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Adult SEL, Fly Five Curriculum, School to Home

How to Talk to Parents About SEL


As educators, we often find ourselves keeping parents informed about what their children are learning in our classroom. When it comes to academics, this may feel routine. Social-emotional learning (SEL), however, can feel like an entirely different conversation. How can you approach the topic of SEL with your students’ parents? Meeting parents where they are by using language that makes sense to them and exploring tangible ways for them to get involved is a great place to start and will open the door to meaningful conversations about student success.

How to Talk to Parents About SEL

In strong educational communities, both educators and parents have a shared purpose and understanding of what students are learning. Talking to parents about the academic content that their children are exploring may feel straightforward but discussing social and emotional learning can seem more complex. Fortunately, you can build on the knowledge that parents already have and break down some of the language to make it easy for parents to understand exactly what SEL is and why it is important for their child.

Using Language Parents Will Understand

At times, the language of SEL can have a learning curve or may be difficult for parents to relate to. It is important to use terms and phrases that are easy for parents or guardians to understand and leave less room for misinterpretation. Consider the following tips:

  • Use terms like “life skills” rather than “social and emotional learning” or “soft skills”
  • Instead of using overarching words like “empathy,” explain how students are learning to strengthen their “communication” and “decision-making” skills.
  • Make connections between SEL and academic learning by giving examples of how you might use SEL to foster better student behavior, engagement, and productivity. This will help parents understand the role that SEL plays in the classroom and can mitigate any misconceptions that they may have about SEL taking time away from academic learning.

Using language that parents can understand and building connections to SEL will open the door to using more technical terms later on. When starting the conversation about SEL, however, it is important to take the time to ensure that no parents are left out or discouraged from the topic due to barriers in understanding.

How to Talk to Parents About SEL

Parents Are an Asset

When educators understand the unique background of each of their students and their families, it helps to create a deeper sense of belonging and safety in the classroom environment (Hammond, 2015). Throughout the school year there are opportunities to positively engage and learn from (and about) students and their families. When teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships are built on communication, understanding, and trust, positive and authentic school communities in which families feel seen and heard are more likely to emerge. Helping parents to establish a deeper understanding of what their child is learning in the classroom can result in many positive outcomes, such as (Positive Action, 2021):

  • Increased student engagement
  • Improved parental satisfaction
  • Better student behavior

When parents are treated as an asset to your educational community, they are more likely to be receptive to practicing SEL skill development-based activities in and out of their home. Encourage parents to get involved in supporting their child’s SEL journey by using the following examples as starting points:

  • Reflect on the day. Parents can facilitate reflective conversations with their child that give them the opportunity to discuss their experiences and feelings. This fosters increased self-awareness and helps their child to discover meaning in their experiences. This could look like dinner discussions or nighttime reflections.
  • Foster creative engagement. Parents can create space for their child to build their SEL skills through a fun activity, such as arts and crafts. This gives students the opportunity to express themselves creatively and/or self-regulate and work through challenging emotions.
  • Model behavior. It is important that children of all ages learn from their parents’ and guardians’ behavior. Parents can lead by example and show the process of taking turns when talking or taking time to engage in mindfulness. Modeling happens naturally most of the time, but it can be additionally beneficial to place a heightened emphasis on the practice (Miller, 2021).

How to Talk to Parents About SEL

Keep the Conversation Ongoing

Once you open the door to talking about SEL in whatever terms are appropriate for your unique educational community, continue to build on parent knowledge throughout the year. Inform parents of the social and emotional learning that their child is engaging in during class and create opportunities for them to ask questions. Even consider providing parents with additional resources if they are interested in further building their knowledge on their own.

By educating and working with parents on SEL, you can strengthen the connection in the classroom community. This also gives parents a better opportunity to connect with their child about what they are learning at school and find ways to support that learning in the home. Working together, parents and educators can help students to develop all of the lifelong social-emotional, academic, and behavioral skills they need to grow and thrive.

Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Corwin.

Miller, G. (2021, August 9). Teaching social skills at home. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/teaching-social-skills-at-home

Positive Action. (2021, October 4). Parental involvement in education & schools: Benefits and strategies. https://www.positiveaction.net/blog/parental-involvement-education-schools


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