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How To Build Social Emotional Health in Children

Help soothe and center a child with these research-based strategies.

At Momentous Institute, a Dallas-based nonprofit owned and operated by Salesmanship Club of Dallas since 1920, we believe in helping children build and repair social emotional health to reach their full potential. Social emotional health is one’s ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, reactions, and relationships. It has a significant impact on children’s learning and development; if built within a child, it can impact generations. This ability is directly related to the safe relationships children have, along with their ability to regulate emotions, awareness of self, ability to understand others, and capacity to live influentially.

So what does social emotional health look like in practice? Here are a few research-based strategies:

Belly Breathing
As humans, we breathe all day long. However, this simple strategy allows children (or really any of us) to take a few moments to fully notice their breathing and allow them to build social emotional health in the process, regardless of daily circumstances. To participate in this activity, have the child lie down on the floor. Place a small stuffed animal or any object on their belly. Encourage the child to take long, deep breaths and, as they do, take note of what happens to the stuffed animal. If the child is old enough, have them visualize the object riding the waves as they breathe. This simple breathing technique helps the brain calm down, resulting in positive effects on the physical and emotional health of a child.

Feelings Thermometer
In emotional situations where a child may be dysregulated or stuck in strong emotions, it is important to help children get “unstuck” from those overwhelming feelings. This strategy begins with pulling a picture of a thermometer from online. Show the picture to the child who is struggling and talk through a few questions to help them decrease their feelings “by a few degrees.” Good questions include, “what would need to happen for you to go down one degree?” or “what would one degree less than what you’re feeling now look like?” Moving a child from “explosive to reasonable” can make a positive difference that allows them to better manage emotions without setting expectations too high in overwhelming moments.

DIY Glitter Jar
One of our most effective techniques for building social emotional health involves a “glitter jar.” Try taking a mason jar with a screw on lid, glitter glue, extra fine glitter and a little bit of water. To create your own, simply fill the jar with water, add in some glitter glue and a bit of loose glitter (tip of a spoonful is enough). Screw the lid back on and shake it up! Once it is steadied, have the child watch the glitter fall and take some deep breaths. This glitter jar mimics exactly how our brains react in the midst of strong emotions. After a child takes a few breaths, they are able to calm down and so does their brain, which allows them to make more positive decisions.

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