If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
Social and emotional skills help us interact, form and maintain relationships, control our behavior, and solve problems in daily social interactions. And while these skills are crucial for success in nearly every area of life, they are not innate. They must be learned and practiced over time.
The earliest influence on social and emotional development begins with parents and caregivers. For some children, this development appears to come naturally, but for others, social and emotional learning (SEL) is quite challenging. Many children need extra help in math or learning to read, and learning social and emotional skills is no different.
The good news is that more than two decades of research demonstrates that education promoting SEL gets results. The findings come from multiple fields and sources, including student achievement, neuroscience, health, employment, psychology, classroom management, learning theory, economics, and the prevention of youth problem behaviors.
But, what are the specific “social and emotional skills” we are talking about?
Communication skills are what we say, how we say it, and how we hear and understand what others have to say. One component is outward as we express ourselves and another is inward as we are receptive to others.
Children with good communication skills understand how to respond when others start a conversation, can share their thoughts and feelings and can use an appropriate tone of voice.
Cooperation is the ability to work together with other people toward a common goal for mutual benefit.
Learning how to cooperate helps a child succeed in everything from sharing toys, playing on a sports team, and completing a group project at school. To successfully cooperate, children may need to integrate several other skills such as communication, empathy, and emotion regulation.
Emotion Regulation is the ability to recognize and manage the feelings underlying our behavior in real-time. There are two components to Emotion Regulation: self-awareness and self-control. Self-awareness is recognizing internal signs and reactions to help identify emotions. What does anger feel like? Does that sinking feeling mean I’m sad? And Self-control is when we learn to control our behavior as we respond to situations around us, breaking the cycle of reacting inappropriately, preventing lashing out, and calming down before acting.
Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and ultimately, to feel what another person is feeling.
Once we are able to feel what another person is feeling, we can choose to show “compassionate empathy.” This is where we move beyond understanding and take action. For example, with compassionate empathy, when we recognize someone is feeling down, we can offer comfort.
Impulse Control is the ability to stop and consider a situation, even just for a moment, before acting. We learn to weigh the potential positive and negative outcomes and decide on the best course of action. For example, when seeing a group of children playing together, should I jump right in and start playing? On the other hand, should I start by observing, making friendly comments, and smiling?
Social Initiation means learning how to join with others in an activity or conversation. For a child, this includes learning the steps to take to begin playing with another child or learning how to ask a question of an adult. Some children may find it easy to accept an invitation to join a group but have difficulty initiating the invitation to ask others to join them. Children who struggle to engage may be seen as passive, withdrawn, timid or solitary.