At the heart of the matter, all every parents really wants is for their child is for them to be the best person they can be. Unfortunately so often pressures from society can often make parents feel that this means a child must excel academically.

However it now seems that social and emotional learning (SEL) is just as, if not more, important. If a child has these skills then they are far more likely to be able to mange themselves and get along with others. It seems the academic side of things will then follow.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) involves children gaining awareness, skills and competencies so they can best manage themselves and get along with others. The Collaborative Association for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) aims to ‘…establish social and emotional learning as an essential part of education’ by promoting SEL research and best practice across the globe.

KidsMatter has developed a comprehensive program for children as they go through preschool, primary and the transition period in between. Their aim is to “to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of children, reduce mental health problems amongst children, and achieve greater support for children experiencing mental health difficulties, and their families.

There are 5 core competencies essential for the development of mental health, wellbeing and academic success:
Self awareness – recognising your emotions and values as well as strengths and limitations.
Self management – managing emotions and behaviours to achieve goals.
Social awareness – showing understanding and empathy for others.
Relationship skills – forming positive relationships, working in teams, dealing effectively with conflict.
Responsible decision making – making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behaviour.

Research has found that SEL helps to protect students from developing mental health difficulties and improves their academic outcomes, well-being and ability to cope with problems. In a recent study conducted by KidsMatter, 92% of teachers felt that students who are socially and emotionally competent learn better at school.

SEL programs in schools typically aim to teach students specific social and emotional skills through structured activities and games. There are numerous SEL programs available and it can be difficult for schools to choose which one suits their needs. In order to assist schools with deciding which program is right for them, KidsMatter has compiled a Programs Guide for Component 2 which categorises SEL programs according to the extent to which they address the five core competencies set out above.

The more parents and carers are aware of the SEL programs going on in their school, the better they can support SEL in the home. Parents and carers are in a great position to model, practise and guide the development of skills across a variety of settings. They can talk openly about feelings, leading by example, encouraging creative problem-solving and empowering children by giving children clear choices.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Kids Matter – Australian Primary School Mental Health Initiative