Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you for joining us for another installment of our interview series. Today, we had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth Sautter! Elizabeth Sautter is the author of the MCA award-winning book, Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick! Practical activities to help your child manage emotions, navigate social situations, and reduce anxiety. This book was released November 10, 2020, and is already receiving high praise. Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick! is filled with practical activities to help your child manage their emotions, navigate social situations, and decrease anxiety. Keep reading to find out more about Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick! and its author, Elizabeth Sautter!
MCA: Hi Elizabeth, congratulations on your Mom’s Choice Award! Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick! is such a helpful and easy to understand tool for parents and adults, in general, to use with children who may need a little extra help with social and emotional situations. Can we first start the interview by finding out a little bit about yourself?
Elizabeth: Professionally, I’m a Speech and Language Pathologist, although I also like to call myself a Social Cognitive Specialist or Social-Emotional Coach. I’ve been in the field for about 25 years and am very passionate about supporting clients and their families with social,-emotional learning, and executive functioning, as well. I have a company called Communication Works (cwtherapy.com). We formerly were center-based but we currently do mostly school-based-work in the Bay Area. I began to focus on families because it was obvious that many of them were struggling and really needed support at home with social-emotional learning. There’s so much they can do to help their kids. I began blogging and writing to share simple strategies that parents can use, and that eventually turned into my book. I also present to schools and at conferences. I currently do a little bit of everything in this field, because, again, it’s my passion!
On a personal note, I was born and raised in Oakland. My sister, who is two years older than me, is developmentally delayed. She was in special education in Oakland Public Schools and was not mainstreamed, so I had that reference growing up. I also have a cousin with autism, and I was very involved in his diagnosis and support. Now I have two sons of my own. My older son has ADHD, learning disabilities, and anxiety with a full IEP and support, and my younger son has some challenges with emotional regulation, as well. So, this is not just a professional endeavor. It is definitely very personal for me.
MCA: There is definitely a lot of personal investment for you into this book. So the need to help families who are struggling was what led you to your path and becoming a writer?
Elizabeth: Yes, so as I mentioned before, in my speech company the kids would come for social groups for 45-60 minutes a week. They had diagnoses of autism or ADHD or just social sensory processing issues. They were experiencing anxiety, social differences, and other emotional challenges. They got a lot out of coming for that hour, but then they would go home. The parents needed to learn how to infuse the same strategies and activities into their natural environment, as well. So, we would train both the parents and the kids. They asked me to start a blog or write a book about what we were doing, so I started doing a blog and some other writing. Then it turned into my book, Make Social Learning Stick (1st edition).
The first edition was published in 2014 and has been a great endeavor, but I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve included the concepts of mindfulness. I also have an online parenting course called Make It Stick Parenting with Dr. Rebecca Branstetter, an expert in executive functioning. We saw so many parents who benefited from our WISE model (Wisdom, Intentionality, Self-care, and Everyday Strategy) that I wanted to include it in the second edition of the book (Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick: Practical activities to help your child manage emotions, navigate social situations and reduce anxiety), as well. The book is filled with over 200 everyday strategies and is divided into four different sections: Home, Community, Holidays and Special Events, and Bridging Home and School.
Then within all those sections, there are activities related to how we spend the day with our child, like waking up in the morning, to eating and making meals, to driving in the car to go on family vacations, to all the different things that we do with our kids. This book shows how you can take those situations and experiences and turn them into teachable moments. Just by tweaking your language or how you’re doing things or interacting with them, you can turn these activities into real-time teaching opportunities to make social-emotional and executive functioning stick. These are all the skills that our children need to meet their goals, connect with their peers, and succeed academically. These are the skills that will carry over into adulthood and help them thrive in their lives.
MCA: That’s great. It’s wonderful what you’re doing and what you’ve been able to accomplish since first publishing your book. That kind of answers my next question, – the inspiration for writing this book, in particular making social learning stick.
Elizabeth: Yes, I wanted this book to infuse mindfulness and the course information with the WISE model. I also just felt like it was so important to bridge or connect home and school, kind of like we are doing right now during COVID. It’s been my mission for years to partner with parents to help. We get a lot of training as educators and therapists and teachers, but we don’t always think about the parents and what they need at home. Now with distance learning and whatnot, it’s imperative. I think people are opening their eyes to what parents need to help their kids thrive, and this is something I’ve been focused on for a long time. Now, I’m obviously not happy that we are dealing with COVID and distance learning, but I am happy that we are all partnering and supporting kids. It really is a whole child, a whole family, a whole community approach to making social-emotional learning stick.
Then the other piece of this is that I really wanted to include the concept that social can’t stand alone without emotional, and emotions are also social when you’re sharing space with others. So that’s why this title has changed. That philosophy is really infused throughout the book. Then there’s executive functioning too, which includes things such as thinking, planning, managing time – all the things we need to do to achieve goals, that’s included in the book, too. I really wanted this edition of the book to be more comprehensive about what kids need to be socially and emotionally successful.
MCA: I think it’s safe to say you’ve accomplished that with the title. So, can you elaborate more on your work as a speech therapist and as a social-emotional coach?
Elizabeth: So, the behavior is communication. I’ve worked in the field for many years with kids with autism and behavior issues. If a child is throwing a tantrum or acting out or whatever it might be, it is because they don’t have the words or the behavior to communicate in ways that are more expected and intended. I have worked alongside many speech therapists that have been able to increase these kids’ communication skills so that they could have pro-social ways to ask for what they want and need from other kids and people in general. And that in turn reduces those behaviors. So, what we do as speech therapists is the social piece, and that is my passion. A huge part of communication is social. I dived into the emotional pieces of that, as well, because social and emotional skills are intertwined in the situation.
Through therapy and social-emotional coaching, we teach a lot of what’s called pragmatic language and perspective-taking. Pragmatic language is basically just the rules of language, or social skills and social language. Then there’s also perspective-taking, which is being able to think about others and their point of view. That’s what has become a huge focus of mine, helping others to think about others, have compassion, have empathy and step into somebody else’s shoes, and then have the skills to be able to interact and get your needs across and achieve goals and advocate for oneself when these skills are challenging. That has been a huge piece of what I do and plays a big role in my expertise as a speech pathologist and social communication specialist.
MCA: That’s great, that really comes across within this book. What is unique about Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick! and the work that you do for that?
Elizabeth: I’ve touched on this a little bit, but what I’ve found is that there are a lot of resources for educators in terms of what can be done for these kids. We can have social-emotional learning programs at schools and whatnot, but we often leave out the parents. My mission has been to include the parents and make sure that they have the tools and resources they need in a very simple, user-friendly, and practical way that’s not an add-on to their busy crazy life but more an add-in to their life. So, I divided the book into sections and then provided practical simple suggestions for how to sprinkle in social-emotional learning through things like playing games. One of the pages is actually called anti-boredom. Even during chore time or playing with your pet or watching TV, while making or eating meals, going to the grocery store or the mall, or in the car—all of these can be jumping-off points for practicing social and emotional learning. Then I included a section on bridging home and school, with tips about how you can support your kids for success in school through things like doing homework, talking to their teachers, volunteering, and more.
So, what makes it different is that it divides up into all the different areas of how we’re spending time with our kids, like our everyday routines and activities, and then shows how we can embrace these moments as teachable moments, to make them learning experiences with our child in a fun, engaging, and simple way. It’s not as if parents have to learn a new curriculum. They don’t have to feel like an expert, just do simple things. For example, at the dinner table, you can practice nonverbal games like asking somebody to pass you the butter by just using your eyes and not asking with your words. If you are going to have a dinnertime conversation and you want to practice interacting, turn-taking, back and forth, you take a spoon or spatula and you go back and forth using it as a talking stick, a visual cue. You could also talk about your emotional highs and lows and then turn that into emotional vocabulary building. I could go on and on. I tried to make it practical and simple so that parents and kids can both be successful and make learning stick.
The other big thing about it is that by giving parents these simple strategies of what to do and say and how to interact with their child to boost their skills, it then gives the parents confidence. Parents can feel good at the end of the day and feel like, they’ve got this, without having to learn a ton of extra stuff. Instead of feeling defeated, they can have the confidence to then connect with their child, and feel calm about it too. Like wow, a win-win for all.
MCA: It is certainly a win-win for all. These are amazing ideas, I love them! The support tools presented in this book are so essential to have, especially during these uncertain times. Who would benefit from this type of support?
Elizabeth: It’s good for parents and caregivers who support children with “additional or complex needs” related to social-emotional and executive functioning skills (e.g., focus, attention, planning ahead, flexibility, etc.), as well as teachers, therapists, counselors, and other educators who support parents and their families. It’s for anyone who cares about helping children build emotional intelligence, manage their emotions, navigate social situations, meet their goals, and meet their potential to thrive!
MCA: My last question would be can you provide examples of some of the learning strategies that you recommend in this book?
Elizabeth: This is in the book excerpt as well. We talk about emotional regulation, calming strategies, emotional intelligence, social skills social communication, listening skills, empathy, friendship skills, perspective-taking, executive function. We talk about learning the hidden social rules, and how they change in different contexts. There are hidden social rules for each page, for each situation. If the activities are about dinner, then you can teach your kids the hidden social rules for dinner time, such as chewing with your mouth closed. Or a rule for the bathroom would be to pull up your pants before you walk out. All the different things that some of our kids have struggled with are outlined right there, so that parents may realize that some of our kids don’t know those social rules and need to be taught. You can think about being flexible, or about working in small groups and participating in back-and-forth conversations. There are activities that include sensory strategies. Mindfulness is also a strategy that both you and your child can apply to many situations. There is also an appendix full of visual supports. All of that is in there, plus the 200-plus activities. I also have two car decks that are portable that you can take anywhere and on the go. These are available on my website and on Mom’s Choice Awards Website as well.
MCA: Well, this has all been very interesting, I feel like our readers have learned a lot already just by this interview! Thank you for speaking with us and we hope to hear from you again soon.
You can learn more about Elizabeth Sautter and her award-winning book, Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick!, by visiting her MCA Shop pages.