Social-Emotional Learning: What is SEL and Why It Matters [Infographic]

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Social-emotional learning (SEL) is critical to ensure that children succeed both in the classroom and in life. With proper social-emotional skills, children will be able to manage their own emotions and build positive relationships with others.

social emotional development for kids

We were mid Target trip when I said “no” to that perfectly placed toy in the Dollar Spot. A battle with my toddler and myself ensued – do I carry him out of the store surfboard style (parents, you know what I’m talking about), skip groceries and survive on takeout or can we make a quick comeback?

When was the last time you experienced a challenging moment similar to this – your little shouting at you, running in the house, leaving toys on the floor, refusing to sit at the table for meals? How about behaving aggressively (throwing toys, pushing, hitting or biting), being moody, nagging, interrupting, not following the rules, or having a monumental meltdown.

When our children are having a challenging moment it often stems from their internal turmoil. They’re having big feelings without knowing the healthy behaviors for expressing those feelings. These are crucial social-emotional skills, an area of development where our little guys need lots of guidance and support.

As parents we all want our children to be happy and healthy. Day to day that means supporting their physical growth, academic abilities and social-emotional development.

Do you know your kids aren’t born knowing how to manage their emotions and get along with others? These skills are learned and acquired slowly over time, and a good amount of this social and emotional learning and development takes place during early childhood.


Social-emotional learning means helping your children learn to be good social beings who get along well with others and coaching them to become healthy emotional beings who can understand and express their own feelings as well as recognize the feelings of others.

These are critical skills we all need to become happy, successful, and productive members of society later in life. For most of our kiddos these skills will evolve naturally through play and by watching other kids and the adults around them. Essentially, kids learn how to manage their emotions and get along with others based on what is modeled for them.

However, as a parent of three, parenting coach, and knowing these are learned skills for our children I strongly believe all kids benefit from mindful and intentional teaching of key social-emotional skills. I prefer not to leave any part of a kids’ development to chance or hope better skills will eventually come on board.


Coping with feelings, connecting and communicating well with others, and resolving conflicts are critical skills that are essential for healthy relationships and happiness in life. Having these positive behaviors naturally leads to a better sense of self-confidence and competence, more social acceptance and more meaningful and rewarding friendships.

Social and emotional self-control is also essential in the classroom, and without it learning cannot occur. In school a healthy dose of social-emotional skills leads to the ability to follow directions, focus and attend, persist at tasks, and greater academic achievement.

Lacking these skills can lead to social isolation, unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and struggles at school.


There are five key areas where it’s important to build skills for social-emotional success:

Self-Awareness – identifying emotions in themselves and others.

Self-Management – managing strong emotions like anger and frustration and then controlling impulses and behaviors around these emotions.

Social Awareness – seeing things from other people’s perspective and showing empathy.

Relationship Skills – including good communication, thinking before you speak, cooperation, conflict resolution, good manners and being kind.

Responsible Decision Making – including thinking about the consequences of your behavior.


Expressing Emotions

Children need us to help them understand and express their emotions. They need help to first put a name to what they’re feeling. When they can name their feelings kids can start to understand their emotions, and we can encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. We want our kids to verbally express their feelings rather than turn to inappropriate physical methods.

Communication and Conversation Skills

Basic communication skills like eye contact, greeting others, and being polite are important to teach even young kids. When it comes to having conversations, some children will speak with ease while others will feel more shy.

Listening and Cooperating

The most frustrating problem for parents is getting kids to listen and follow directions. We’re just so tired of always repeating directions – it drives us crazy!

When trying to get your children to cooperate better with you be sure to get their undivided focus and attention before giving instructions. It’s highly possible with young kids they didn’t even realize you were talking to them.


Helping your child understand the value of working well with others is the key to encouraging his cooperation with friends and in group activities. Having your child help you with younger siblings or getting them involved with household routines or chores are natural ways to show your child the benefits of collaboration.

When playing with your child you can also ask them ‘what if’ questions to get them thinking about friendship and collaboration when playing with friends. You can ask things like, “What if your friend doesn’t want to share his toys with you? What would you do?” Or “What if you get mad at your friends while you are playing with them? How would you solve that problem?”


Teaching kids about caring is an important character trait and the younger we start teaching kids compassion for others the better. We are drawn to people who are thoughtful and compassionate. These good character traits don’t just happen, they need to be taught and nurtured.

Children can learn caring skills through movies, stories and books however you are your child’s first teacher and they are watching everything you do. Your children will mimic your behavior, so it’s important to set a good example for the children in your life.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a normal part of relationships and children need to learn to deal with it constructively. Preschoolers will need adult kelp moving through the situation.

First parents must help children define the problem and try to verbalize their thoughts around the problem. The next step would be to invite children to find possible solutions to the problem that would be fair and feel good to both parties involved.

Having pictures (visual supports) of solutions to common childhood conflicts that kids can look to prompt a solution can be extremely helpful for young kids. It will take some time and experience for children to use this skill independently.

Social Emotional Learning


The best and most meaningful learning happens through play and fun, modeling, and healthy boundaries.


When kids are having fun, talking and playing with friends, or working together they’re practicing existing skills, and new skills are developing. When children are playing, they’re also working on emotional awareness as they gauge their friends’ feelings and use it as a guide for how to behave. This learning also translates into play with siblings, and also occurs when we play with our kids.


Have you ever had the experience of hearing one of your kids in conversation with a friend or playing with their dolls using the same tone and words that you yourself use? When it happens (and it has happened to the best of us) it’s a humbling reality to realize children are watching all around them and picking up cues.

Our behavior as parents is extremely influential for our kids as they are constantly observing our behavior and picking up cues for their own social behavior. Be sure to model the behavior you would like to see.

Healthy Boundaries

Relationships are complex with many moving parts, and they can get messy. Having personal, social and emotional boundaries are crucial for navigating relationships. We need to help kids get comfortable with what appropriate and inappropriate behavior looks like, so we can help them articulate their feelings and set limits, while respecting the limits of others.

Children learn to hold boundaries based on the boundaries we hold in our families around hitting, pushing, playing rough, not listening, expressing emotions, and being disrespectful. This skill definitely takes practice for both parents and kids.

What children need most from their parents to develop social-emotional health is the reassurance that home is a space where they are loved, valued and understood. Just by learning your children’s distinct personalities you’ll be off to a great start. This will guide you in knowing what skills each of your children will need your support with in order to succeed.

When children feel they can trust their parents you can truly work together when something goes wrong however changing patterns of behavior is hard, and in parenting it can be confusing and challenging to try new things. It’s also so easy to give up when something new doesn’t work out and resort back to old habits.


I want you to know my support is always available.

If you relate to any of this information and want to learn more about how I can help you with additional tips or guidance teaching your kids these essential skills, or if you want to schedule a free phone conversation to learn more about my parenting philosophy and see if my coaching is right for your family, please email me at [email protected]

Your child’s potential is limitless. Their success begins with you.

Your parenting counts!

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9 thoughts on “Social-Emotional Learning: What is SEL and Why It Matters [Infographic]”

  1. Thank you for this article! It is something SO important that we don’t talk about enough! I love to read books about emotions and I really believe it helps! Thanks for sharing!

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