Social and emotional learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is about developing empathy, and the skills to manage emotions, set goals, and develop healthy relationships.
Educator talking with children

Why is SEL is important for learning?

Research shows that children and young people’s learning is influenced by a range of social and emotional factors. 

How well individuals do in their learning environment is affected by things such as how:
  • confident they feel about their abilities
  • effectively they’re able to manage their own behaviour
  • well they can concentrate and organise themselves
  • effectively they can solve problems
  • positively they can get on with educators and their peers
  • effectively they consider others’ needs
  • well they can understand and accept responsibilities.

Therefore, SEL and success within the learning environment go hand in hand.

  • What is SEL?

    A sense of self, emotional skills and social skills are at the core of SEL.

    Sense of self

    Ideally, this involves feeling good about themselves and what they can do. 

    As children and young people experience success in their efforts to interact with others and explore their world, they develop self-confidence and see themselves as capable. This motivates them to continue engaging in new experiences and feel optimistic about the future. 

    Emotional skills

    Emotional skills include recognising, expressing, understanding and managing a wide range of feelings.

    These help children and young people develop the ability to interact successfully with others and their physical world. Children and young people who can understand and manage their feelings are more likely to develop a positive sense of self and be confident and curious learners. 

    Social skills

    These skills are about getting along with others. 

    Through their first relationships, children learn that they can trust others to care for them and meet their needs. As they grow, children learn to relate to others by watching, imitating and trying out new behaviours. They begin to understand they can have an impact on others and that other children may have different thoughts and feelings from their own. These skills continue to grow, develop and become refined throughout childhood and adolescence.

  • How is SEL taught?

    Many early learning services and schools already incorporate some aspects of SEL.

    Be You’s approach is to look at what your learning community is already doing and to ask you to evaluate how social and emotional skills are taught. Be You provides a framework for planning, teaching and evaluating, so that, from year to year, children and young people can acquire and consolidate skills that are relevant and appropriate for their age and skill level.

    Teaching SEL is no different to teaching numeracy or literacy skills – it needs to be continuous, cumulative and tailored to a child’s age and stage.

  • Five social and emotional skill areas

    Be You’s approach to SEL is based on the model developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an internationally recognised organisation in this area of research.

    The model defines five social and emotional skill areas essential for the development of good mental health. Each of these skill areas includes a number of specific elements. Intentional teaching of the competencies is also crucial to implementing effective SEL, as are opportunities for children and young people to practise and generalise them. 

    Teaching SEL works best when the focus is on helping children and young people learn skills from each domain so that they gradually and progressively build their skills and knowledge throughout early learning and school. It’s an ongoing process across all year levels.



    This is the ability to recognise and understand your own emotions, thoughts and values, and understand how they affect your behaviour. It’s about understanding and assessing your personal strengths, and understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved. The main skills include:

    • identifying emotions
    • self-perception
    • understanding strengths
    • self-confidence
    • self-efficacy.

    This is the ability to manage and regulate your emotions and behaviour, including managing stress, controlling impulses and keeping yourself motivated. The main skills include:

    • impulse control
    • stress management
    • self-discipline
    • self-motivation
    • goal-setting
    • organisational skills.
    Social awareness

    This is the ability to understand and empathise with people from a range of diverse backgrounds, and to understand social and ethical norms of behaviour. The main skills include:

    • perspective-taking
    • empathy
    • appreciating diversity
    • respect for others.
    Relationship skills

    These involve the ability to develop and maintain healthy and positive relationships with others. They include the ability to communicate clearly, listen, cooperate, resist peer pressure and negotiate conflict. The main skills include:

    • communication
    • social engagement
    • relationship building
    • teamwork.
    Responsible decision-making

    This is the ability to make informed and responsible decisions about personal behaviour and social interactions with others, based on adherence to ethical standards, safety concerns and social norms. The main skills include:

    • identifying problems
    • analysing situations
    • solving problems
    • self-evaluation
    • self-reflection
    • ethical responsibility.
  • What can I do to support SEL in children and young people?

    Children and young people’s social and emotional learning skills are developing all the time.

    Skills may develop differently and at varying rates for different individuals. Children and young people benefit from having ongoing learning opportunities.

    There are many ways you can support children and young people in developing SEL skills.

    This could include planned activities across the service or school, or activities within specific learning environments, as well as making the most of informal learning opportunities during unplanned activities and conversations. Approaches may include a combination of:

    • universal approaches that are planned and that target the whole service or school
    • targeted approaches that are unplanned and respond to a specific incident or opportunity.

    Differentiated learning includes activities tailored to meet the individual needs of children and young people. This might include planning and delivering varying content, implementing procedures or modifying the learning environment. Differentiated learning provides flexibility and adaptability as children and young people develop their skills and knowledge. 

    Effective support social and emotional learning builds children and young people’s understanding and abilities by starting from what they can do and encouraging them to take the next step.

    Be You Professional Learning

    Check out content on social and emotional learning (SEL) and teaching for resilience in the Learning Resilience domain.

  • References

    Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2018). Core SEL competencies. Chicago: CASEL. Retrieved from

    Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.

    Goleman, D. (2015). The future of SEL. In J. A. Durlak, C. E. Domitrovich, R. P. Weissberg, & T. P. Gullotta (Eds.), Handbook of social and emotional learning (pp. 593–596). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

    Humphrey, N. (2013). Social and emotional learning: A critical appraisal. London, UK: SAGE Publications Limited.

    Payton, J. W., Wardlaw, D. M., Graczyk, P. A., Bloodworth, M. R., Tompsett, C. J., & Weissberg, R. P. (2000). Social and emotional learning: A framework for promoting mental health and reducing risk behavior in children and youth. Journal of School Health, 70(5), 179-185.