And when my youngest at the time asked about it, I simply said “I’m very sad. I’ll miss Bella.” Then, when I kept crying and saw a worried look on his face, I said, “I will be okay. But right now I just need to be sad. And that’s okay too.”
I hope that my kids absorb that language. “Right now I just need to be sad. And that’s okay.”
Because it is okay even though it doesn’t always feel that way. Sadness is human. Sadness is a part of being alive. And sadness ends.
Now, if I or my child says, “I’m just feeling a little sad today,” we all try to remember it’s not the end of the world but a passing emotion. We give hugs. We ask if there’s anything they need. And we try to just make space for their sadness.
Social Emotional Learning. Turns out it’s good for us adults too. We’re not perfect and it’s not always easy.
I suppose that’s the learning part.
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