Right from my early childhood, I grew up mostly with my grandfather. It was my safe space. I’d listen to stories, roam around with him or even play with him. He became my epitome of what a safe space looked like.
I was very scared of my mother. She would hit me for the smallest of things. I didn’t mind it so much. What I was most scared of was the fact that she’d stop talking with me for days if I did something to disappoint her in terms of my school marks or just about anything. As a child, I’d run after her the whole day and ask her to speak to me. I remember I’d say, “Hit me, but speak to me.” As a new parent, my mother did not know what was right for her child. She thought it would help me develop myself and create better results in class, but the fear stunted my comprehension abilities and I would rote-learn answers just to make sure she’d speak to me again.
This made me grow up to become an extremely anxious adult. The thought of anyone not talking with me still creates a sense of extreme anxiety and blurs my mind of all kinds of boundaries and space for the other person. It affected all kinds of relationships I’ve had with different people; in terms of friendships or other intimate relationships. It affected my decision-making skills where my anxiety would never let me cut out people from my life who were extremely toxic for me.
Mostly, it affected my self-management skills where I had no idea about how to manage these extremes of emotions I felt which led to poor decision-making skills and ultimately bad relationships. The lack of awareness about these cycles that were affecting my life led to me repeating those cycles over and over again until it became a part of
who I am.
One might question about how can such small incidents in a child’s life have such a great effect? To understand that we need to understand that the experiences we have as a child gets repeated to such an extent that we imbibe these within us as a child. It shapes us to become who we are. There is a need, a requirement to break these cycles. That is where social-emotional learning comes in.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which an individual develops self and social awareness skills, self and behavior management skills, relationship skills essential for school, work, and life, and decision-making skills. It is the skill-set that allows an individual to manage their emotions, set positive goals and show empathy by putting oneself in others shoes. It teaches the skills to communicate and interact amidst peers, colleagues and develop great personal relationships. At school, it helps one to be aware of their own identities, be aware of negative influences, peer-pressure and helps them balance it. It also helps children cultivate great positive relationships with both peers and adults.
Imagine what would happen if I had social-emotional learning circles in my school and I’d speak about my emotions when my mother would not be speaking to me; Imagine what would happen if my teacher was trained on noticing these behaviours I demonstrated as a child; Imagine if as a teenager I was made aware of these cycles I was repeating in my relationships. SEL develops the overall quality and character of life. With the help of SEL, children get equipped with knowing oneself and others. I wonder how my life would’ve changed if I could manage my emotions and take decisions from a logical perspective than an emotional one. Till today, my judgment process is sometimes so impaired that I have to question myself a number of times to reflect on my priorities!
My story is one example of how SEL could’ve helped me. In all of our lives, if we think back, we can remember incidents where SEL could’ve helped us. In certain cases, these incidents affected us in the short-term but for some of us these incidents became a part of who we are. With the current mental health crisis in India including SEL in the classrooms, as a part of school’s curriculum is a must. It will not only improve a students’ well-being at that present moment but will help them develop even in their academics. The benefits of social-emotional learning are long-term. Practicing SEL leads to positive outcomes; it helps students and adults prosper not just in schools but also in life.
In a 21st century world where the world around us is in constant flux, SEL can prepare individuals to adapt to this change. It prepares students to cultivate the 21st century skills required to be a part of the workforce in a multi-cultural world. People with strong social-emotional skills are competent to manage daily challenges, improve academically, socially and professionally, build positive relationships, and make wise decisions. SEL provides a base for positive, long-term effects on children, adults, and communities.