My Kid Felt Comfortable Talking To Me Because of SEL Classes at School

Distracted by her own busy world, one mom risked the loss of communication with her kid. In-school Social Emotional Learning classes helped her and her daughter reconnect.

Mother and Daughter talking at hom with daughter sitting on kitchen table looking at mom.
Photo: ByLorena/Stocksy

It can be too easy to dismiss our kids when they talk to us about what they think is important—things that parents might consider unimportant when compared to adult problems like jobs, bills, life. To adults, a kid's concerns appear to be just that, kid problems. Or sometimes, it's just a matter of being so caught up in our own busy routines that we become unwitting experts at tuning them out.

That was me, content with my ability to tune my daughter out at a professional level. Then she did something that shifted my priorities and tuned my ears in permanently. It was a typical day for me—overloaded. I was exhausted, letting whatever I was streaming on TV wash over me, when my daughter called me over from the other room. I didn't want to get up. Practically begged her to just yell out what she wanted so that I wouldn't have to labor over to her room. I remember thinking: "If I get up and she shows me another Dhar Mann video, I'm going to lose it."

She gave up and I could tell that she didn't just hear the disinterest in my tone, she felt it. When I heard her deflated "never mind," it was enough to move me both emotionally and physically. I had no idea that I had nearly missed a first when I dragged myself up the stairs to her room.

She shared a text from a fellow student that said, "Wanna be my GF?" We're long past the days of circling yes or no on a piece of paper, but tweens still tend to keep news like that away from their parents, preferring to bestow the title of confidant to their besties, right? And here I was, with my little girl dying to share this moment with me.

Was this some grand revelation? Was it earth-shattering news? No. But it laid the foundation for an open line of communication between my world and my daughter's new tween world. She went from feeling dismissed to feeling seen. And I am forever grateful for that day, because I know now that it was pivotal. Had I dug in my heels and tuned her out, I would have shut a door between us.

I don't think my daughter was consciously testing the waters, checking to see if she could trust me with what she held as noteworthy, but I do think it played out that way. She was navigating a scary new territory as a tween, going through changes, experiencing all-new emotions. To be honest, I'm pretty sure this development phase is scarier for me than it is for her, because we went from a simpler, two-branched tree of emotions (happy or sad) to a sequoia, sprouting twisted branches and leaves everywhere.

Thankfully, she has continued to open up to me and recently approached me about topics that came up during her Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) class at school. Now, I know SEL has become yet another political battlefield for many, and I am not here to argue the need for it in all school curriculums. I will, however, tell you how glad I am that it is a part of our school district's teachings. This class helped her find the right words to describe what was going on inside. She was able to unpack feelings of low self-esteem and anxiety. And because of that one seemingly insignificant text that she shared over a year ago, she trusted me to take her seriously.

And I did.

Together with professional counseling, we have been able to help her sort out all those complex thoughts and reframe how she views herself and how she internalizes her concerns. She continues to love her SEL class, and so do I, because it provides the continued reinforcement we need to support our efforts. And whenever I am consumed by my larger world and risk trivializing the things that affect her, I remember the look of shock and giddiness when she showed me the text message—the one that steeled me in the present. However small her daily challenges may seem, from her perspective, her world is massive and all-consuming. It's what she knows to be real and relevant. After all, my world only grew bigger through my own experiences. Experiences that my elders probably considered insignificant, too.

So, much in thanks to her SEL class, the conversations between my daughter and I have expanded to include topics that she admits she would have been too nervous to share and that I may have avoided in the past. She's a middle schooler, curious about sexuality, changing dynamics in friendships, and the future. And I am forever grateful that she's now comfortable coming to me with her questions and curiosities.

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