What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team

A young child who cannot control his emotions, a high schooler who has trouble making friends, and a professional who has difficulty making decisions can all benefit from social-emotional learning. The concept of social-emotional learning (SEL) has been around for a long time but was introduced in schools around the 1990s.

Lately, its importance in a child’s overall development has been acknowledged by several experts, and hence many schools are now beginning to introduce their students to social-emotional learning. In this write-up, we are going to take you through all aspects of social-emotional learning and how it impacts our lives.

What is social-emotional learning?

In simple terms, social-emotional learning is all about helping individuals develop vital social and emotional skills. These skills help them become people who are in control of their emotions, have empathy for others, are capable of making responsible decisions, and have good interpersonal and problem-solving skills. Having this skill set prepares them to face challenges and helps them excel in all spheres of life.

What are the key components of SEL?

Social-emotional learning comprises five key core competencies according to the CASEL SEL framework. Let’s have a look at them one by one:


1. Self-awareness

This involves understanding your emotions and beliefs and knowing the fact that your emotions directly influence your actions. It is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses and what motivates you to achieve your goals and ambitions.

2. Self-management

When a person has high self-awareness, they are better at impulse control and regulating their emotions, which is part of self-management. They realize their emotions and actions are interconnected and know how to manage them in difficult times.

3. Social awareness

Being socially aware means a person is open to other people’s perspectives, is empathetic toward others, and knows how to behave and respond in a respectable manner. Individuals with high social awareness appreciate diversity and understand that people coming from different cultures and backgrounds may have different views, which is completely fine.

4. Relationship skills

Having strong relationship skills involves being able to cultivate healthy relationships in personal and professional life. It also entails effective communication and resolving conflicts peacefully. For kids, it means developing strong, long-lasting friendships, which helps them thrive in a school environment.

5. Responsible decision making

This aspect of SEL entails making responsible decisions on how to respond in different situations. It is about realizing that your decisions can have an impact on others. So being responsible in making decisions that take care of the sentiments of oneself and others is the idea behind it.

Why is SEL important for kids and adults?

Social-emotional learning is not just meant for little kids. It is beneficial for people of any age group, including adults. By engaging in social-emotional activities in school, kids get to practice the social-emotional skills necessary to navigate life smoothly. Being able to understand oneself and others empowers kids to do well in school and beyond. On the other hand, adults who regularly perform SEL activities are better at handling tough situations at work and in their personal lives. They feel less stressed because they can manage overwhelming emotions and have better patience levels.

Another reason why SEL is more important than ever is that some startling statistics on social, emotional, and mental health reveal that one in seven kids in the age group of 10–19 develops a mental disorder. Around 9.7% of youth experience depression in the US alone, and a similar percentage of 3–17-year-olds were diagnosed with anxiety issues during 2016–2019. 

These numbers clearly indicate the need for emotional regulation so kids don’t have to deal with these issues. And one way to make it possible is to incorporate SEL early on in school, so children have coping mechanisms in place. This will make it easier for them to handle difficult emotions and do better socially and academically.

What are the benefits of SEL?

SEL has not one but many benefits. Schools that regularly conduct SEL activities observe many benefits for their students. Some of them are:

Positive behavior and attitude
  • Positive behavior and attitude
  • Better grades and attendance
  • Increased ability to handle stress
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Not falling into the trap of peer pressure
  • Better at managing emotional outbursts
  • Sound decision-making
  • Improved classroom behavior
  • Fewer chances of developing mental disorders
  • Higher chances of success in the future

Is there enough research on the benefits of SEL?

Researchers have a particular interest in establishing the benefits of SEL for children belonging to multiple age groups. A study[1] involving 97,406 students was conducted to establish the outcomes of SEL interventions in children studying in kindergarten through grade 12. Follow-up outcomes revealed that participants had better attitudes, academic outcomes, and social-emotional skills.

Another review[2] of the results of school-based SEL interventions for K–12 students established similar positive outcomes. It involved 575,361 students in 53 countries. It stated that students who had received SEL interventions had better behaviors, peer relationships, academic achievements, and school functioning.

Furthermore, an article[3] published by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) states that when students were offered interventions in the areas of the five core competencies of SEL, their academic performance improved by 11 percentile points. All these studies are enough to indicate how beneficial SEL is for school-going kids.  

How can educators incorporate SEL in classrooms?

Useful resources like social-emotional learning websites are available for educators to learn how they can incorporate SEL into the core curriculum. Because SEL is not a specific subject, educators must strategically weave social-emotional learning into the educational program. Some schools prefer to have dedicated slots to teach kids important social-emotional skills, while others incorporate them throughout the school day.

Some ways to engage kids in social-emotional learning include:

1. Helping kids learn SEL vocabulary so they can express themselves better
2. Daily morning check-in to know how students are feeling
3. Giving tasks requiring group or partner work
4. Allowing quiet time for journaling
5. Setting up a reset or calm-down space in the classroom
6. Teaching kids how to practice mindfulness
7. Instilling a culture of empathy and kindness
8. Using role play to learn other people’s perspectives

Other simple ways to help students learn about social-emotional learning are through SEL-based apps and games. These are easy, engaging, and fun ways to build SEL skills in school-going children.

Are there any challenges in implementing SEL effectively?

Although the benefits of SEL are quite evident and more schools realize their importance, there are several challenges that may hinder its successful implementation. Let’s have a brief look at them.

  1. Time and resources: As integrating SEL into the curriculum requires time and resources, it may be difficult for teachers to take time out of their packed schedule and allocate explicit time for SEL activities.
  2. Teacher training: For successful implementation of SEL, teachers must be well-versed in its principles and practices. The absence of a proper teacher training system can make it difficult for educators to conduct and encourage social-emotional learning in the classroom.
  3. Consistency and sustainability: Effective implementation of SEL requires long-term commitment and support. Maintaining this consistency throughout a child’s educational journey can be difficult if no solid guidelines are in place.
  4. Assessment of SEL effectiveness: While it is comparatively easy to implement SEL in classrooms, measuring its effectiveness is equally difficult. Unlike academic subjects, which can be measured through standardized tests, there are no specific assessments available to measure the effectiveness of SEL programs.

In Conclusion

Social-emotional learning has become a crucial part of the school curriculum. Its significance has been demonstrated by the numerous studies that have attested to its advantages for children’s overall development. Children gain a variety of abilities through SEL, such as learning to control their emotions, cultivate positive relationships with their family and classmates, and face the challenges of life with ease. 

Because of this, educators and parents are now working together to help kids develop their SEL skills. By seamlessly integrating SEL into the school curriculum, we can ensure our future generations consist of individuals with well-balanced minds, compassionate hearts, and the willingness to collaborate with others, ensuring success for themselves and those around them.  


  1. Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects. Child Development, 88(4), 1156–1171. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12864
  2. Cipriano, C., Strambler, M. J., Naples, L., Ha, C., Kirk, M. A., Wood, M. E., … Durlak, J. (2023, February 2). Stage 2 Report: The State of the Evidence for Social and Emotional Learning: A Contemporary Meta-Analysis of Universal School-Based SEL Interventions. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/mk35u
  3. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405-432.

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