Commentary: Kids and adults need lessons in life skills now more than ever | Commentary

You can see it everywhere: breaking points and unregulated emotions on full display. From Will Smith’s reaction at the Oscars, outbursts on airplanes over masks, overworked and under-supported front-line workers and screaming fights at school board meetings — people are struggling. Adults are becoming unhinged.

It’s this bad behavior from grown-ups that begs me to ask: What hope do we have for our kids?

Kids are in the middle of a mental health crisis — and a national emergency — as addressed in the US Surgeon general and American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent advisories. Teachers, parents and pediatricians are witnessing more extreme behaviors and serious mental health concerns due to the ongoing pandemic. We must help our kids cope. But we need to put our own oxygen masks on first.

Life skills — like learning how to take on challenges, learning from effort, building healthy relationships, problem-solving, and understanding, controlling and expressing emotions — is the air we need to catch our breath. And when, as adults and grown-ups, we practice such skills ourselves, our kids learn by watching and practicing, too. These are the tools to cope and heal. And the need is at an all-time high.

Over the last few decades, social-emotional learning has moved from a belief to a trend and is now a validated, evidence-based practice that thousands of schools and districts have prioritized. Millions of students have benefited from it. And it’s not just for kids.

Wings for Kids has spent 25 years taking the all-hands-on-deck approach to learning. We’re a team with parents, teachers and principals to ensure that students see and feel how self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills positively impact school now and employability later. We know that learning starts at home, continues in the classroom and is enhanced after school, especially in an after-school program like Wings for Kids. And we know that all students deserve this type of support.

If we don’t start equipping adults and kids with tools to understand themselves and the world around them now, we will see even more trauma, grief, rage and stress. We will be more out-of-control than ever. Creating a safe space where kids and adults can talk openly and freely about their emotions is a necessity. And working together with parents, teachers and after-school providers is paramount.

For 25 years we have been advancing and championing the power of social emotional learning. We have never given up on thinking about how a child feels, or for that matter, how adults feel. At the heart of what makes us human is communication, a belief in self and others, and the need to connect. When we don’t experience these basic needs, well, you’ve seen what happens.

Bridget Laird is the CEO of Wings for Kids.

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