The importance of social and emotional skills has been the subject of discussion in academic circles across the world, owing to a series of research studies over the past two decades that point out the positive correlation between these skills and academic performance. One of these studies conducted in 2000 through a joint venture between the Stanford University and the University of Italy by Albert Bandura et al, claims that prosocial behaviour or sound Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) serves as a litmus test for academic success, social competence and impressive occupational trajectories in children.
What are Social and Emotional (SEL)skills?
Social and emotional skills help children and teenagers tackle emotional and social hurdles, and function as effective individuals in school-like environments. They enable children to identify and manage their emotions, use positive attitudes, be empathetic, develop problem-solving skills, foster healthy relationships, encourage self-growth, and contribute positively to their community.
The SEL competencies are:
- Self-control: Recognising and managing emotions, expressing them constructively, and regulating or restraining oneself when necessary; also includes the skill to set achievable goals and persevere towards them
- Self-awareness and confidence: Being aware of one’s own strengths, weaknesses and interests, and being confident
- Responsible: Taking responsibility for own actions and accepting the consequences
- Self-reliance: Possessing a sense of independence that boosts self-worth and helps take responsible decisions
- Relationship skills: Learning to initiate and establish positive relationships as well as maintaining them through effective handling of interpersonal situations and problem-solving expertise
- Communication skills: Listening, taking turns to speak, thinking before speaking and doing so sensitively with an awareness of others’ feelings and their immediate environment
- Social awareness and respecting differences: Being able to empathise, being mindful of differences as well as similarities and respecting others; also, includes the skill to avail the resources available through social networking
- Responsible decision-making: Taking responsible decisions while considering the ethical nature, consequences and reach of the problem as well as the solution, especially for the people involved
- Attention and concentration: Possessing the ability to hold a trail of thought, follow directions, focus when being spoken to and single-mindedly pursue goals
How do social and emotional skills help in academic performance?
According to a study titled, ‘Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning’ by Greenberg published in American Psychologist (2003), social and emotional skills are directly linked to increased academic performance, social competence and reduced conduct problems including youth violence. Here are a few benefits of developing social and emotional skills in children:
- Social Acceptance: It allows children to gain peer acceptance and a place for themselves in their social circles which helps them to be more forthcoming in classrooms.
- Increased self-worth and confidence: The discovery of their own voice and place amongst their peers makes children confident. This, in turn, contributes to their mental health and helps bring out their talents.
- Social support networks and resources: The ability to develop functional social support networks in and outside schools helps children if they need to depend on someone for emotional and academic needs.
- Increased problem-solving skills: The more comfortable children are in tackling interpersonal situations, the better they become at problem-solving.
- Perseverance: When children learn to set goals for themselves, to regulate their focus and persevere till they achieve them, it reflects on their academic work.
- Resilience: When children are resilient, they learn to persevere through disappointments and failures until they succeed. This trait ensures their mental well-being and paves the way for better performance in academics.
How can parents help foster these skills in children?
For children, school is the birthplace of novel emotions and the source of unbearable pressure to perform academically and socially. As they grow into teenagers, the myriad social and emotional challenges they face is often disheartening. As parents, we need to become proactive and guide our children indirectly by assimilating the tenets of social and emotional skills into our parenting styles.
- Communicate: It is the pillar of all relationships, especially the one between parents and children. Conversing with children and modelling good listening skills, allows them to feel safe and trusted. It helps them believe that when they reach out they will be heard. Ensure that you devote time to have real conversations with your children. Practise taking turns in the conversation; it will help improve communication skills.
- Practise what you preach: According to the Social Learning Theory by Psychologist Albert Bandura, most children model themselves after their parents. Therefore, it is imperative that you exhibit and practise appropriate behaviour at all times. For instance, when your child gets angry and yells at you, you have two choices – (1) shout back and scold him, stressing that he should respect elders and not raise his voice (2) work with him to identify the emotion he is experiencing and guide him to control it or express it without yelling. Breathing exercises, counting backwards, or even journaling emotions are all effective ways to process feelings.
- Offer positive encouragement and praise: Be kind to your child and don’t withhold praising her efforts when she deserves it, especially when she exhibits social and emotional skills that you have been trying to teach her. Such positive reinforcement encourages her to continue to exhibit similar behaviour. When your four-year-old decides to share her ice cream with your pet dog, don’t yell at her; instead, give her another bowl of ice-cream. Make sure to praise her act of choosing to share what is most probably her favourite meal of the day.
- Don’t make comparisons: Appreciate and respect the differences between your child and your best friend’s child, your child’s classmate or his siblings. Each child is unique and has a variety of talents. It is our duty, as parents, to help children value their uniqueness and this will eventually teach them to respect and appreciate others around them.
- Establish routines and teach independence: “No TV after 7:00 p.m.” or “No ice cream on weekdays” are exercises in self-regulation and perseverance. It is also essential to give your child responsibilities at home and increasing her decision-making powers as she grows. This makes her more responsible and self-regulated. For example, allow your child to decide where and what your Saturday outing would be after advising her on the budget for the day. Recent research suggests that it is important to allow children to develop their own independence. By helping our children even before they fall, we are failing them as parents. This is because, by doing so, you are taking away from them an opportunity to develop resilience, independence and self-confidence by learning from their mistakes.
- Enable expressing of emotions: “Stop crying!”, “How dare you get angry with me?” or “You are always sulking!” These are phrases that need to be deleted from your parenting vocabulary as they will hinder your child’s attempts to express his emotions. If you do not agree with the manner in which the emotion is expressed, ask him, “What are you feeling?” or “What is wrong?” This will encourage him to identify his emotion and then you can guide him on how to express that emotion in a different manner.
- Encourage playing: Spend more time playing with your child and modify this interaction as she grows up. Children tackle their first interpersonal problems and decision-making processes at play. When parents are present, they can model appropriate behaviour, taking responsibility and considering the consequences of their actions. Playing with siblings or friends allows your child to understand the value of empathy, care and concern for another and learn the skills required to maintain relationships.
Effective social and emotional skills allow individuals to thrive in multifaceted environments and is quintessential for sound mental and social development. The fact that it enhances academic performance is a bonus but what really wins the case of SEL is that it helps you raise holistic individuals who are competent and valued as contributors to their community.
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