It’s often said that schools don’t provide the life skills children really need as adults, but emotional education – or social emotional learning – is becoming much more popular. Arlo Laibowitz explores what it is and just how it benefits the younger members of our community.


Traditionally, education focuses on three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. But to become happy and caring individuals, those skills are not enough. Increasingly, there’s also attention to 'soft skills', most often called emotional education or social emotional learning (SEL).


What exactly is social emotional learning (SEL)?

Social emotional learning is the process through which students acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to:

  • understand and manage emotions (self-awareness)
  • set and achieve positive goals (self-management)
  • feel and show empathy to others (social awareness)
  • establish and maintain positive relationships (relationship skills)
  • make responsible decisions.



What does social emotional learning focus on?

  • Self-Awareness trains the ability to focus on one's emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they influence behaviour. Also, it strengthens the capacity to assess one’s strengths and limitations, with confidence, optimism, and a ‘growth mindset’.
  • Self-Management trains the skills to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in different situations: managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself.
  • Social Awareness focuses on the ability to take the perspective and empathise with others. It enables the student to understand social and ethical norms.
  • Relationships skills strengthen the students in their ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships, to communicate clearly, listen mindfully, cooperate with others, negotiate conflict, and seek and offer help.
  • Responsible decision making trains the capacity to make constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions based on ethics, safety, and social norms.


How can it be used to help students?

The three R’s of emotional education that are found in social emotional learning are focused on emotional literacy: Regulation, Reconstruction and Resilience:

  • Students learn to regulate their emotions and alter them.
  • Reconstruction of emotions enables emotionally healthy and positive responses.
  • And when students are capable of balancing conflicting and competing emotions, they become calmer and more resilient.


The reasons to adopt social emotional learning are these positive results:

  • To overcome and manage emotions like fear, hatred, anger, and anxiety.
  • To increase academic success, in test scores, grades, and attendance.
  • To lower stress levels, and have more positive attitudes towards themselves, others, and tasks.
  • To prevent harmful behaviors like drug use, violence, and bullying.
  • And to provide students with the skills they will need in their future careers and lives.


The skills taught through SEL help students, educators, and parents to cultivate more positive emotions. Education can be used as a tool to serve the greater good: students learn to sustain their well-being and happiness and care for themselves and others.

In the shift from the traditional three R’s to the three R’s of emotional learning, students, schools, and parents, develop skills and competencies that enable them to lead more balanced, empathic, connected, and happier lives. 


Written by Arlo Laibowitz

arlo.jpgArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.


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[…] Emotional Learning (SEL):  Nowadays in schools, a shift in our standardized education has started to incorporate more […]

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