Social Emotional Learning

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Social emotional learning is defined as a process for helping children gain critical social skills for life effectiveness, such as developing positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively. The specific skills that allow kids to function and complete daily occupations (such as play, learning, participating in social situations, rest, dressing, writing, riding a bike, interacting with others…) are those social emotional skills that help children to recognize and manage emotions, interact with others, think about their feelings and how they should act, and regulate behavior based on thoughtful decision making.

One piece of addressing underlying social emotional learning needs in kids is the fact that the behaviors that we see have an underlying cause that can be found as a result of regulation of emotions, making decisions, and acting on impulses. Social emotional skills are not always a cut and dry aspect of development.

Social emotional learning is an important part of child development and an essential skill that kids need to accomplish daily tasks.

Social Emotional Learning

Today, I wanted to expand on that idea. So many times, we run into children on our therapy caseloads or in our classroom (or hey, even in our own homes!) who struggle with one area…or several. Remembering that beneath the behaviors, troubles with transitions, acting out, irritability, sleep issues, inflexible thoughts, frustrations, etc…can be emotional regulation components.

Let’s consider some of the ways our kids may struggle with social and emotional competencies. We might see kids with difficulty in some of these occupational performance areas (occupational performance = the things we do…the tasks we perform):

  • Academics/learning
  • Management of stress in learning/chores/daily tasks
  • Creating of personal goals in school work or personal interests and following through
  • Making decisions based on ethical and social norms in play, learning, or work
  • Understanding/Engaging in social expectations (social norms) in dressing, bathing, grooming, etc.
  • Social participation
  • Conflict resolution with friends
  • Empathizing with others
  • Responding to feedback in school, home, or work tasks
  • Making good judgement and safety decisions in the community
  • Showing manners
  • Understanding subtle social norms in the community or play
  • Transitions in tasks in school or at home
  • Ability to screen out input during tasks
  • Cooperation in play and in group learning
  • Considering context in communication
  • Emotional control during games

Wow! That list puts into perspective how our kids with regulation concerns really may be struggling. And, when you look at it from the flip-side, perhaps some of our children who struggle with, say, fine motor issues may have sensory concerns in the mix too.

Occupational therapists and parents can use these social emotional learning activities to help children develop positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively.

Social Emotional Learning Activities

When we equip our students with tools to identify their emotions and self-regulate, we are giving them tools for life and promoting a positive environment for learning. We can foster social emotional development through play and interactions.

What might this look like at home, in online schooling, or in a classroom setting?

1. Connect emotions to behavior- Children may not have the language knowledge or understand how to explain what they are feeling. They may need concrete examples or scenarios to help them understand how their emotions are tied to their behavior. Does a storm make them feel nervous or scared? How do they react when they feel anxious about a test or quiz? When they argue with a sibling, how do they react? Once they are able to understand their emotions and how they are feeling, they can start using emotional regulation tools and strategies, like in the Creating Connections Toolkit (more on that in a minute!).

Use this social emotional learning worksheet to help kids match emotions to behaviors and coping strategies.

2. Be flexible and patient- Flexibility is something we have all been thrown into more than usual lately. But working with children on emotional regulation and understanding their emotions takes patience and being flexible. You may need to change up how you introduce emotions, or maybe a strategy you thought would work isn’t.

3. Set the tone and share your own feelings- This may feel uncomfortable for some of us, but sharing our own feelings with our students and clients and modeling the responses and strategies we are encouraging them to use will have a huge impact.

4. Try specific social skills activities- Social skills activities are those that help kids build underlying emotional and regulation strategies so that making friends, emotions, kindness, empathy, self-awareness, self-management, and other socio emotional tools are built at the foundation.

A recent post here on The OT Toolbox has more ideas to develop social emotional learning by engaging in activities that foster emotional regulation and executive functioning skills.

…it’s ALL connected!

Another fantastic resource that is only available for a short time is the Creating Connections Toolkit.

The Creating Connections Toolkit has 20 products (plus bonus items) and is valued at $197. It’s only $19, making it less than one dollar per resource.

Grab the toolkit here before it goes away on Friday the 10th!

The Creating Connections Toolkit includes high-quality, “quick win” resources that will give you what you need right now in the midst of this crazy 2020 world.

Creating connections social emotional learning activities

This year’s bundle is completely different, and designed to address emotional regulation and connecting with kids.

What’s Inside the Creating Connections Digital Toolkit?

We have handpicked these easy to use digital products that you can download and start using right away.

Please note that all products are digital downloads. You will receive an email after purchase with links to download each file and then save them to your computer.

Emotional Regulation

? Self-Regulation Strategies Pack
? Emotions Social Story
? When I’m Angry Social Story
? Learning About Emotions Printable Packet
? Emotion Cards for Kids
? Emotions: Daily Tracker and Various Games Printable Pack
? Calm Down Jar Cards
? How Would You Feel Emotions Scenarios
? Draw and Write Emotions
? Soothing Sammy Social and Emotional Activities eBook
? Emotion Paper Dolls
? A Dialogue to Get to the Bottom of Difficult Behaviour

Family Connection 

? Raising Kind Siblings eBook
? Quality Time Cards
? CAPSULE: Grab & Go Bags Activities
? Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack

Sensory Processing

? Brain Breaks Gross Motor Cube Bundle
? Sensory Diet Cards and Schedule
? STEAM Powered Learning the Senses Activity Pack
? 1 Year of Oobleck Sensory Science
? When I Feel Sensory Overload – A My Sensory Self Workbook for Kids

Growth Mindset & Affirmations 

? Growth Mindset Cursive Practice Pages
? Unicorn Affirmations Coloring Pages

Special Needs 

? Dyslexic Workbook
? Visual Schedule for Special Needs
? Rewiring the Brain Handbook

Special Bonuses!

? Special coupon code (50% off)  for Exploring Books Through Play ebook – friendship, acceptance & empathy 
? Special coupon code ($5 off) for Soothing Sammy
? Special coupon code ($75 off) for Overcoming Sensory Meltdowns Course
? Pandemic Journal for Kids

Click here to get the Creating Connections Social Emotional Learning Toolkit while it is available.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Occupational therapists and parents can use these social emotional learning activities to help children develop positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively.