Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In the News: Babies Teach Social Emotional Learning

We recently read an article about a school-based program called Roots of Empathy that helps children learn about emotions by having them spend time with babies.  This news story reported that through this program, children in the classroom are encouraged to observe the babies’ development and label the babies' feelings. They then discuss those feelings and relate them to their own. Sounds a bit like reading cues to us! So, how does social emotional learning (SEL) work?

Social emotional learning is “the process of acquiring core competencies to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively.”  (Durlak 2011) SEL programs help children develop healthy behaviors related to self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.
Special school-based programs, like Roots of Empathy, teach social emotional learning in two ways. Students learn how to process and apply social and emotional skills, such as labeling and understanding emotions, appropriately. These skills are taught by modeling and practice so that the children can apply them in real life situations.

How does all of this fit with baby behavior education?
Learning how to recognize and respond to baby cues improves babies' relationships, but it doesn’t have to end there. Teaching siblings or other children about baby behavior, how to understand the baby’s emotions and needs, is not just helpful for parents and babies; it may also be beneficial for the older child as well.

SEL programs are associated with lower levels of problem behaviors and emotional distress, improved academic performance, improved attitudes about self and others, and increased positive social behaviors such as sharing and helping others.
Incorporating SEL at home

If you have older children, teach them about the cues that your baby uses to communicate. Encourage your children to use the cues to “play detective” to see if they can figure out what the baby needs. They will love the challenge and enjoy feeling helpful. Your older child will feel more in control as you teach him or her how to tell when baby needs a break from playtime and your baby will be happier because of it! As your child begins to identify cues and emotions of your baby, talk with them about their own emotions. By helping them label their baby brother or sister’s cues and feelings, they will become more aware of their own feelings. 

Roots of Empathy Program: http://www.rootsofempathy.org/

Durlak JA, Weissberg RP, Dymnicki AB, Taylor RD, Schellinger KB. The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Dev 2011;82(1):405-32.

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