We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience. –John Dewey
How to teach social emotional learning
To teach social-emotional skills, educators and parents need to build in time for children to imagine, experiment, and reflect on their experiences and choices, just like any other subject matter. This includes:
- Discussing conflicts and trying out different ways to resolve them
- Naming and being with feelings/emotions inside oneself & expressed by others
- Playing with how to manage big emotions and have compassion for self & others
- Experimenting with sharing, negotiation & collaboration
- Practicing how to be neutral and curious enough to really let in the thoughts, beliefs and values of others without having to defend your own
- Reflecting on the results and feelings from all of the above before, during & after
Being a Mindful Model
To learn social-emotional skills, young children must be safe and encouraged to explore, make mistakes, and viscerally feel. They need a safe, empathetic, and playful environment that provides them with strategies, tools, and reflection around the development of self & emotional awareness, self-care & regulation, social awareness, empathy, and cooperation. You, teacher or parent, make this possible by being a mindful model & compassionate mirror:
- Emotionally honest, self-regulating, available, curious, and responsive
- Clear with expectations and guidelines. Consistent with appropriate consequences.
- Calm when angry. Caring when frustrated. Compassionate with everyone including yourself.
- Supportive with instruction & acknowledging of efforts. Never mock or shame.
- Give choices and respect wishes. Reflect on results. Don’t micro-manage.
- Ask questions that help children solve problems and self-regulate on their own.
- Be culturally aware and respectful.
The Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum gives you everything you need to teach SEL and fulfill most other standards.
Practicing meditation enhances your ability to be the mindful model & compassionate mirror. When you practice focusing your attention, rather than letting it jump around, you move into in your higher neocortex brain and your para-sympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, and out of your lower survival, automatic brain and sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. You reset your mind-body into an optimal state.
Most of us are programmed to do, act, accomplish. We do not value being, reflecting, processing. Even in the face of all the research that tells us the value of mindfulness practices, it’s hard for most of us to choose to take the time. We have too many things to do! But if you want to improve your capacity to teach SEL, it’s a requirement.
I started volunteering one afternoon a week at a nearby hospital. Basically, I show up to the pediatric and perinatal units and work with whomever the staff therapist suggests I do. She then introduces me as the yoga – mindfulness specialist and encourages them to take 10-15 minutes with me for a personalized, stress-reducing, mind-body break. Sometimes, I do a little yoga and/or relaxation with a child and /or their parent(s). Mostly, I work one on one with Moms. These women are understandably wound-up and worried. They are fearful and trying to hide it. They are super-stressed themselves while trying to manage everyone else’s stress.
When the therapist reassures them that she will stay with sick the child and gives them permission to go with me to a quiet corner, they usually do so gladly. They know they need to take care of themselves, but they haven’t had the time or the containment to take a deep breath, let alone process their own feelings. So that’s what we do … mindful, somatic self-care and regulation. I meet them where they are and support them with my attunement and guiding words to come into the present, to feel their bodies, to identify with their fluid health, and to observe and allow the sensations of their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. In the process, their systems down-regulate into a slower, more grounded, balanced, and peaceful state.
The therapist and staff at the hospital tell me that I’m making a big difference for everyone, not just those with whom I work. This surprised me at first. But after some thought, I realized, of course. Those women that feel better are then able to set a whole new tone for the entire family as well as the doctors and nurses serving them. Then, I received an email from IPPF with facts about the correlation of women’s health to global health. In honor of Earth Day, I share them. They illuminate the macro effect of what I experience supporting Moms one-on-one at the hospital.
Fact: Women’s health and the planet’s health are inextricably intertwined. There’s a powerful ripple effect that emerges from women’s empowerment: Women are healthier. Children are healthier. Death and disease go down. All as a result of simple investments in basic technologies like condoms, the pill, and prenatal healthcare.
Fact: Scientists from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health report that improving access to family planning services is the most cost-effective way to address food insecurity and climate change. They estimate that a $9.4 billion annual investment in reproductive health could slow climate change by reducing emissions by up to 29%.
Fact: Global health experts say investing in family planning is a development “best buy” that accelerates efforts to reduce poverty, achieve gender equality, and create healthy and sustainable communities.
Learning to notice that you are sped up and, in response, down-regulate, is a valuable life skill. It will give your children a foundation upon which to build self-awareness, self-regulation and well-being. The steps outlined in this article are to support you in slowing down.
One – because to successfully teach children to slow down, you’ll have to authentically embody it.
Two – because to be present and able to enjoy your own life, you need to cultivate a slower speed – a speed that allows you to receive, respond, and create meaning.
Step 1: Make Friends with Time
Before you get out of bed, repeat to yourself several times: I have plenty of time. And I so appreciate the time that I have. Notice if some inner voice starts making objections. If so, address them. Have you planned too much? Have you not allotted enough time to get from A to B if there’s traffic. Whatever shows up, acknowledge it with a promise to look into it later and if need, make changes. Then, go back to repeating: I have plenty of time, until you actually feel appreciative in your heart and body. Let in that Time is the gift that allows you to experience your life, express yourself in it, and share it with the people you love.
Step 2: Prioritize Well-Being – Let Your Body Be Your Guide
Now that you and Time are friends, notice how you feel. Name the quality – open, present, relaxed, easy, available, happy, soft, alive. Set an intention to BE that way throughout your day. Make sustaining that feeling in your body your top priority and move your to-do list down to secondary! Use this feeling/quality as your compass. Whenever you notice you don’t feel that way, shift yourself back into it. If you experience that you are unable to shift yourself to a state of ease or that you spend most of your day stressed, recognize that you are negatively impacting your health and it’s time to make some lifestyle changes.
Step 3: Cultivate a daily meditation or mindfulness practice
It’s vital to spend at least 15 minutes a day in a practice that calms your nervous system, clears your mind, and develops your self-awareness. To be able to slow down and be mindful throughout the day, you need to easily and quickly be able to drop into that slowed down place in your body. There are many meditation, mindfulness, and self-care tools and techniques to choose from. On our site alone, you’ll find self-regulation cards, instructional videos , and blogs. My practice always starts with:
- Sending my energy and awareness down to connect /ground to earth. I like to imagine being a tree or mountain and that the earth is holding me.
- Resting back into wherever I am – the chair, the bed, the floor. I release any tension to gravity and acknowledge the support I receive in return.
- Breathing fully and slowly in and out my nose and slowing my inner speed. I also imagine my eyes widening apart and my forehead expanding like the horizon, and my mid-brain soft and fluid.
- Sometimes I visualize someone I love or something for which I am grateful in order to attune to the positive.
- Then, I notice how my inner sensations have shifted and I acknowledge myself for choosing to make that shift.
- I identify with my awareness and sit with what is. I allow what arises and observe with neutrality.
Step 4: Re-Organize
Re-organize your life by applying the Priority Principle. Distinguish what is important from what is urgent. Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our bigger goals and intentions. Urgent activities demand attention now, and are usually associated with maintenance or achieving someone else’s goals. In other words, urgent is not important, and important is never urgent. Identify the intentions and goals that deeply matter to you and attend to them first. Stop the urgent tasks from pulling your focus, eating up your time, and leaving you stressed out. If you want to successfully slow down, enjoy your life, be a mindful parent, write a book, get healthier, or create something new inside of a full life – you must value your time and designate how you will spend it.
Step 5: It’s okay to Say No
As you slow down and start to re-prioritize and re-organize, you become more intentional about your life. If you’ve been through a process with Steps 1 – 4, chances are you more protective of how you want to spend your time and aware of how much time you need for the things you really care about. Hand in hand with creating what you want for yourself is holding a boundary with others. Be honest with them about what you want for yourself. That usually takes the sting out of saying: No. It can also steer the conversation toward mutual support. How might you help each other in slowing down, enjoying life, and focusing on what’s truly important?
Sharon Salzburg: Everything eventually slows down to a manageable pace when we allow our relationship with this moment to matter.
Over the years, I’ve learned that making time to both set intentions and to self-reflect always pays-off. Self-inquiry, as much as self-regulation, is an essential tool for personal growth, empowerment, and fulfillment. Everything works out better when I’m clear on the inside first, and when I take responsibility for what actually happened, after.
At the beginning of 2014, when I set the intention to embody ease, it launched me into a life changing self-inquiry process. I didn’t know how to function with ease – and get everything done?! It seemed impossible. Stressed and pushing myself defined my way of being much of the time. I tried to off-set it with yoga and meditation but that was just a band-aid. I needed to look deeper and address how my nervous system was constantly in a rev and re-calibrate.
I didn’t know how to do ease but I was committed to being it. Notice that I was not intending what but how. I was not looking to accomplish more, but to feel ease inside of all my actions. The good news is that inside of every heartfelt intention are the resources to manifest it. I just had to use ease as my new compass and figure out how to stay on course as I went along. It’s like balancing. I had to stay present and responsive to the dynamic feedback loop with my whole body-mind-heart. In the process, I learned how. Living from a place of receiving rather than forcing is well worth it. And it’s an on-going practice. Being mindful, authentic, self-realizing requires continual self-inquiry and reflection.
For most of us, we wake up and think about what we have to do today. My recommendation is to, instead, before getting out of bed, spend time attuning to how and who you want to be today. The ability to attune and embody an intention takes scheduling time to regularly look inward and process thoughts, feelings, judgments, desires, mistakes, inner conflicts, behaviors in a productive way. That’s how I define self-inquiry – as a meditative form of mental-emotional hygiene that enables you to align thought-word-deed more fully and more specifically.
Before embarking on anything – a new day, a new year, a transition, a project, or a stage of life, it’s important to explore what’s really true for you so that the intentions you set feel visceral and can powerfully inform and organize your choices and responses.
- What do I want to create? How do I want to contribute?
- Where am I really coming from? How do I want to feel?
- What qualities do I want to embody? What qualities do I embody by default?
- What am I responsible for? What am I not responsible for? What’s my role?
- What part of myself am I identified with? What other parts could I identify with?
- Are parts of myself in conflict? What am I not looking at?
- What can I let go of? What do I choose to nurture?
- What lights me up? What am I putting up with?
At the end of the day, the week, the experience and throughout, checking in supports your awareness, reaffirms your intentions, clears mental-emotional debris and stress, and enhances your ability to be more mindful and intentional.
- Was I attuned to my intention? Was I whom I intended to be?
- What showed up as a result of my intention that surprised me? scared me? thrilled me?
- What feedback did I get? What did I notice in others?
- What went well? Why? What didn’t go well? Why?
- What can I acknowledge myself for? What/Who am I grateful for?
- What was different? What was the same? What would I change?
Dr. Christine Carter, in her talk, Wisdom 2.0, points out that being over-busy and multi-tasking, do not make us more important or more productive. They actually cause cognitive overload, which causes mistakes, stress, and poor health. The truth is, in so many instances, less is more. Her advice is to focus on one thing at a time, to let yourself have “do nothing” time to daydream, and to pay attention to your feelings. I couldn’t agree more. There are three transformational intentions that would totally increase your mindfulness and your health should you take them on.
Make time for a quiet intention-setting in the morning. Set yourself up to attune to a quality or way of being that supports your highest self in everything you do.
Pause to attune to that quality throughout the day. Every time you do this, notice and release any tension or negative inner dialogue. Keep seeing and experiencing through the lens of your intention.
Be compassionate with yourself and everyone else. Do your best AND don’t take it too seriously. If your intention is to embody kindness, goodness, or clarity, you are not going to be perfect, so it’s important to be those qualities with yourself first and foremost!
I just discovered a new organization that you will all want to know about: Vroom!
Vroom provides parents with support and specifics (in English and Spanish) on how to stimulate their child’s brain during every day activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, and playing. They have a beautiful and encouraging 2 minute video directed to parents called: “Everyone has what it takes”. Watch it, you might even well up a little. I did!
Access to the Vroom website and information is totally free. Their program and commitment to encouraging and showing parents how to be “brain builders” in all their interactions with their children deeply warmed my heart. They do for parents what we at Move with Me ™ are working to provide for educators – and in a truly fun and mindful way.
Because the brain grows to 92% of its adult size in the first 5 years of life, it is the family that has the most influence in any child’s development. While genes make up the brain’s blueprint, experiences and interactions with care-givers are the building blocks of its architecture. With this in mind, the Vroom approach is based on three principles that apply just as much at home as at school:
Positive adult-child interactions lay the foundation for strong, resilient brains and are essential to healthy, optimal development, which can only happen within caring, consistent, supportive relationships.
Extended and stimulating adult-child interactions that go back and forth multiple times like a conversation, involve sustained eye contact, observations, questions and explorations inspire complex thinking and build the brain’s capacity to learn.
Modeling of life skills and reinforcement of executive functions, which can be integrated into daily activities and grow a child’s ability to focus, self-regulate, and manage impulses.
Their five basic brain builders include what all early childhood educators do to engage and support learning:
- Make eye contact – be present and responsive
- Chat – name and discuss what is happening in a developmentally appropriate way
- Follow – pick up on what the child offers and ask questions
- Stretch – build on and extend what the child says and does
- Take Turns – go back and forth playfully with words, sounds, movements, etc.
What if your new mantra was: I have plenty of time?
Say it to yourself a few times …. let it sink in to your body and mind as fact. Let yourself feel that you have plenty of time.
Notice your internal response. Did you soften, widen, slow down, take a deep breath? Did the outside world seem to slow down, too?
Notice you shifted your state with a shift in your thinking.
When TIME is your friend, and you appreciate her, she’s spacious and accommodating. When TIME is not your friend, and you belittle her, she is constricting and stress producing. TIME is a creation of your perception. How you hold her is how she appears in your world.
Last year, in order to shift the level of stress I felt in my life, my new year’s resolution was to align with specific qualities I wanted to feel – EASE being at the top of the list. In the process of cultivating ease, I realize now that I also re-created my experience of TIME. I could not feel ease and rush, or worry. I had to slow down and reorganize. And what a revelation… I learned that being busy all the time does not increase productivity; it is instead a recipe for misery by taking the enjoyment out of everything.
If you feel caught in some version of “rat race”, you are stuck in a round room. When you think, speak, and act as though there’s not enough time, your experience will reinforce that concept and continue to generate debilitating stress in a race of your own creation that you can never win.
Meditation, mindfulness practices, and yoga are wonderful ways to re-invent your concept of and relationship to TIME. Build in time for a practice or a class that resonates with you and stick to it. As with any practice, it is the cumulative effect of regularity over time that is essential for transformation.
Even if you spent just 20 minutes a day, 10 in the am and 10 in the pm, repeating the mantra: I have plenty of time, you would start to embody a slower inner speed, and a shift in consciousness that translates to less stress and more enjoyment. With plenty of TIME, you have the space to more deeply experience and appreciate the moments that make up your life.
The ability to slow down is available to everyone. It can feel uncomfortable at first because we are not mirroring the outside world but if we are willing to move through the discomfort, it feels more natural overtime until it actually begins to feel pleasurable to sit with our feelings. We become aware of the many different parts of a feeling we label with only one word. For example, we say I feel stress but when we slow down, we see stress is a representation of feeling tired, bored, anxious, irritated, inadequate and under-appreciated all at once. This deepening changes our relationship with time. Everything eventually slows down to a manageable pace when we allow our relationship with this moment to matter.