The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning During a Pandemic

Our traditional education system is no longer normal. Nothing is, really. We are in the midst of (likely) the most historic event of our lifetime, and I–for one–was not prepared for the emotional toll of a pandemic. While teachers and ed leaders are working tirelessly to ensure that students have access to remote learning resources, pediatric psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors are urging us to recognize the psychosocial facets of this unprecedented event.

As Dr. Jamie Aten of Psychology Today points out, “Between the news, social media, other kids, and school announcements, your children are probably more aware of what’s going on than you realize.”

Social-emotional learning is not just a hopeful “extra” that we, as parent-teachers, can hope to get to in the busyness of our daily schedules. No, it is critical for our students’ cognitive processing and development through school closures and the aftermath of this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Basically, their social-emotional intellect and coping abilities from this point forward are dependent on our actions today. 

Yuval Neria, a professor of psychology at Columbia University Medical School and the director of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, recently shared this grim reality: “The scale of this outbreak as a traumatic event is almost beyond comprehension.” Sadly, this applies to our children’s experience as well.

Understanding Social-Emotional Learning

First, let’s talk Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, as it is often referred to in the education field. The Committee for Children defines SEL as “the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and success.” Long recognized as THE expert in all things SEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Learning (better known as CASEL) recognizes five core competencies necessary for Social-Emotional Learning: 

  • Self-Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Responsible Decision Making

Fortunately, you do not have to be a formal educator or counselor (though you likely feel like one at this point into our quarantine!) to incorporate SEL into your family’s new normal. Edutopia offers these actionable tips to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence, even during this unique moment in time: 

  • Be a good listener
  • Model the behavior you seek
  • Nurture your child’s self-esteem
  • Respect differences
  • Take advantage of support services

But it still feels like a lot of pressure!

Actually, it is crushing: the pressure that we have to keep our children safe, both physically and mentally, while also striving to maintain some semblance of normalcy through home-schooling, distance learning, and working remotely. I get it; I am right there with you. I have three kids of my own, each with his and her own unique emotional needs, and this swift lifestyle change has — at times — manifested into tears, tantrums, and anxiety over the past several weeks. They feel it, too…the pressure to keep on keeping on when something is clearly amiss. And that something is big (and scary), even for us as adults.

It was Benjamin Franklin who famously said that “out of adversity comes opportunity.” What better circumstance to shape our kids’ social-emotional learning than our current reality? Sure, it would be loads easier if we could keep this from our children, protecting them from the scariness and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic–something that none of us have experienced ourselves! So it is inevitable that COVID-19 will be ingrained into our kiddos’ memories.  Unfortunately, shielding them from our new reality isn’t exactly an option.

But, we can keep it light and hypothetical (think puppets and charades) by intentionally designing age-appropriate learning opportunities during this time of crisis to address our kids’ social and emotional needs. The context is set, but it is up to us–whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or all three–to frame the events of the COVID-19 pandemic in a manner that is beneficial to your learners. And, it can be simpler than you think! 

To be clear, this isn’t just one more thing to add to your overloaded plate. SEL simply being more intentional about your natural, parenting instincts.

Life-Ready Skills are key to Social-Emotional Learning! 

At engage2learn, we have identified seven essential Life-Ready Skills that, once mastered, will help students to thrive in their educational careers and, eventually, in their lives beyond the school walls. For more information about our LRS, check out our white paper: Life-Ready is Future-Proof.

Fostering Life-Ready Skills (LRS) by strengthening your child’s social-emotional development will benefit you both. Just think: how could having an autonomous learner in your household make virtual learning and teleworking subsist in harmony? Below, I’ll share how the SEL competencies from CASEL align to our e2L Life Ready Skills, the research behind the importance of these skills in our ever-changing world, and, most importantly, tips for cultivating these skills in your daily life today. Yes, even during a pandemic!

What if THIS is our moment to cultivate our children’s Life-Ready Skills through Social-Emotional Learning? 

With the unprecedented event of COVID-19 also comes the opportunity to shape their perception of world events through a lens of emotional growth. Be gentle with them (and yourself) through this process. Our hope is that you will look back on this time and reflect fondly on how your children have developed academically, socially, and emotionally. Get started today with the simple tips below, and feel free to use the e2L Life-Ready Skills tracking tools as our gift to you. You’ve got this!

Resources for Social-Emotional Learning

e2L Life-Ready Skills Tracker

e2L Tips for Social-Emotional Learning


Definition: The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”

  • Identifying emotions
  • Accurate self-perception
  • Recognizing strengths
  • Self-confidence

Tips: Check in with your OWN emotions first; parents are asked to put on their oxygen masks before putting on their kids’ for a reason! Then, help your child to identify his or her feelings and navigate through them. Heed this advice from CHKD Child Life Specialist, Stephanie Osler, in Norfolk, VA, and remember to give tons of warm feedback to build your learner’s self-confidence during this adjustment period.

e2L Life-Ready Skills College and Career Readiness Reports
Autonomy: Apply resourcefulness and persistence in learning situations. Initiate problem-solving and conflict resolution independently. Engage completely in self-directed tasks and customize challenges to find personal relevance Why Role Autonomy is Vital for Success and How to Encourage It (CIPHR)“Employees who are free to make their own choices about how they go about their responsibilities are happier, more committed, more productive and more loyal than those whose every action is prescribed. Autonomy is also an important contributing factor to employees’ sense of engagement with their work and organisation, and plays a big part in workers’ decisions to stay with an organisation or seek a new role elsewhere.”
Growth Mindset: Embrace new and difficult tasks as learning opportunities. Analyze mistakes and missteps for ways to grow. Eager to take risks and try new ideas. Why a Growth Mindset is Critical for Your Organization (CoreAxis)“When companies value a growth mindset, they tend to attract and retain top talent. Those employees tend to be more empowered, engaged, and committed. Therefore, these companies are more collaboration oriented and innovative than those made up of fixed mindset employees.”

Relationship Skills

Definition: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.

  • Communication
  • Social engagement
  • Relationship-building
  • Teamwork

Social Awareness

Definition: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

  • Perspective-taking
  • Empathy
  • Appreciating diversity
  • Respect for others

Tips: With social distancing in full swing nationwide, it may seem impossible for your child to maintain communication and engagement with his or her friends, but relationship-building AND relationship-enhancing are possible! Take 30 minutes each day for your student to connect with someone outside of your household, whether through a phone call, FaceTime, or virtual meeting system, like Google’s Hangouts Meet or Zoom. Help them to feel part of the bigger picture by writing letters or making cards for first responders, medical professionals, elderly citizens, and those on the front lines of home deliveries that are keeping us stocked with necessities.

e2L Life-Ready Skills College and Career Readiness Reports
Collaboration: Work effectively in various roles and within a team. Apply flexibility and value contributions of others to accomplish a common goal. Model effective conflict resolution within a team 15 Soft Skills You Need to Succeed When Entering the Workforce (Forbes)“One of the biggest surprises newcomers face is matrixed work environments. Getting things done usually requires working through others to achieve results. The ability to influence peers to provide deliverables—even without direct authority—is a learned skill. Mastery is essential.”
Communication: Articulate and converse thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts. The Power of Good Communication in the Workplace (Leadership Choice)“Good communication is an important skill in any environment with human interactions. However, when it comes to communication in the workplace, good communication is an integral element to business success.”
Creativity: Use a wide range of creation techniques to create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical). Apply inventiveness to collaboratively develop and refine ideas. Fostering Creativity at Work (Gallup)“Creativity is a business asset…leaders who encourage and support constructive risk-taking have cultures that feel safe and emotionally positive.” 


Definition: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

  • Impulse control
  • Stress management
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Goal-setting
  • Organizational skills

Tips: Now is as good a time as any to work on stress management, impulse control, and self-discipline. Incorporate a mindfulness activity into your daily routine or teach your child simple, diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Mindfulmazing offers fun, easy-to-implement tips for kids! This is also a great opportunity to introduce goal-setting and develop organizational skills.

e2L Life-Ready Skills College and Career Readiness Reports
Critical Thinking: Interpret and evaluate information to solve real problems with conventional and unconventional approaches. Critical Thinking: A Critical Skill in School and for the Future of Work (GettingSmart)
“Employees who display good critical thinking skills… ask important questions that drive a business to improve.”

Responsible Decision-Making

Definition: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

  • Identifying problems
  • Analyzing situations
  • Solving problems
  • Evaluating
  • Reflecting
  • Ethical responsibility

Tips: Use real-world connections to make your child’s at-home learning more relevant, and include them in the development of your household’s rules, expectations, and new routines. What is the problem? How can you solve it autonomously? When thinking of the bigger picture, encourage your learners to journal and reflect on their experiences during this pandemic; one day, their accounts will fill our history books. 

e2L Life-Ready Skills College and Career Readiness Reports
Professional Ethics: Exhibit integrity and authenticity in interactions with others. Honor commitments to team tasks and norms, including punctuality and meeting deadlines. Key “Soft Skills” That Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus Across Fields (Child Trends; USAID)
“The top five soft skills that promise to increase the chances of workplace success for youth include: social skills, higher-order thinking skills, communication, self-control, and positive self-concept…More focus on these skills promises to yield positive results across all four workplace outcomes examined: employment, performance on the job, income and wages, and entrepreneurial success.”