This spring, we're focusing on building a few key social emotional skills with our students: scaling problems (keeping small problems small and recognizing when something is a larger problem that might need adult interventions), solving conflicts effectively, and acting kindly.
This is important to us for several reasons. First, we know that schools that focus on social-emotional skills have stronger academic outcomes; after all—if kids feel happy, safe, and included, they are more likely to take risks and learn deeply. But secondly, we want to graduate not just smart kids, but kind kids! There's a quote I love that is most often attributed to Henry James:
"There are three things in human life that matter. The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."
There are lots of ways you can support this work at home. A few years ago, Harvard published a study that suggested seven ways to foster kindness and caring. Here they are:
- Spend time with your kids and engage them in meaningful conversations. When you model authentic, positive connections within your family, your kids will usually emulate that in their own relationships.
- Be a solid role model. This is such a key one and so hard! Kids have a radar for hypocrisy, and they immediately pick up on any discrepancies in our words and actions. Pay attention to the ways in which your family consistently practices the values you expect your children to follow: honesty, humility, forthrightness, kindness, empathy, compassion, inclusion, etc., and be cognizant of any behaviors that may be undermining those messages and values.
- Send clear messages and prioritize being kind. Sometimes even the most well-meaning adults send the wrong messages to their children on the social front. We want our kids to be well-liked, even popular… and that desire can sometimes allow us to excuse acts of exclusion or unkindness. One of my favorite blog posts ever was on just this topic: "What If I Accidentally Raise the Bully?" If you haven't read it, do.
- Give kids responsibilities around the house. When kids are expected to shoulder these kinds of responsibilities within your own family, helping people will become a natural part of their daily routines.
- Give your child perspective: Sometimes our children lose perspective on the range of experiences and hardships people face, and we need to broaden their worlds. This is important for so many reasons, but most importantly, it helps kids develop empathy, compassion, and gratitude.
- Provide opportunities for kids to give back and take action in their community. Once our kids understand the range and depth of the challenges our larger community faces, help them take action and give back to causes that inspire them.
- Help children identify their feelings and resolve conflicts. Kids who have control over their emotions and can solve problems effectively tend to have healthy social relationships. Practice strategies like deep breaths, countdowns, and help them resolve conflicts by not just advocating for themselves but also understanding the feelings and perspectives of others.
Head of Lower School