What Is “Social-Emotional Learning”?

And Why Is It So Important to Children’s Early Development?

       What is “Social-Emotional Learning” (SEL)? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) there are 5 key components to SEL:

1. Self awareness: One’s ability to notice, name, and understand their own internal experiences such as emotions, thoughts, and body/mind sensations.
          • Teaching children mindfulness helps activate the areas of the brain that children use to pay attention to how they feel.

2. Self management: One’s ability to take internal information like thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and effectively navigate different situations and achieve specific goals. Children must be taught how to manage internal sensations by learning self regulation skills such as:
          • External regulation: First, children rely on strategies like physical touch, music, rhythm, and rocking.
         • Co-regulation: Next, they become able to use the emotional attunement and social connection of adults as a model or guide.
         • Self regulation: Finally, children develop the tools to manage big internal experiences on their own.
         • Cognitive regulation or executive functioning skills: Cognitive flexibility, intact working memory, and inhibitory control allow children to achieve healthy self regulation.

3. Social awareness: One’s ability to recognize and understand others’ experiences, perspectives, thoughts, and emotions.
          • Children use their social awareness to develop empathy and compassion.
          • Educators can incorporate empathy building experiences (like volunteer work) to teach these skills.

4. Relationship skills: One’s ability to form the connections needed for making friends and maintaining healthy relationships. By building relationship skills children can learn:
          • Effective and open communication
          • Conflict resolution
          • Perspective-taking
          • Cooperation and collaboration
          • Active listening
          • Asking for help when needed

5. Responsible decision making: One’s ability to apply personal values and beliefs when making complex decisions.
          Children learn to predict outcomes and anticipate potential consequences that will guide their decision making process.

Why is Social-Emotional Learning so important?

  • Helps children establish experiences that promote safety in their bodies, environments, and relationships
  • Teaches compassionate thinking and behavior
  •  Improves academic success
  • Imparts the skills necessary for growing into well rounded, kind, individuals

Teaching SEL in early childhood is key

  • When children acquire the capacity to manage their own emotions, get along with their peers, pay attention, and follow directions they are able to better absorb educational content.
  • Teaching social-emotional skills in preschool provides children with tools to manage social and academic stressors.
  • Improves academic success - children are expected to have these skills intact by kindergarten, although many children do not.

Research shows that kindergarteners who are competent in social-emotional skills are:

  • 2x more likely to attain a college degree
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job by the age of 25
  • Shown to have healthier relationship behaviors such as compassion, sharing, and empathy
  • Shown to have higher academic achievement by an average of 11 percentile points

The Takeaway:
Social-emotional competence in early childhood can help to provide academic and occupational success in adulthood.

SEL Begins at Home:

  • Without realizing it, caregivers are working on social-emotional skills from the moment they take their little ones home.
  • Caregivers who recognize and fulfill their children’s needs set the foundation for social-emotional competence.
  • When a baby is comforted by an adult, the regions of the baby’s brain associated with learning and memory become active.
  • When babies have consistent exposure to hormones triggered by healthy and fulfilling social experiences their brains learn and grow in that same pattern.

How can I help my child build healthy and well developed social-emotional skills?

Stay regulated:
You can’t help your child regulate if you’re not regulated yourself. Practicing deep breathing, slowing down, and pausing before reacting can help you hold your child in moments of stress.

Stay attuned:
Paying close attention to subtle and explicit cues from your child can help you meet their needs and create meaning in tricky moments. Picking up on cues that your child is worried allows you to model and teach self management skills in real time.

Repair, repair, repair!:
Parents and children experience many relational issues and opportunities in a day. If your child is experiencing big feelings like tantrums, it is important to be there with your child from beginning to end so they can lean on you for support. Knowing that they can make it through big feelings will give them the confidence and tools to manage these occurrences in the future.

Validate big feelings:
Naming and validating your child’s feelings is important for building social-emotional competence. Offering phrases like, “it’s okay to feel ____ sometimes”, can decrease feelings of shame or guilt and lead to self awareness.

Create safety:
When big feelings arise, meeting your child with a sense of calm lets them feel emotionally held. Offering phrases like, “I’m here” and “you are safe”, teaches your child that it is safe to express emotions and that you are there to help.

Teach rather than expect:
Self regulation is a learned skill and requires teaching. Offering developmentally appropriate tools is critical in helping your child learn to regulate themselves. Does your child need some external regulation like hugs or music? Or is she ready for verbal cues such as, “slow down and breathe”?


The 5 components of Social-Emotional Learning are:

  • Self awareness
  • Self management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision making

          Children think and learn better when they are well regulated and competent in social-emotional skills. Focusing on SEL at home and at school yields positive outcomes in adulthood. Caregivers can help their children build social-emotional competence by recognizing and addressing their children's cues and by meeting their emotional needs.

Storypod believes that social-emotional skills act as a strong foundation for children’s learning, growth, and health!