This year’s R U OK? Day theme - No Qualifications Needed - appears to have arisen from evidence that four out of ten Australians believe that an 'Are You Ok?' conversation is best done by a mental health expert. The focus of this year’s annual event is highlighting the need to move away from making serious wellbeing conversations only for appropriately trained professionals. There is not one of us who can’t reach out to another human being and offer time, presence and a listening ear. But almost half of us clearly feel that we are not adequately equipped to be able to reach out to check on someone’s mental wellbeing.
Conversation skills, empathy, assertiveness and problem solving are the key SEL (social-emotional learning) skills that enable us to reach out to either help others or seek help for ourselves. As important as the annual R U OK? Day is, these really are skill sets that we need to practise more than one day a year. They are critical to forming strong social connections and meaningful relationships which underpin good mental health. A comprehensive SEL program such as Second Step, provide curriculum in which these skills are taught explicitly to students using age-appropriate pedagogies.
Helping our students to develop empathy through teaching SEL programs is critical to raising caring sociable children. Adler defined it accordingly, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” Being seen and understood by another human is a powerful positive experience, allowing us to feel validated and safe to open up.
Conversations skills taught in Second Step focus on both listening and speaking. Listening is a skill that is often the hardest to do even for adults, but Second Step teaches students that this shows respect and helps build friendships.
Assertiveness is being able to ask for our wants or needs in respectful ways. This skill is so important to many areas of life and works hand in hand with problem solving processes in many social contexts. Most adults struggle to be assertive, but it is essential for maintaining personal boundaries and self-care.
Some of the Second Step classroom posters that highlight key relationship skills and social awareness competencies taught throughout Second Step.
Now more than ever our children need the opportunity to intentionally learn important relationship and social skills when we consider most teens now engage more frequently in online than face to face interactions. Johann Hari describes our current society as one of the loneliest in history and it is the low rates of human connection that he believes contributes to our declining mental health. Highlighting and practising essential SEL skills one day a year will never be enough.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can support your school community through SEL and the Second Step program, come along to one of our upcoming workshops in Brisbane or Sydney in October.
Positive Pieces Education is the Australian and New Zealand publisher of the Second Step social-emotional learning program. Learn more