This social and emotional skills development programme is now available online. For the past 21 years, the programme has equipped children (as well as their parents) with the practical tools and steps that help them identify, communicate and control those emotions that are necessary to attain and maintain positive and healthy personal relationships.

Cynthia Linde, founding member of Soetlief, says going digital has not only met the challenge of meeting the growing demand for the programme, but also offered some unique solutions. “Teaching individuals face-to-face had some challenges, such as finding enough trainers. With the digital platform, this is no longer a challenge. Another problem that often occurred was trainers using technical language that confused the child. The online training courses use researched, proven-to-work language that resonates with each age group. The digital training negates things like a possible dislike between the trainer and the child, or the group members having a negative influence on one another. It also provides strong visual learning that is widely regarded as the best way to teach children,” says Ms Linde.

According to Ben van der Westhuyzen, managing director at Succeed Group, who facilitated the digital transformation of Soetlief, the interactive online training platform creates a more involved approach for children to understand emotions. “Through the use of fictional characters and animated storylines, children get the opportunity to develop their problem-solving and critical thinking abilities while they are actually having fun online. We have incorporated visual learning strategies that help children retain and understand information better. Each of the programmes is built around the emotional needs of a specific age-related development phase. It focuses on self-discovery through activities, association and communication. The online programme allows for parents to join in their children’s journeys, making it fun for the whole family,” says Mr van der Westhuyzen.

Ms Linde says the Soetlief online programme is there to facilitate what is defined as ‘EQ’ – it is an attempt to explain it in a child-friendly manner for children to understand and learn ways to control and deal with social and emotional challenges. “The online programme consists of content, graphic depictions, overviews, information, sets of related interactive activities and instructions and is aimed at creating awareness of social and emotional skills, guiding a child toward the discovery of social and emotional behaviour,” she says.

Working as a youth worker at schools in the Western Cape in the late 90s, combined with case studies and her own very devastating experiences growing up, Ms Linde identified areas of social and emotional skills that the students were lacking. She used this information and started writing programmes to equip such students. “I needed the kind of material that I was sure they would understand; something that was practical for them to do. It was a work in progress. Emotions are abstract concepts. They are difficult for children – and sometimes even for adults – to understand. Soetlief has found ways to make these abstract concepts concrete and understandable to children. Children are taught an emotional language which enables them to communicate their feelings. Parents are given guidance through letters and non-compulsory parental guidance workshops to understand this language and better provide in the emotional need of children,” she says.

Ms Linde eventually started Soetlief in 2002, knowing it was her destiny, her life’s purpose. “I started presenting the programme in 2002, when Mikala, my daughter, was born. At that point, my main drive was to create something for my own daughter so that she would not have to repeat my life cycle but rather live her own life and establish her own person. And with every year of her life that passed and I saw a cycle broken, I rejoiced.

“I realised the need and tried spreading my wings. I decided to start presenting the programme in schools as an extramural activity. I remember working my way down the yellow pages list of day care centres and crèches, trying to sell a programme about emotions and social interaction to people who had no idea what I was talking about. Explaining this new concept to people, was like trying to explain what the ocean looks and smells like to someone who has never even heard of it! After phoning and visiting approximately 20 schools, I felt as if I were offering something that could be lifesaving, but not wanted by anybody.

“As I drove home, I passed a crèche and decided to give it one last try. I walked in and spoke to the principal. She was super excited! Soon after that, I started my first official group consisting of five boys. And since, more children followed. I got more and more presenters on board and Soetlief grew into the digital platform it has now become,” concludes Ms Linde.