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Social Emotional Learning: What It Is and Why You Should Care

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is about teaching individuals how to recognize, understand, manage and regulate their emotions, relationships, and responsibilities to others in order to make wise choices about their behavior, lifestyle, and character. The goal of SEL is to help children develop strong social skills so they can form healthy relationships with others and manage stress in daily life in order to thrive academically and personally. There are five key factors that go into SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

  • Self-awareness is the ability to understand and recognize one's emotions, strengths, limitations, and motivations.

  • Self-management is the ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts, actions, and behavior.

  • Social awareness is being able to understand the social cues, social norms, values, and culture of others as well as oneself.

  • Relationship skills are the ability to maintain healthy relationships with others.

  • Responsible decision-making is being able to make decisions that are right for oneself and others in a given situation or context.

Why does SEL matter?

In the past decade, parents have begun to recognize the importance of social-emotional learning at home. Social-emotional learning is a way to teach kids about their social, emotional, and mental health in order to help them build strong relationships. As such, social-emotional learning includes teaching kids about topics like stress management, self-awareness, empathy, self-advocacy, and goal setting.

Much like academic learning, social-emotional learning has many benefits. For example, kids who have greater social-emotional learning skills are better at recognizing and managing their emotions, which can help them succeed in school, with friends, and at home. In addition to that, by teaching kids about stress management, self-advocacy, empathy, and goal setting they’re able to learn skills that will carry over into adulthood.

What is Self Awareness

The idea of self-awareness is that we are more able to understand our own thoughts, feelings, and desires when we have an understanding of these qualities in other people. This means that if we can better understand what someone else might be thinking or feeling, then we're more likely to empathize with them. More importantly, self-awareness also helps us identify how others are reacting to us.


Self-management is a key skill for children to learn in order to manage their behavior. A child who understands how their own behavior affects themselves as well as others will be better equipped to handle difficult situations. Kids are often faced with challenging social situations that can spark stress, anger, or jealousy. Helping kids cope with their feelings, both positive and negative, can help them build friendships and enjoy social situations like birthday parties.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is about being aware of the social world around you. This includes understanding other people around you and tapping into how others may feel in different situations. It can be challenging for kids to look beyond how they feel and notice the emotions of others. Social awareness is all about helping kids learn to see their friends and process how they feel and then figuring out ways to help them in times of stress, or anger.

The goal is that by developing social awareness, we can build empathy for one another. For example, if a student is feeling sad because they just got a poor grade on their test, they will know what it feels like to get something they worked hard on taken away. They may be more sympathetic to classmates who have had this happen to them and may offer helpful suggestions or words of encouragement. In contrast, someone with low social awareness might not be as empathetic and might tell the person who did poorly on their test it's just one grade.

Relationship Skills

A big part of social-emotional learning is relationship skills. When people are able to work together well, they can accomplish more. They also feel better about themselves because they're able to see how their contributions to the team are valued. A lack of relationship skills can be a barrier to success, as people may not realize what's necessary for achieving goals or how they contribute positively or negatively to the group dynamic.

Responsible Decision Making

Making responsible decisions is one of the most important skills you'll ever teach your kids. It may not seem like a big deal when you're making a decision to stay up late or not do your homework, but these small choices can have long-term consequences. Younger children learn responsible decision-making through smaller action-then-consequence activities. For example, a young child may make a mess while playing. The latter consequence is to clean up the mess after playtime.

For older kids, this can be learned through chore charts that result in rewards. If chores are done correctly they get the reward, when they are not, they do not receive the reward. There is also a behavior ladder that allows children to take responsibility for their choices in different situations. They move up the ladder when they may good choices, and down the ladder when they make poor choices.

Implementing Social-Emotional Learning as Parents

Social-emotional learning is key to developing healthy relationships. It all starts with building a culture of empathy at home. One way to do this is by reading stories together that focus on feelings. After you show your child what empathy is, it's important to teach children how their actions affect other people so they can understand how their words and actions have an impact. And, as parents, you need to model empathy as well as encourage children to express empathy towards others.

Once your child understands empathy, you open the door for new discussions that continue the journey of social-emotional learning.


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