What Is Social-Emotional Learning? Why Is It important?

Social-emotional learning (or SEL) is an important tool that helps children manage their emotions and handle social interactions. It enables them to develop self-control, self-discipline, and self-awareness. The benefits of this learning style are numerous: it reduces depression, improves attitudes, and promotes altruistic behaviours like sharing and kindness. Studies show that it even improves their intelligence. It definitely helps children cope with the challenges that they encounter in their daily lives. Social-emotional learning teaches children how to set goals, be empathetic to others, maintain healthy relationships, and make smart choices. It’s based on the idea that for children to learn and develop, they must first have all their needs met so that no stress interferes with their academic progress. By teaching children how they can best understand themselves and the people around them, they can thrive in any environment.

Stress and negative emotions impede a child’s ability to learn. To manage difficult feelings, children can be taught the core components of social-emotional learning. In a school setting, the main focus is typically on attaining good grades. But SEL incorporates strategies that meet all the needs of the child so that they can grow and develop to be their best self. For a child to learn and grow in a healthy and comfortable way, they need an environment that enables them to learn about themselves and the world around them. There are five main components in the model of social-emotional learning:

The first aspect that SEL seeks to foster in a child is self-awareness. Students learn how to assess their strengths and weaknesses, which results in a richer understanding of their values and beliefs. For children to understand how their emotions impact their behaviour, developing self-awareness is key. They learn to be well-grounded and optimistic about their goals. Self-awareness promotes the recognition of how one’s actions, emotions, and thoughts are all connected. It also creates confidence, because the children have a better understanding of themselves.

  • Self-management is another important part of dealing with everyday emotions, especially challenging ones. Regulation is challenging for children, but by learning to self-manage, they can understand how to control their impulses and delay gratification. Children will learn how to regulate their thoughts and behaviours in many situations, and to persist through difficult or frustrating challenges. The result of self-management is a child that can better manage their stress and motivation so that they can achieve their goals.
  • Social awareness involves developing empathy and respect. Children learn to see beyond themselves and consider the thoughts and feelings of those around them. They learn to develop a more holistic perception of others that includes considering ethical and social norms in a situation. Compassion is a key component of social awareness that allows children to understand peers from different cultures and backgrounds, and to appreciate diversity. They learn how to obey the different social norms in various settings like home and school. Social awareness also involves the recognition of community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills are another focus of social-emotional learning. These skills are essential for a child to develop healthy relationships with their peers. Children are encouraged to cooperate with and actively listen to their classmates, and to communicate their thoughts and feelings. It also involves resisting antisocial behaviours, like inappropriate comments or roughhousing. By learning relationship skills, kids can create and maintain healthy connections that involve resisting peer pressure and avoiding conflict. A happy life is built on healthy social relationships, so social-emotional learning places emphasis on being kind and compassionate towards others.

The last tenant of SEL focuses on responsible decision-making. This final component of social-emotional learning uses all four previous skills to enable children to make the best decisions for themselves. They learn to consider all factors of the situation that they are involved in before making a choice. During social interactions, they learn to consider social norms, respectful choices, and safety concerns. Children who grasp responsible decision-making can form realistic evaluations about their behaviour and social interactions. They can also better evaluate the consequences of their actions by identifying issues and reflecting on situations. Finally, they learn to make choices that promote the well-being of both themselves and those around them.

Social-emotional learning is important to the healthy development of any child. It sets children up for success in their academic careers and in society. SEL enables them to cope with the challenges they will encounter at home, at school, and in the future. Children learn to evaluate situations from multiple angles and consider other people’s perspectives. Overall, social-emotional learning makes children happier and schools more harmonious. Children who are taught SEL principles are able to foster self-awareness, set and achieve goals, feel empathy for their friends and family, maintain healthy relationships, and make wiser decisions.

Veronica Wallace, KIDTHINK


KIDTHINK is a mental health treatment center and outreach program that focuses on improving mental health and well-being for children aged 12 and under in Manitoba. KIDTHINK provides a model of care that includes psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals to create a truly multidisciplinary team that all works together to give the children and their families the highest standard of care.