What Is Social-Emotional Learning And Why Is It Important For Kids?

Group of friends outside hugging in a row

What is social-emotional learning (SEL), and how can your child benefit from it? People who’ve developed strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope in many areas of their lives, including academic and social aspects.

As parents, we want to help our kids develop the skills necessary to thrive not only in their childhoods, but also well beyond. Social-emotional learning seems to be the answer.

In this article, we’ll share what you need to know about SEL and why social-emotional skills are some of the most important skills that a child will develop. Let’s get started!

What Is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Children playing with blocks learning what is social-emotional learning

Children aren’t born knowing how to manage their emotions, get along with other people, or cope with stress. If you’ve ever experienced a toddler’s tantrum in the middle of a grocery store, you know exactly what we’re talking about!

But emotions and stress are a normal part of life, and it’s important to develop skills that help us cope with these challenges. This is where social-emotional learning comes in.

SEL helps kids acquire the knowledge, attitude, and skills needed to understand and manage emotions, develop empathy for others, set and accomplish goals, make responsible decisions, and maintain healthy relationships.

SEL helps us lay the foundation for our children to grow into positive, responsible, and self-aware adults.

The 5 Components Of SEL

Social-emotional learning is broken up into five key and interrelated areas that are essential for a young child’s development.

1) Self-Awareness

Cute little girl looking in mirror at home in the bathroom

A huge part of self-awareness is introspection — being able to self-reflect and, in the process, honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses.

It also involves monitoring and being aware of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and stress levels in any situation.

Without self-awareness, it’s challenging (if not impossible), for someone to learn and grow from their mistakes. SEL helps children develop this essential life skill.

2) Social Awareness

Social awareness gives us the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.

Sometimes that person may be from a completely different culture than ours. It helps us to feel empathy and compassion for them even though we have different backgrounds.

But empathy goes beyond just feeling compassion for people from other cultures; it is needed in everyday interactions, too. It helps kids understand why their friend is crying, why that friend may be hurt or angry, or why they may be silly or happy.

There are over seven billion people on earth, making social awareness an important concept for children to grasp!

3) Impulse Control

Sad looking child hugging a stuffed animal for comfort

Impulse control helps us stop from engaging in behaviors that may be harmful to us or the people around us.

Children who struggle with impulse control may have outbursts and often fight with other kids. They may also have a tough time delaying gratification because they haven’t learned how to take control of their emotions and thoughts.

We can refer to this as “self-management,” which can be supported with SEL.

4) Relationship Skills

SEL helps children establish and maintain healthy relationships with others. These skills teach children how to resolve conflicts, communicate effectively, and determine when (and how) to ask for help.

5) Decision-Making

Making good decisions, including prioritizing, is something that many people (including adults) struggle with. It includes weighing your pros and cons, considering your wellbeing and others’, and making sound decisions based on all of this information.

The younger children are when they begin to understand this important skill, the more time they have to develop it before the challenges of adulthood begin.

3 Benefits Of Social-Emotional Learning For Kids

Happy kids who have mastered social-emotional learning

1) More Positive Attitude

Social-emotional learning helps children develop a more positive attitude toward themselves and the people around them. This includes having empathy, confidence, and persistence.

2) Help Navigating Adult Life

While the focus at the moment might be on helping your child have better experiences, SEL skills do not end in childhood.

Children carry these skills well into their adult lives to help them effectively solve challenges they may face in their relationships, friendships, or work. These are all crucial elements of living a healthy and balanced life.

3) Better Grades

It’s now well-known that social-emotional learning positively impacts kids, including their grades. That’s likely because SEL helps children learn how to solve problems, cope with emotional stress, and overcome peer pressure.

While academic performance is not the most important benefit on this list, it’s worth mentioning.

How To Approach Social-Emotional Learning

Now that we’ve shared what SEL is and why it’s essential for children’s development, here’s how to help your child on their journey of social-emotional learning.

1) Be A Role Model

Mom laughing with daughter in grass while teaching her what is social-emotional learning

Kids learn best from our actions, not our words. It’s challenging to teach your child how to handle their emotions if you are often highly anxious or stressed.

We recommend making an effort to be more aware of your feelings and handle them in a healthy way. Your child will pick up on your moods and how you deal with them.

2) Incorporate Role-Playing

If you’ve been to therapy (or watched a TV show or film with a therapy session between a couple), you know how common role-playing is in helping resolve conflict.

But it goes beyond just getting people to stop fighting. Role-playing gives us the opportunity to understand another person’s rationale (something that’s difficult in the middle of an argument) and why they may have said or done what they did.

3) Have Conversations

Mom hugging daughter at kitchen counter

A huge part of developing social skills is the ability to verbally communicate your thoughts and feelings. You can help your child learn to do that.

Did they recently visit their grandparents or have a sleepover at their cousin’s house? Consider asking them:

  • What did you do while there?
  • What was the best part?
  • Was there a worst part?
  • What made you happy?

Be sure to make this a lighthearted conversation, not an interview. The goal is to create a safe space where everyone can express themselves with no judgments.

At first, your child might not know how to express themselves or answer these questions thoroughly. That’s OK! With a bit of time and encouragement, they’ll get there.

4) Set Goals

Setting goals and working toward them can help your child continue developing their SEL skills.

Ideally, you’ll want to set aside some time at the beginning of a new year, over summer vacation, or before a birthday to set goals.

During the process, help your child think about what they would like to achieve, making sure it’s something realistic but exciting. Throughout the year (or whatever time frame you’ve chosen), help them chart their progress.

Some examples of SEL goals might be:

  • Learning to take a time out when they’re upset
  • Using words to express how they feel
  • Thinking of new ways to show others they are concerned about them

5) Practice Working In Pairs

Young kids at a table coloring

Your child will work in teams not just in school but also as an adult. Help them develop the ability to work with others from a young age.

For instance, when it’s cleaning time, you can work together to sort laundry or straighten up a room. You might also consider teaming up to make a special gift for someone.

Additionally, if your child is of reading age, you can take turns reading alternating paragraphs or pages when you read together. If you have multiple children, they can share the book while you monitor the situation.

Another great opportunity to practice teamwork is when young children have a playdate. Plan activities that would require both children to work together, such as cooking a meal, drawing together, playing dress up, or making a fort under a table.

6) Consider The Perspective Of Others

Considering the perspective of other people helps us all further develop our empathy. How can we teach this to kids?

One of the easiest ways is to incorporate social-emotional learning during storytime. After reading a book, you might ask your child how they think a character felt or why that character took certain actions.

You can also use everyday situations to help your child learn how to understand the perspective of others.

For example:

  • Look at how unhappy Chrissy was when kids made fun of her name. I think her face looked like this (make an unhappy face). I hope she feels happy again soon.
  • (On another day) Look how happy Chrissy seems now! Can you show me your happy face?

Set Your Child Up For Social-Emotional Success

Kids in a circle with their heads together looking down

Social-emotional learning benefits children in many ways, both now and in the future. It helps them understand their actions, the actions of others, and how to make sense of it all.

While it might take time to develop, SEL is definitely worth starting in childhood as it will help to ensure that our children become well-rounded, emotionally mature adults.

For more ideas on helping your child develop social-emotional learning skills, check out our HOMER Explore Feelings Kit. Learning these skills through play helps kids practice for real life!