There’s been a lot of chatter about how kids are behind academically as a result of COVID. As much as two years of school in some cases. But academics is not the only or frankly the most important thing that kids are behind on. Their social and emotional growth has taken a two-year hit as well. So why should social and emotional development be your major concern?
I love to walk in my neighborhood particularly in Springtime when everything is in bloom. I recently stopped to talk to a fellow gardener who as it turns out is a substitute teacher at the 7th grade level in one of our local public schools. She had recently returned to teaching to help the school district, which is desperately low on teachers. Prior to retirement she had taught in the lower grade levels of 5th and 6th but had opted for an older group which she thought would be a bit easier to manage. What she shared about her current experiences and struggles in substitute teaching totally grabbed my attention.
“Social and emotional growth, much like academics, is running at least 2 years behind the normal development curve for many kids.”
Let me draw a picture for you. That means 7th graders are carrying around 7th-grade hormones and dealing with them with a 5th graders social/emotional toolset. For those of you who remember what junior high looked like, imagine dealing with all that you faced using only the social/emotional skills of a 5th grader. This is what teachers are seeing right now. Classrooms of kids are way behind in their ability to relate to one another in a civil and meaningful way. Basic social skills of courtesy, patience and taking turns, communicating respectfully, and collaborating with others have been lost. Emotional skills to manage frustration, and more frequent instances of bullying and depression are now common situations with our kids. How can kids focus on learning when this is what they are dealing with socially and emotionally? Part of the answer is that parents need to get serious about SEL (social emotional learning), and that starts at home!
How can we gauge where our kids are at emotionally and socially?
More importantly, how can we move them ahead from where they are today? Well, try playing a board game! Board games let parents model behavior while changing the relationship with the child from an instructive parent to a player simply modeling a behavior. How to win and lose gracefully, how to collaborate on solutions or help a younger sibling, how to speak respectfully to other players, and how to manage frustration when things don’t go your way in the game. Actions and reactions related to all these events can be modeled during gameplay. It doesn’t need to be announced that the purpose of your game night is to work on social and emotional growth (what kid wants to join that exercise?); it just needs to be practiced. And the real benefit is that everyone gets to have some fun while playing together.
Why does the need for SEL resonate so strongly with me? Because I experienced what being behind is like. When I was growing up parents did not think about social or emotional learning, they thought about academics. What that meant was getting your kids ahead academically as quickly as possible. Starting school at an early age, skipping grades and advanced placements were goals parents sought to achieve for their kids. For those like me with well-meaning parents, it meant entering Junior High at a physically young and even younger social and emotional age than my peers. I was totally unprepared for the experience, and the result was a sense of isolation, a lack of connectedness, a dislike of school and guess what…a drop in academic performance. Even a year’s difference in SEL skills between you and your peers at that age is a lot, and the bad news is that other kids will single you out.
Kids Need Opportunities to Connect and Engage Through Play!
What helped get me through that tough time? Well, some strong family support, a bit of stubborn resilience, and gameplay. Yep…gameplay. Specifically with my dad’s two sisters who loved dice and card games. Those memories are some of my fondest, and in retrospect provided a key opportunity for emotional growth and practice in a broad range of social and emotional behavior that was desperately needed. Was gameplay the total answer? No. Did it move me ahead while making me feel valued and socially connected? Yes. That is how I know that it will move your kids ahead too if you just give it a chance and go play!
A Few Social Development Games: