Social and emotional learning (SEL) is about learning how to manage feelings, manage friendships and solve problems.
These are essential life skills that support a child’s ability to cope with difficulties and helps prevent mental health problems.
Children who develop social and emotional skills find it easier to manage themselves, relate to others, resolve conflict, and feel positive about themselves and the world around them.
The five social and emotional skills areas
The five kinds of social and emotional skills that are important for children to develop are:
- Self-awareness: understanding feelings, self-confidence
- Social awareness: respecting and understanding others, and appreciating differences between people
- Self-management: managing emotions, being able to set goals and stick to them
- Responsible decision making: choosing wisely and thoughtfully
- Relationship skills: cooperating, communicating, making friends and resolving conflict.
Watch our video on the five social and emotional skills:
It’s important to recognise that social and emotional skills develop over time, and that they may develop differently for different children.
Why social and emotional learning is important to schools and home
Research has found that teaching children social and emotional skills at school as well as at home makes a positive difference to their wellbeing.
Social and emotional skills help school children settle in the classroom and get on with learning.
Because it emphasises teaching children the skills for positive relationships, SEL is also a key way for schools in their efforts to reduce bullying and improve caring, respect and responsibility at school.
When children are taught specific strategies for recognising and responding to emotions, thinking through challenging situations and communicating effectively, they are less likely to act out frustrations at school and elsewhere.
Parents and carers play a critical role in supporting social and emotional learning
Parents and carers have a critical role to play in guiding and supporting children’s social and emotional learning.
Social and emotional skills develop with practice. Everyday situations present lots of opportunities for children to learn and practise skills for coping with emotions, managing relationships and solving problems.
You can help children build the skills they need by providing effective coaching.
Here’s seven ways to support your child to develop social and emotional skills:
1. Encourage discussion of feelings
Encourage children to talk about how they are feeling. Listen with empathy so they feel understood. Help them see that feelings are normal and that all feelings are okay, it is important to understand them, and that understanding and talking about feelings helps you to manage them.
2. Support children’s confidence
Help children identify and develop their strengths by encouraging them to have a go at things and find activities they enjoy. Praise their efforts, celebrate their successes and encourage them to keep trying and learning.
3. Provide opportunities to play with others
Playing with other children provides practice in important social skills such as sharing, taking turns and cooperation. Help children develop their skills by praising their appropriate play behaviour, for example: “I noticed how nicely you shared your toys. That made it fun for both of you.”
4. Lead by example
Parents and carers are important role models. Children learn how to behave by observing and imitating the behaviour of those around them, particularly adults. When you model positive ways of coping with strong feelings like anger, it helps children feel safe and shows them ways that they can manage strong feelings too.
5. Give children choices
To develop responsibility, children need practice in making choices that are appropriate for their age and experience level. You can help children build decision-making skills by encouraging them to explore options and helping them think through the reasons for their choices. Involving children in family decision-making (that you are in charge of) helps them develop skills for responsible decision making and encourages cooperative family relationships.
6. Encourage creative problem-solving
Asking questions that help children think of alternative solutions supports their thinking and problem-solving skills. When problems arise you can explore them together by asking questions, such as: “What could you do about that?” or “What do you think might happen if you try that?”
7. Teach children to use assertive communication skills
Show children how to confidently and respectfully communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs to others in an assertive way, for example: “I really don’t want to play that game. It’s too dangerous. Let’s play a different game instead.”
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