Social-Emotional Learning Skills

Social emotional learning skills are key for children to develop in order to become emotionally literate and to grow emotional intelligence. (EI) Most of the referrals I work with are behaviour based and nearly all can be successfully dealt with if the child involved is taught to understand and respond appropriately to their big emotional needs. All too often parents and teachers want you to 'fix' the child but are not able to see that it is their responses to the child that will make the biggest difference.

Both the NZ Curriculum (primary school) and Te Whariki (early childhood) have a strong emphasis on social and emotional learning as part of the teaching and learning process.

The New Zealand Curriculum Vision is that: To support young people to develop confidence, become connected to others, actively involved, and become lifelong learners.

Te Whariki's vision is:For children who are competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.

So even though both curriculums have a strong focus on emotional wellbeing we are somehow letting our tamariki down but not giving enough time and energy to developing this.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is slowing making its way into daily classroom practice and a huge part of the work I do with the referrals I pick up because most behaviour stems from some unmet need-usually emotional and social competency. The infographic below shows the important areas we can target.

There are skills that children need to develop in order to master social and emotional competency.


Self-awareness involves understanding your own emotions, personal goals, and values. This includes accurately assessing your strengths and limitations, having positive mind-sets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism. High levels of self-awareness require the ability to recognise how thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected. In other words, taking responsibility for their own behaviour!


Self-management requires skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate your own emotions and behaviours. This includes the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, control impulses, and persevere through challenges in order to achieve personal and educational goals- all incredibly hard things for children to learn and which need explicit teaching. They don't just come naturally to most children!

Social Awareness

Social awareness involves the ability to understand, empathise, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures. It also involves understanding social norms for behaviour and recognising family, school, and community resources and supports.

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills help children to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships, and to act in accordance with social norms. These skills involve communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking help when it is needed.

Responsible Decision Making

Responsible decision making involves learning how to make better choices about their behaviour and social interactions. It requires the ability to consider moral dilemmas, safety concerns, good choices around risky behaviours, consider well-being to myself and others, and to understand that their actions consequences and impact on others.

Social Emotional Learning Strategies

When we equip our students with tools to identify their emotions and self-regulate, we are giving them tools for life and promoting a positive environment for learning. An integral part of how to human really!

1. Connect emotions to behaviour- Children may not have the language knowledge or the understanding how to explain what they are feeling. When teaching these skills I often use concrete examples or scenarios to help them understand how their emotions are tied to their behaviour. Does a big dog make them feel nervous or scared? How do they react when they feel anxious about a something new that they have to undertake? Think about how they respond to disagreements with sibling, how do they react? When they are able to understand their emotions and how they are feeling, they can start using emotional regulation tools and strategies.

2. Be flexible and patient- When working with children on emotional regulation it is important that they have an understanding about being patient and flexible. Too many times parents say "it's not working" after just a couple of weeks- these are life time skills and we all know adults who haven't developed them fully yet! You may need to change up how you introduce emotions, or maybe a strategy you thought would work isn’t - keep trying because the payoff is worth it.

3. Set the tone and share your own feelings- Everything we teach children needs to be modelled by us! This may feel uncomfortable at first, but by sharing our own feelings and modelling the responses and strategies that we are encouraging them to use is the best way to teach it, and will have a huge impact.

Why is self-regulation important?

Self-regulation skills are linked to how well children manage many tasks during early childhood. With these skills, children are more able to manage difficult and stressful events that occur as part of life, such as the loss of a pet, death of a family member or family separation. This helps to decrease the ongoing impact of stress that can contribute to mental health difficulties.

As a child learns to self-regulate, it enables a child to move from depending on others to beginning to manage by themselves. Most children at some stage will struggle to manage their feelings and behaviours, particularly when they are tired, hungry or facing new experiences. When this happens, it is common for them to become upset, frustrated or angry. This is all part of being a learner as a young child- if, however thses behaviours are displayed on a regular basis and there are seems to be little reasons for a child to be displaying such behaviours it is time to look deeper and teach them strategies for coping. This is such an important area that I will write a blog just for it with amazing resources and strategies you can use.

So what are children with healthy social emotional skills are able to do?

  • Have good Emotion Vocabulary (Bi-lingual cards attached below)

Download PDF • 2.02MB

Download PDF • 705KB

  • Be aware of how their body responds in high emotion

great resource here:

  • Show Empathy

Download PDF • 403KB

  • Know how to calm themselves

This site is wonderful for teaching your child how to calm.

Download • 2.42MB

Download • 554KB

  • Resolve conflicts appropriately

Download PDF • 8.99MB

  • Problem solve

  • Have a healthy self-esteem

Download • 59KB

These skills will help them to exhibit self-control and make better choices.

If your child has difficulty managing their big feelings help them by teaching them to act on feelings by:

Taking some deep breaths Asking for help or support Walking away and taking time out Finding a different way to do things Taking time to relax before trying again Trying to solve the problem with words Saying what they feel instead of acting it out  Describing what they are feeling or reactions in their body

This is a great program that schools are currently using to teach children about emotions and self regulation.

And this site has great ideas and resources to support your classroom culture with positivity .

There are so many wonderful resources out there- many of them free. Just google social- emotional literacy. Here are some fabulous free resources can be found at these sites:

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