A Parent’s Guide to Social-Emotional Learning

As parents, we all want our children to grow into happy, healthy and caring adults. We want to see them thrive, make good decisions and achieve their long-term goals. That’s where important social and emotional skills come in — skills like empathy, communication and self-management. These life-long skills help children overcome day-to-day challenges and to connect with people around them.

While kids first acquire these skills at home, some schools actively teach them as part of the curriculum. This means that aside from mathematics, sciences, physical education, languages and the arts, students also learn how to set goals, empathise with others and make informed decisions. This process is called social-emotional learning, and it comes with a multitude of benefits for children.

Read on to know more. You can also click on the shortcuts below to access each section of this guide.

  1. What is Social-Emotional Learning?
  2. Types of Social-Emotional Learning skills
  3. How Social-Emotional Learning benefits kids
  4. Sample activities for Social-Emotional development

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

To put it simply, social-emotional learning is the process of developing and applying social and emotional skills. It aims to develop students into caring individuals who can:

  • Cultivate healthy identities
  • Set and achieve goals
  • Understand and manage their emotions
  • Show empathy and care for others
  • Form and maintain supportive relationships
  • Make responsible decisions

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, begins from a very young age and continues through adulthood. In the classroom setting, SEL is not taught as a single subject. Rather, it’s integrated into lessons throughout the day.

For example, during an art class, your child may be assigned to paint a picture with a classmate. This activity encourages turn-taking and sharing with others. Some activities may appear simple, but these intangible skills will help your child overcome future challenges and allow them to thrive in school and long after.

Just like physical skills need to be practised, social-emotional skills also need to be developed into lifelong habits. Parents, schools and communities can all help students learn and practice these skills through various activities.

Types of Social-Emotional Learning skills

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) lists five fundamental competencies that make up SEL:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Relationship skills
  • Social awareness

Each competency spans a wide range of skills:


Self-awareness involves understanding one’s own emotions, abilities, values and goals. Children with a strong sense of self-awareness are better able to express their needs and assess their capabilities.

Self-awareness skills include:

  • Identifying one’s emotions
  • Recognising strengths and weaknesses
  • Expressing one’s needs
  • Being honest
  • Having a growth mindset


Self-management involves the ability to control one’s emotions, thoughts and actions in different situations. Children with self-management skills are more likely to take the initiative and set their own goals.

Self-management skills include:

  • Setting goals
  • Managing emotions
  • Planning and organizing
  • Taking initiative
  • Motivating oneself

Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible decision-making involves the ability to make caring decisions and understand the consequences of one’s actions. Children with this skill tend to be more curious and empathetic.

Responsible decision-making includes:

  • Demonstrating curiosity and inquiry
  • Using critical thinking skills
  • Identifying solutions to problems
  • Weighing risks before making a decision
  • Understanding the consequences of one’s behaviour

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills help children form and maintain supportive relationships and effectively navigate in diverse social settings.

This competency spans a wide range of skills, such as:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Demonstrating leadership
  • Forming positive relationships
  • Practising teamwork and collaboration
  • Offering and asking for help when needed

Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to empathise and understand the perspectives of others, including people from different cultures and backgrounds. Children with strong social awareness are more compassionate, understanding and supportive of their peers.

Social awareness skills include:

  • Understanding others’ perspectives
  • Recognising others’ strengths
  • Showing compassion
  • Considering the feelings of others
  • Saying thanks

These five competencies are strongly interrelated and can be taught and applied at various developmental stages. To help students hone their social and emotional skills, schools use a combination of active instruction and age-appropriate activities.

Research shows that this approach has a positive impact, and not just on students’ academic performance. Let’s dive into the benefits of SEL for your child.

How social-emotional learning benefits kids

At its core, SEL equips children with the skills they need to navigate school and life successfully. And you don’t have to wait long to see its benefits. Research shows that SEL can lead to:

  • Better academic performance — Children with SEL competencies are more engaged during lessons and adept at self-motivation, which leads to higher grades and test scores.
  • Increased participation and attendance —SEL helps children build confidence and communication skills, leading to active class participation. It also has a positive impact on daily attendance.
  • Fewer behavioural issues — Teaching and modelling appropriate behaviour is a key aspect of SEL. This leads to fewer disciplinary incidents and encourages positive attitudes among students.
  • Improved mental health and self-esteem —SEL helps students form supportive relationships with peers and adults, which leads to improved mental health and a boost in self-esteem.
  • Positive relationships with teachers and peers — By practising communication and collaboration, students can establish healthy relationships with their schoolmates, teachers and other mentors.

Additionally, SEL benefits families and wider communities — making it a critical part of early childhood development.

Sample activities for social-emotional development

Social and emotional skills can be taught in many ways and to students of all levels. Students benefit most from starting SEL in early childhood, but it’s also important to ensure that it continues throughout their schooling.

In the Early and Primary Years, we use various curriculum resources to support social and emotional learning, such as the following:

  • IB Learner Profile
  • Approaches to Learning (ATLs)
  • PYP Personal, Social and Physical Education (PSPE) Scope and Sequence Documents
  • Specific curriculum standards to support the Scope and Sequence documents taken from several sources, including the ACARA standards.

In addition, we provide comprehensive homeroom and pastoral care programmes to promote students’ academic, social and emotional development to allow every student to achieve their full potential. Through the homeroom and pastoral care programmes, our students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, achieve positive goals, show empathy for others and make responsible decisions. In addition, we have Grade Level Leaders, Pastoral Leaders and School Counsellors who are always available to meet with our students.

We embed social and emotional learning into the Units of Inquiry and various classroom activities. Occasionally, we also develop stand-alone lessons to cover core content that doesn’t fit into the Units of Inquiry. Here are some examples of how your child might learn social-emotional skills at XCL World Academy:

In Nursery, we ask our young learners to make puppets with sad and happy faces. During storytime, we ask them to share how they think a character is feeling and raise the puppet with that face. Students can also use these puppets to express their own emotions.

In Kindergarten, we might ask students to draw a picture in pairs and then give each team a cup of art materials to use. This helps them learn about sharing, turn-taking and listening to each other.

Through the Unit of Inquiry “Sharing The Planet”, Primary Years students learn about building peaceful relationships through mutual respect and understanding. The Counsellors co-teach the lesson and guide students through conflict resolution strategies together with the homeroom teachers.

We get Middle School students to debate about something they are passionate about to teach them how to formulate arguments, listen to the opposing side and express their stance respectfully. This is also a great way to build confidence and public speaking skills.

In High School, we ask our students to identify their personal strengths and write a reflection on how each strength helps them in their day-to-day life. We also ask them to write about a weakness they would like to improve on. This activity allows students to build self-awareness and self-management skills that can help prepare them for university and after.

Social-emotional learning helps children develop the skills they need to succeed in school and life. As a parent, you can support your child’s social-emotional development by making time for them, listening actively and practising empathy and patience. It is also important to partner with your child’s teachers.

SEL also has a wide range of benefits, including better academic performance and improved mental health in kids. By practising SEL at home, you can reinforce these positive outcomes — and help your children grow into caring, capable individuals.

To learn more about how we support our students’ social-emotional learning, contact us today or book a personalised campus tour.

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