Can You Cope?

Learning to Cope, Coping to Learn

As adults, we deal with many challenges every day. From work and relationships to finances or health, our awareness of emotions and social norms plays a significant role in how we deal with anxiety and stress. This is in turn, forms how we behave, what we decide, how we conduct our relationships, and more. It’s likely that most of us could benefit from a social-emotional tune-up now and then. But, what about our youth?

While a lack of early childhood training in basic social and emotional skills is not limited to kids living in poverty, it is prevalent in that demographic. And, with research suggesting that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has a significant impact on academic outcomes, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at how SEL could help in the classroom. 

Without a reasonable level of social-emotional health as a baseline, navigating a public school setting is difficult, especially since these systems are built around white, middle-class norms and expectations. The stress of not “fitting in,” leads to more behavioral issues, and the vicious cycle continues unchecked, possibly impacting the next generation.

The 5 Clusters of Competency

Here are the five basic “clusters” of competencies that can lead to social-emotional health:

  1. Self-awareness: An ability to recognize one’s emotions and how they influence behavior is integral to living a productive life. Those who accurately understand their strengths and limitations have a tendency to act from a place of calm confidence.


  1. Self-management: Emotions must be regulated and expressed effectively. Becoming aware of the relationship between thoughts and emotions and not letting stress trigger impulsive behaviors is important. Self-management leads to self-motivation, goal setting, and perseverance, which in turn allows one to continue toward a goal despite setbacks.


  1. Social awareness: Healthy functioning requires empathy, and the ability to take on the perspective of other people, especially those with differing views. Effectiveness requires an understanding of social and ethical norms and the recognition of available networks of support.


  1. Relationship skills: The most effective people can communicate clearly, listen effectively, cooperate with others, negotiate conflict well, and resist inappropriate social pressures. Also important is the ability, and humility, to seek and offer help.


  1. Responsible decision-making: Good decisions come out of a thought process that takes into account ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, and realistic consequences. Someone that is grounded in a sense of well-being can make constructive, and respectful choices for themselves, and those around them. 

Kids need to know that we are not simply paying lip service to empathy, that we show caring and compassion in our everyday lives.

Needed: Cultural Awareness & Respect

If public school educators can agree that social emotional learning is important, the next obvious question would be, does SEL need to be incorporated more fully into the school day? There are other questions as well.

Should interventions focus only on students having the most trouble with social-emotional development or all students? Who makes the distinction? Can schools afford to have full-time social workers on staff so that students in the poorest districts have access to those services?How do we work with cultural differences that might be counter to social and emotional norms in our schools? 

As a faith-based, out-of-school organization, Operation Exodus has been a leader in helping youth gain an awareness of their value. We guide them as they learn new techniques and tools for navigating their emotions and behaviors, in school, and out in the world. According to Jessica Lahey, author of “The Gift of Failure,” one of the most important things we can do for our youth is to model social and emotional health. She says, “Kids need to know that we are not simply paying lip service to empathy, that we show caring and compassion in our everyday lives.”


We Learn A Lot By Listening

At Exodus mentors and tutors work to maintain an open dialogue about each child’s cultural heritage, family background, and how those environments might be influencing their personal success or failure, especially in school. Then, we work to empower them to make decisions that will lead them into lives that include financial stability, career satisfaction, healthy, loving relationships, community involvement, and spiritual growth.

With so much uncertainty ahead, especially in the area of education, and immigration our most vulnerable youth need consistency and relationships with caring adults who can model what social and emotional health looks like. As the Latino leaders of the future, their narrative is important and their lives matter. They have a lot to teach us about perseverance, patience, faith, and hope, but we need to be healthy enough to listen. Then, we can learn and grow together.

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