Updated: Mar 23
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) can be an important tool used to enhance your kid’s social and emotional learning (SEL). As a collaborative group storytelling game, it presents many opportunities for personal growth. D&D allows players to develop skills to manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals through empowerment, resolve conflicts, become more self-aware and empathetic, experience trusting relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.
D&D is not a competitive game, and there is no winning or losing. The game relies on players with diverse skills to unify as a group and problem solve in order to overcome obstacles and achieve group goals. Even if the players don’t succeed in fulfilling all of the goals of the story, bonds are formed.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a non-profit that focuses on evidence-based SEL as an integral part of education from preschool through high school. They outline five core competencies surrounding SEL, which can all be experienced and nurtured through a table-top role playing game like D&D.
Self-awareness – Recognizing your emotions and how they impact your behavior and actions. Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses to better gain confidence in your abilities. Making decisions with greater insight.
Self-management – Taking control and ownership of your thoughts, emotions, and actions in various situations. Setting and working toward goals. Reaching goals faster by practicing impulse control.
Social awareness – Putting yourself in the shoes of another person who may be from a different background or culture from the one you grew up in. To act with empathy and maintain healthy relationships.
Relationship skills – Building and maintaining healthy relationships with people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Listening and being able to communicate with others. Peacefully resolving conflict and knowing when to ask for or offer help.
Making responsible decisions – Choosing how to act or respond to a situation based on learned behaviors such as ethics, safety, weighing consequences of your decisions and the well-being of others, as well as yourself. Fostering your understanding of cause and effect.
The above is a huge core competency list. How can we hope to address each of these large complex topics? The answer is through gameplay! We can either allow the gameplay to progress unchecked, or we can adjust the game to purposefully set up situations that put our characters into specific scenarios. This is what therapists and teachers do so that they can focus on a particular core social competency or academic skill. Whatever scenario you present, each character you create for the game reacts differently, and the player controls everything for their own character. In this way D&D allows plenty of room to explore on a social and emotional level. During the game players get to experiment with many identities and get to safely push boundaries that are controlled in real life by adults.
Looking at D&D gaming through a SEL lens, kids become more empathic and willing to help each other, better negotiators, communicators and problem-solvers. They work better with their classmates and are socially more at-ease and out of their shells. Most importantly, a kid’s imagination and confidence will grow and positively affect their lives away from the gaming table.
Paul Lazrow is the founder and one of the Storytellers at Adventuring Portal, an online service that focuses on running live-guided fun, safe D&D games for kids. Find out more at AdventuringPortal.com.
Player Art: Tubs, 13 year old Firbolg Druid & Muffin, 13 year old Forest Gnome Cleric
Interesting Related Links:
SEL Pledge: https://youtu.be/TidlbFogF_A