SEL Parent University

Lisa Hellmer, LPC, and Colleen Lynch
On September 7 and 8, 2022, Mrs. Colleen Lynch, Ms. Lisa Hellmer, LPC, Mrs. Jacqui Glenn, and Dr. Blanca Snyder led St. Gabriel's Catholic School families in a session about Social-Emotional Learning and bridging school to home in a post-COVID world called SEL Parent University. Below is a summary of information shared.

Why SEL U?
  • We noticed increased lack of tolerance among adults and children for what was previously normal daily interaction and conflict.
  • It is important as we move farther away from the extreme experience of COVID that we normalize behaviors that are age appropriate even when uncomfortable.
  • There is a difference between conflict and bullying - conflict can be repeated and uncomfortable, but conflict is different than bullying. 
  • Children are socially and behaviorally delayed from lack of practice due to COVID. This adds a layer of complexity to the interactions and responses. 
What is Social & Emotional Learning

SEL is the guiding lens upon which we base academic, discipline, and guidance decisions and is the binding approach to everything we do. It provides children with the ability and skills through which they will manifest Catholic Identity. Our teachers work to integrate SEL practices into the curriculum seamlessly throughout the day (includes differentiation and embracing diversity).

It is essential for parents to truly understand in real terms and everyday practices how to integrate the  foundations of SEL at home & at school in intention, language, and behavior. We know from experience and from academic data (Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) that through this caring partnership, we will build those essential skills in our children necessary for success in this modern world. 

Think about your professional fields - what are those essential skills of all successful companies & leaders?

5 Core Competencies of SEL
  1. Social Awareness - The ability to show understanding and empathy for others 
  1. Relationship Skills - The ability to form positive relationships, work in teams and deal  effectively with conflict
  1. Responsible Decision Making - The ability to make constructive choices about personal and social  behavior
  1. Self Awareness - The ability to recognize personal emotions, values, strengths, and limitations
  1. Self Management - The ability to manage behaviors to achieve personal goals
How Does SEL Connect to our Catholic Identity
  • It aligns with our Core Values of Integrity, Caring, & Excellence.
  • Jesus’ teachings are based on love and respect.
  • Each situation and each child are unique. Therefore, within the context of our guiding principles, we honor and address each situation individually. 
SEL Parenting - Bridging School to Home

Keep in mind that Social and Emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum and that how our children learn and think is as important as what they learn. Most importantly, parenting through the foundation of these same SEL principles will create a seamless bridge to gaining those skills essential to success in school and in life.

Taking it Further: Have a conversation with a friend or make a list of challenges or difficulties your child is having now. What dreams do you have for your child's future? Imagine your child has returned home for a visit at 25 and they are their ideal, best self. What are they like?

The key to bridging between this first question about their challenges and the second one of their ideal adult self is SEL skills, modeled, used, and practiced every day both at home and at school.

Communication Skills at Home, at School, and Within the Community
  1. Positive framing and language
  1. Begin with the positive (questions, behavior goals)
  2. Avoid loaded language (to children, to school, to one another) - define “loaded” - accusatory language, cussing, adults texting children, name-calling; 
  3. Don’t “interview for pain”
  4. “This is just a moment”
  5. Ask open ended questions
  6. Start with the teacher/advisor
  1. Assume best intentions 
  1. Empathy is the key
  2. Listen first, then share
  3. Trust our experience and car
  1. Conflict resolution
  1. Go to the source
  2. Gather facts (do not assume every word is truth)
  3. “I statements” (I feel ____ when____)
  4. When to email and when to call (and when NOT to respond)
  5. Be willing to accept professional feedback
  6. Offer solutions
  7. Be willing to let child try/fail/try again
  8. Meet or talk face to face
  9. The impact of gossip
     4. Mistakes are opportunities to learn (the best way to learn!)
  1. Beware of perfectionism
  2. Model owning mistakes/ apologizing
  3. You break it you Fix it
  4. Let the children live through own consequences at school
  5. Do not rescue (message received-“you cannot handle it yourself”)
Taking it Further: Have a conversation with a friend or write about about your thoughts on addressing conflict. What does it look and feel like? How do you handle big feelings and conflict at home?

SEL & Technology
  • Technology - source of immense learning opportunities & knowledge
  • Kids are all digital natives (not digital immigrants like most of us)
  • Main goal - digital integrity
How do we teach our kids to use technology effectively and independently but within boundaries that keep them safe and delay exposure to the more explicit aspects of the internet? School is diligent about what kids have access to, but that does not include what is happening after school, on phones, and with friends.

Post-Covid has ushered in a new era of kids being on devices for two solid years. Across the country, we are seeing kids behind in social and emotional skills and a new level of attachment to devices. 

Positives to tech:
  1. Can learn about anything on the internet
  2. Can stay connected to family/friends; connect with others with similar interests/hobbies
  3. Connects the world instantly
  4. Platforms for deep diving into educational topics/projects/homework
  5. Create global platform for sharing ideas/creativity/problem solving
  6. Kids can make positive change by being good digital citizens
  7. Accommodates learning differences
  8. Removes geographic barriers, gives kids opportunities across all cultures and economic backgrounds
Challenges to tech:
  1. False courage of communication (texting/chatting/social media) 
  2. Can create less face to face interaction (friendships/conflict)
  3. Can be isolating and comfortable
  4. Anxiety does not end - It can go on 24/7 
  5. Lots of miscommunication and misinterpretation
  6. Kids see way more than they are able to process or handle emotionally
    1. According to Untangled by Lisa Damour, by 14, three quarters of boys and two thirds of girls have seen porn in the last year. By 18, 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen porn in the last year.
    2. Shapes what many teens believe constitutes "normal" courting and sexual behavior
    3. Reality of hook-up culture for teens and young adults adds to distortion of what intimacy is
  7. Cannot prevent kids seeing/hearing things we prefer they don’t (unless they do not have a phone)
  8. Sexting & sending photos of body parts
    1. According to Texas State University, this begins in middle school, on average
  9. Online predators
  10. Creating digital trail that follows you permanently (poor choices follow you)
  11. Bad Language (imitate, gaming)
Setting Rules around Technology:
  1. Privilege, not a right. Must earn trust/ responsibility
  2. Set clear rules around time allowed on devices, including gaming (30-45 min stretches - find the magic window)
  3. Devices are not allowed in the bedroom at night
  4. You have regular access to all accounts/texts/chatting
  5. When conflicts occur, make a plan for talking in person
  6. Choose what apps you will allow (delay as long as possible)
  7. Be prepared to talk about all subjects and let kids know they are welcome to come to you when they see something that feels uncomfortable
  8. Remember you cannot control what happens at friends' houses 
  9. Discuss safety online (personal info; chatting with strangers even during gaming; cussing rules)
  10. We cannot give consequences to situations that occur outside of school (we do address it when it gets in the way of successful learning)
Taking it Further: Have a conversation with a friend or write about your rules at home for technology use. It can be helpful to learn what boundaries other families are setting and support each other.

Brain Development Basics

Kids get better with decision making over time but they are not hardwired to weigh long-term implications of their actions, particularly when faced with short-term pleasure (of any kind). Once puberty kicks in (9-12 on average), the brain begins rapid development (from the inside outward) until young adulthood, around 25. 
  1. Brain develops independently of body (hormones affect it but not really related)
    Growth & shrinkage (use it or lose it - neural pathways)
    Myelination (insulation around nerve cell that makes electrical impulses move more efficiently)
    Brain grows from inside out 
  2. Limbic system myelinated first (emotion, impulse, sensation seeking)
    Amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, and hypothalamus, which are tied to feelings/motivation and memories/risks, are close to full maturity by middle school
  3. Frontal lobe (prefrontal cortex) is not developed in MS, tied to executive functioning, consequences/ long-term decisions. This system is the counterbalance to the limbic system.
What does this mean?

If two messages are sent simultaneously, one to the limbic system and one to the prefrontal cortex, in the tween or teen brain, the message will hit the limbic system 3000 times faster. So, the 24/7 clock of social media has a seemingly endless impact on the limbic system. In adults, the prefrontal cortex is mature so it can vie with the limbic system and allow us to think through decisions.

See handouts download above for graphics on the following:
  • Cognitive Load
  • Belonging
  • Effects on Stress on the Brain
  • The Goldilocks Zone
  • The Learning Pit
For You: Building Relationships with School

Our partnership is essential. We are committed to keeping you all informed in a number of thoughtful, intentional ways that keep communication open (without overwhelming you) about what is happening with your child in the classroom and on campus
  • Weekly newsletters from teachers, grade level coordinators, and advisors
  • Emails and phone calls about specific successes or a daily challenge
  • Parent Conferences (4 per year)
  • Round table meetings for our children with accommodations (annual and as needed)
  • The Messenger, weekly
  • Active website - mySGCS
  • Getting Involved with the School
Thank you for your partnership!
St. Gabriel's Catholic School is an Independent Catholic school in Austin TX, educating children in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school.