Social emotional learning is the process that helps children and young adults learn valuable life skills such as empathy, friendships, confidence, self-control, self-awareness, and responsibility. These are just a few of the many critical skills and competencies that are learned through social emotional practices.
If we want children and teens to acquire social emotional competencies, we have to teach and practice those skills often. Further, these skills are so important that it’s easy to argue that learning about them should be part of our every day.
With that, it is so important for every educator and parent to have techniques, strategies, and practices in their own social emotional toolbox.
Here are 12 daily social emotional practices to incorporate:
1. Practicing Mindfulness
We all want learners to feel more calm, focused, regulated, and happy. Mindfulness is one of the best techniques to help cultivate these qualities with kids and teens. This is certainly a skill that needs to be taught, but it really can be fun to do so!
Teaching about mindful breathing is a great place to start. I love this as a SEL skill and coping skill, because it’s a technique kids and teens can do anywhere and anytime. Some of my favorite mindful breathing techniques include Shape Breathing and Bubble Breathing. There are so many to try!
Ready to start your mindful practice? Use this set of mindfulness activities to teach about mindfulness, why it matters, and how it can be practiced each day.
2. Positive Affirmations
The words we say to ourselves can have a huge impact on our confidence and perseverance. There is no better way to start off each morning than with positive self-talk statements. Use this free positive affirmation activity to read positive phrases and develop your own individualized lists. It’s the first step in beginning a positive affirmations routine in your classroom (or at home).
3. SEL Journaling
SEL journaling is one of the most effective and efficient ways to teach social emotional skills. It’s easy to assign a journal prompt each morning for learners, have them respond in writing, and then discuss together.
So how can you start? You can come up with prompts and discussion questions that you know your students need the most at the moment. For example, if you need to work on positive decision-making skills, ask students to write about what it means to make a good choice and list off some positive choices they have made this week.
If you need more support and structure in a SEL Journal, you can use a Social Emotional Learning Journal filled with prompts for the entire year (and yes I have a SEL Journal for younger learners too!).
One of my favorite parts of a SEL Journal is that it becomes a record of the skills you have discussed and learned together. That means you can easily review a section if you need to work more on empathy, perspective-taking, responsibility, or any other skill.
4. Practicing Coping Strategies
When managing stress and tough emotions, coping strategies are key. These are the techniques we use to keep ourselves calm. One of the most important points to make about coping strategies is that they are unique for every person. One child might feel calmest during and after coloring, while another child might need to do jumping jacks. This is why practicing coping strategies on a regular basis is so important.
Use this free printable list of coping strategies to help children and teens discuss different techniques and what might work for them.
5. SEL Question of the Day
Discussions can be a powerful tool when it comes to learning social emotional skills. With a SEL question of the day, pose a question and chat about it. It’s really that easy. This can be a positive start to your morning or an activity you do while waiting for the dismissal at the end of the day.
For example, to start the conversation about diversity, you might ask, “What is something about you that is unique, special, or stands out?” It’s just one simple question but helps begin the conversation about how we can all be similar and different at the same time. Because kids and teens will be discussing the questions and interacting with each other, it can be a highly motivating way to integrate SEL skills too.
Some other examples of questions of the day might include:
- Self-control is stopping, thinking, and making a good choice. Why is it important to stop and think about choices?
- Having a growth mindset means knowing you can improve skills with hard work. What does determination mean to you?
- What are some social expectations to follow when playing games or sports?
- Relationship skills are the tools and knowledge we use to build relationships. What skills are important in relationships?
If you are ready to start using a question of the day to support SEL skills, you can grab this yearlong set of SEL questions to target skills from self-awareness through decision-making.
Greetings help children and teens feel valued. While it’s a simple strategy, it’s one worth mentioning. Research shows that greeting children and teens at the doorway as they walk into the classroom sets an important tone. This simple action can increase student engagement, reduce challenging behaviors, and help kids feel a sense of belonging.
Use this free printable (and digital) greetings poster to remind kids and teens how they can greet each other each day. Add it to your morning meeting routine or just do it as students walk in the room.
7. Brain Breaks
No one can be “on” all of the time. That’s why brain breaks are so important. They are a semi-structured activity time to help children and teens move their bodies and calm their minds. Practice these tasks between activities or when you notice your students need a quick pause.
Some simple brain break ideas include:
- Stretching or exercising
- Playing a game like Simon Says or I Spy
- Dancing to music
- Coloring or drawing
- Having a sing-a-long
- Mindful breathing
One of my personal favorite brain break activities are these mindful brain breaks with a nature theme. It’s always helpful to try different brain breaks and see what works for your learners.
8. Relationship-Building Chats
Relationship-building is something that should be worked on throughout the entire year with kids and teens. A few relationship-building questions or discussion starters is a great way to support relationship-building while also conversation skills, empathy, and more.
Use this free list of relationship-building questions to always have something fun and engaging to talk about!
9. Real-Life Scenarios
Help children and teens make positive choices and learn social emotional skills through real life experiences. To do this, give a scenario and ask, “What would you do?” Students can talk with a partner or small group and then share back with the class.
This is another favorite activity because not only can it be part of your everyday routine, but these cards are an excellent way to maximize instructional learning time too. Just have extra cards ready for when a lesson ends early or when students are late getting picked up.
Download these free social problem-solving scenario cards to get started discussing social skills with your learners.
10. Organization Time
In order for children and teens to do their best in the classroom, they need daily organization time. Sometimes, the day goes by extremely quickly, leaving students with messy binders, disorganized backpacks, and desks filled with things that should be other places.
Make it a daily routine to give 10 minutes of organization time at the end of every day. It’s a healthy way to support social emotional skills while also building executive functioning skills that we all know are so important.
11. Morning Meeting
Morning meeting is a semi-structured time to welcome students and perform a group activity. This is a time that sets the tone for a positive climate, builds meaningful relationships, increases student confidence, and creates a community where all voices matter.
In addition to all of that, morning meeting is also one of the best and most natural times to teach social emotional skills. In just five steps in a morning meeting you can:
- Start with greetings.
- Introduce a SEL skill or topic.
- Start a group discussion.
- Do an activity or two together.
- Reflect and get prepared before moving on for the rest of the day.
You can perform this five-step morning meeting process on your own, but if you need a little more structure and support, you might want to check out this yearlong morning meeting set to get started. It started as printable morning meeting cards (one per day) but also has digital slides to project or use when students are learning from home.
12. Emotions Check-in
It’s healthy and normal to check in with emotions on a regular basis. We need to explicitly teach and practice this for learners to really understand that!
The steps to checking in with emotions include:
- Pausing for a moment to breathe.
- Asking yourself how you feel.
- Saying the emotion words out loud or writing them.
- Thinking about your feelings. Sit with them and let them be!
- Ask yourself what you need.
Use this free 5-step emotions check in poster to get started!
Just a note that these are really just a few strategies for integrating SEL with kids and young adults. What’s most important is that you try a technique and stick with it to see how it works for you and your learners.
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