A child’s ability to self-regulate has long been accepted as a key factor in future success. With this information in mind, direct instruction and boxed curriculums centered on children’s behavior became the go-to for providers seeking to teach social and emotional skills. 

Current research into behavior, neuroscience, and trauma, however, indicates that children acquire the bulk of their social and emotional learning through the way they are treated and the way they see others behave. In short, children develop healthy skills through healthy experiences and co-regulation with adults. In order for educators to effectively teach self-regulation and other core SEL skills, they must be able to model these skills in everyday life. 

The challenge, of course, is that a lot of adults lack these skills. Self-regulation comes easily when the world is going our way, but how do we fare when the children ignore us, spit, pull hair instead of saying, “Move please,” and splash water all over the hand washing station? What about when coworkers criticize, judge, exclude, and blame? Generally, when we are upset, we revert to the skills we saw adults use when we were children. Sometimes these skills were not the healthiest by today’s standards, but they were the norm at the time. Sometimes they were unhealthy by any standard. In order to break unhealthy cycles, co-regulate and teach essential SEL skills, adults must first increase their emotional intelligence.

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