Tips from a homeschooling mom of four and social emotional learning specialist

By Sofia Dickens

Sofia DickensWith over 50 million kids at home, we’re all trying to make sense of this new reality as moms. How can I make sure my kids don’t fall behind academically? How can I get anything done around here? And how can I help my kids get along in close quarters?

I want to share some friend-to-friend perspective to give you confidence when asking yourself those “how” (or should I say WTF) questions.

Even for those of us who are fortunate enough to have online learning already up and running, there are many hours in the day, and plenty of minutes to dedicate to worrying about your kids getting “enough” of what they need. So I’d like to take a minute to help reframe your thinking about education in order to free you from some of that worry!

I’m a hybrid homeschooling mom of four and social emotional learning specialist that created a school curriculum and an at-home app called Q Wunder to help kids learn life skills like patience, problem solving, and social awareness.

There’s a critical piece of your child’s education that doesn’t come from a math or English workbook. It doesn’t come from logging hours behind a school desk or taking tests.

Forty years of data has revealed that Social Emotional Skills, not academics, are the key to your child’s success in life and performance in the classroom. All the things we most want for our kids- from good grades to healthy relationships to a great career and lifelong well-being.

When I say Social Emotional Learning (SEL), do you think of kindness and empathy, warm hugs and mushy talk about feelings? While feeling identification and empathy can be important, they’re just a sliver of what SEL is all about.

Remember that Disney movie Inside Out? There’s a control center of the brain, a high command, that takes hold of unruly impulses and makes tough decisions, directing a person to positive outcomes. Social emotional skills are the many valuable executive skills that help you to do what you do effectively! Problem solving, patience, social awareness, focus, and flexibility are just a few. In other words, it’s NOT just the touchy feely stuff.

Just by teaching our kids to control their impulses, navigate social scenarios, and manage emotions, we are putting them on a path to success in any environment, whether stable or unstable. Author of “Industries of the Future” Alec Ross often discusses how to thrive in a world with automation, huge job loss, and uncertainty, and guess what he says is the ONE thing that every child needs to be taught? Social and Emotional Skills. Geoffrey Colvin of Forbes interviewed today’s foremost futurists and concluded that the most crucial skills for survival are going to be the ones that make us the most human – emotional intelligence and adaptability.

So how do we make our kids great Social Emotional Learners?

Have you ever heard the analogy about a ship setting sail from Europe? If you change the course by just a few degrees at the start of the journey, the ship ends up on an entirely different continent! So it is when we make simple, small changes in our children’s mindset and behavior. By modeling, practicing, and reinforcing skills like empathy and self-control, small daily habits put our kids on a NEW path.

As moms, we should remind ourselves that success doesn’t mean seamlessly taking school and bringing it home, or having all our ducks in a row throughout the day. It means we’re making a little bit of progress every day in the areas that matter most. As my 8 year old daughter said last month when we were stuck in standstill LA traffic watching cars fly by going the other direction, “Well, I’d rather be going slow in the right direction than going fast in the WRONG direction.” Even though I’d give anything to be stuck in that nasty traffic again since the highways are practically empty, my point is that even our kids understand that it’s about direction, not perfection.

Here are some simple ways grow social emotional skills at home:

  • Get Physical! Working on balance and coordination drills will improve impulse control – simple exercises like balancing on one leg with your eyes closed, doing criss-cross jumping jacks, or even doing the crab walk across the floor are fun ways to practice these skills. Our board game Q’s Race to the Top includes a lot fo physical challenges just like this, or you can make them up.
  • Practice eye contact! Eye contact may seem like a a small fry in the manners department but it’s actually a big deal. Forbes Senior Editor Geoff Colvin says “To look someone in the eyes— that turns out to be, metaphorically and quite often literally, the key to high-value work in the coming economy”.
  • Have staring contests with your kids- whoever doesn’t blink wins.
  • Have them practice looking you in the eyes while they’re talking- it’s harder to make eye contact while talking than while listening.
  • Get Gritty! Goal setting comes with built-in and unexpected challenges.
  • Help your child set a difficult but attainable goal during this quarantine time and coach him through the process.
  • Involve your child in problem solving around the house
  • Get social! Social skills don’t only come from interaction with peers. Help your kids master their social skills while at home.
  • Read and discuss characters in literature, their perspectives, their fears and obstacles. Ask your child to put himself in the character’s shoes and make hard decisions.
  • Mirror what your child is saying. You’ll elicit more responses and get more out of your conversations by repeating what your child is saying rather than asking yes or no questions. For example, if your son says “I don’t like my online classes!”, rather than ask “why NOT?”, simply repeat his words “You don’t like your classes”. This response shows that you understand what he’s saying and has a better chance of getting him to elaborate.
  • Prepare your child for group chats and calls. Take 30 seconds to remind your child what is expected of her in each setting, whether it’s an online class, a group chat, or a one-on-one call. For example, if they’re about to talk with grandma, remind them to ask how she is feeling and whether she has everything she needs. If it’s a video conference class, remind them how hard it is to be the teacher and keep everyone focused.

To help start some great conversations with your kids, here are three FREE LESSON PLANS and Q Wunder episodes. These lesson plans work just as well at home as in the classroom. (Watch as Michael Strahan helps Q the genius monkey learn about Patience!):

For all the episodes, the Q Wunder music videos, interactive games, and the parents portal with lots of resources and a podcast, download the Q Wunder app:

Sofia Dickens is the CEO and founder of EQtainment and the Q Wunder show and Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Studying psychology at Harvard and working as an educational tv host for America’s #1 quiz show Jeopardy! and the #1 news source for kids, Channel One, inspired Dickens to take 40 years of social emotional research and translate it into award-winning video content, lessons and tools for kids, parents and teachers. Social Emotional Learning is the number one correlate to life success and the only proven solution to ending school violence and bullying. Dickens is the mom of four children and lives in Newport Beach, CA.