How do we know that a student is thriving at school? In the past, student grades and test scores have been the key measures of academic success. But these days, students also need to know how to set and pursue goals, understand and manage emotions, cope with setbacks, show empathy, collaborate, engage in positive social relationships, and make responsible decisions—a skill set called social and emotional learning (SEL). Research has shown that social-emotional skills are crucial for children to become successful both socially and academically. 

Like all of us, children want to feel good, and like all of us, that’s a challenge.  They disagree with their friends, are teased, miss out on the teamfail an exam or things are happening in the world that they don’t understand. As children experience these situations, it is our responsibility as parents and educators to teach them how to handle these emotional reactions and develop intelligence.  

What does emotional health look like in children? 

An emotionally healthy child is aware of their emotions and equipped with the skills and strategies to deal with them. Learning how to recognise, express, and regulate emotions is an important skill for everyone, regardless of age or ability level. An individual who is motivated to learn, able to relate to others, capable of calming him or herself, or be calmed by others, will be ready to learn and experience success in school and in life (Yates et. al, 2008). 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning has identified five core skills that are widely recognised as critical social-emotional skills: 


This is the ability to accurately recognise one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behaviour. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism. 

Examples of questions someone who is self-aware may ask: 

  • What are my thoughts and feelings? 
  • What causes those thoughts and feelings? 
  • How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully? 


This is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviours effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals. 

Examples of questions someone who has good self-management may ask: 

  • What different responses can I have to an event? 
  • How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible? 

Social awareness: 

This is the ability to take the perspective of and empathise with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behaviour, and to recognise family, school and community resources and supports. 

Examples of questions someone who has good social awareness may ask: 

  • How can I better understand other people’s thoughts and feelings? 
  • How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do? 

Relationship skills: 

This is the ability to establish and maintain healthy rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed. 

Examples of questions someone who has good relationships skills may ask: 

  • How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well? 
  • How can I communicate my expectations to other people? 
  • How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me? 

Responsible decision-making: 

This is the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behaviour and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others. 

Examples of questions someone who is a responsible decision-maker may ask: 

  • What consequences will my actions have on myself and others? 
  • How do my choices align with my values? 
  • How can I solve problems effectively? 

Five strategies for promoting social-emotional learning in children

  1. Be a good emotional role model. Children model their behaviour from people they admire, such as their parents and teachers. When caregivers model a variety of emotions and coping strategies to manage their emotions, children learn appropriate ways to react in similar circumstances. 
  2. Be an “emotion coach.” accept and talk about children’s emotions. It is also useful to teach children how to label emotions, cope with and problem-solve emotions, and appropriately express emotions. Emotion coaching is associated with greater emotion regulation and adaptive behaviours as well as lower levels of disruptive behaviours (Dusnmore, Booker, & Ollendick, 2013; Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1996). 
  3. Read books with social-emotional plots. Reading books can provide opportunities to learn and discuss social-emotional topics, such as turn-taking and cooperation. Asking children to label and explain the emotions of the characters in the story helps them learn a variety of emotions (Brownell, et al., 2013). 
  4. Give choices. Providing children with choices and the independence to make them are linked to higher levels of social-emotional learning. A parent-child relationship that involves working together to solve problems teaches children how to negotiate and solve problems with parents, which later leads to improved social skills and higher acceptance in relationships with peers (Matte-Gagné, Harvey, & Stack, 2015). 
  5. Use positive discipline strategies. Setting rules and expectations for behaviour, giving warnings of potential consequences, offering praise and incentives for positive behaviours and ignoring unwanted behaviour are associated with higher levels of social-emotional skills (LaRosa, Ogg, Suldo, & Dedrick, 2016). When children act out, discuss the effects of their behaviour on others to promote empathy, perspective-taking and prosocial behaviour (Eisenberg, VanSchyndel & Hofer, 2015). 

Mrs Tracy Rogers  

Deputy Principal Pastoral Wellbeing 

Yates, T., Ostrosky, M. M., Cheatham, G. A., Fettig, A., Shaffer, L., & Santos, R. M. (2008). Research Synthesis on Screening and Assessing Social-Emotional Competence. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Retrieved from