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Social and Emotional Development


Each person develops physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally during their lifespan. Supporting healthy development in each of these areas is important. Sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to growing our social and emotional skills. Social and emotional development is the building of critical life skills. These social and emotional skills include understanding and managing oneself, relating to others, and making responsible choices based on self and others. This document focuses specifically on social and emotional development. it is divided into three parts. First, social and emotional development is defined. Next, the reasons why paying attention to social and emotional development is not just important but essential are explored. And finally, examples of ways to support social and emotional development are provided.

Social and emotional development happens across the lifespan from childhood into adulthood.

Social and Emotional Development Defined

Social and emotional development can be defined as how people learn skills to understand and manage how they act and how they relate to others and make responsible choices. These skills include being able to understand and control emotions, understand and care about others, and make good decisions. These skills also include behaving responsibly and with good intentions, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and avoiding negative behaviors.1,2 Social and emotional skills are essential to succeed in family, school, workplaces, and community.3

Social and emotional skills can be grouped into three categories: Self, Others, and Choices Based on Self and Others.



Choices Based on Self and Others

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines five social and emotional abilities. Within each of the five abilities are a collection of skills that can be developed and strengthened throughout the lifespan.



Competency: Self-Awareness



Competency: Social-Awareness

Choices Based on Self and Others

Competency: Responsible Decision Making

The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions, thoughts, values, and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”

Skills: identifying emotions, accurate self-perception, recognizing strengths, self-confidence, self-efficacy


The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations – effectively manage stress, control impulses, and motivate oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

Skills: impulse control, stress management, self-discipline, self-motivation, goal-setting, organizational skills

The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.


Skills: perspective-taking, empathy, appreciating diversity, respect for others

Competency: Relationship Skills

The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed

Skills: communication, social engagement, relationship-building, teamwork

The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the wellbeing of oneself and others.

Skills: identifying problems, analyzing situations, solving problems, evaluating, reflecting, ethical responsibility


CASEL, 2018

Social and emotional skills can be taught and practiced in everyday real life. They are best learned in a social setting taught by parents, teachers, siblings, and peers. Social and emotional development is a lifelong process. It starts in childhood and continues in adulthood. For example, the skill of self-management is learned when a child can control their emotions and wait their turn. This same skill is learned as an adult when they learn to control their emotions when faced with disrespectful behavior from their teenager or from their colleague at work. Social and emotional skills are often learned through modeling as children watch their parents practice self-awareness and self-management skills or express empathy toward them. As a parent, you can model these skills not only for your children but also for coworkers and other family members.

Social and emotional skills can be taught and practiced in everyday situations.

Social and Emotional Skills Are Essential

Having strong social and emotional skills is important to one’s success in life.4 Social and emotional skills are associated with better behavior,5,6 lower levels of emotional stress,5,6 and positive wellbeing.6 Social and emotional skills are also associated with doing better in school6,7 and obtaining a stable full time job.8 Having social and emotional skills can help avoid9 unfavorable situations later in life including being arrested by police, the need for public assistance, and substance misuse.8

These positive outcomes from social and emotional development continue into adulthood. Developing social and emotional skills in adults can help you be more successful at work, achieve career and personal goals, and receive higher pay. These skills can also help you be more creative, have better relationships, better manage stress, and achieve greater self-awareness.6,9,10,11

Research shows the economic value of strengthening social and emotional skills. In a cost-benefit analysis of six programs designed to grow social and emotional skills, it was found that every $1 invested produced an $11 return.10, This current research shows the importance of strengthening social and emotional skills.

By supporting social and emotional skill development, you as a parent can directly impact your child’s decision-making and improve success across a variety of different areas. Social and emotional skill development results in a better work ethic, better family relationships, better job performance, and improved health across the lifespan.

Ways to Support Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional skills are developed through relationships, interactions, and ongoing social situations. As a parent, there are many ways that you can support your child’s social and emotional skill development. Four strategies include: Build Awareness, Model the Skills, Focus on Decision Making, and Practice.

Build Awareness

Increasing awareness of the five skills (self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making) in our daily lives is the first step in developing social and emotional skills. This means noticing when your child is doing something right and letting them know that you noticed.

Building awareness might look like:

    1. Notice and Name the Skill You Want to Develop – Start to notice when your child demonstrates any level of social and emotional skills. Then, name the skills (e.g., “Great problem solving”; or “I just noticed you pause and reflect for a second before your responded to your brother.”) so that your child can start to identify what the skills are right after they demonstrate them.
    2. Ask Your Child to Name the Skill – Next, ask your child to name the skill (e.g., “Your sister just did something different, what did you notice her do?”) or ask your child to notice what they did (e.g., “You used a great skill right now, what did you notice you did?” or “That conversation went really well, why do you think that is?”). Having your child connect the behavior with the social and emotional skill will help them to build awareness.

Model the Skills

Social and emotional skills are developed through watching others and learning from their behavior. As adults, you are constantly modeling for those around you, whether they are your children, coworkers, or family members. This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect. What it does mean is that when you make mistakes, you should talk about them with your children.

Talking about mistakes and learning from them fosters a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is important when supporting your child’s social and emotional development. Having a growth mindset means believing that skills and abilities can be learned. Information and feedback are pathways to learning and not a reflection of a person’s value or worth. Actions then become experiments, and failure can be a pathway to learning.

This means that as a parent, you don’t always have to do things right. Admitting mistakes and being willing to recognize and apologize for the impact our actions have on others are opportunities to grow important skills in our children. When we admit failure fast and are willing to apologize, our children are more likely to develop a growth mindset and develop their own social and emotional skills.

  • “I am going to step back and take a minute to think this through.”
  • “I can only imagine how upset you are right now, so I am just going to listen to you, so I hear you fully.”

Focus on Decision Making

Improved social and emotional skills develop healthier decision making. Therefore, it is helpful for you to focus on how your child makes decisions. Get curious about the thinking process involved in your child’s decision making. Ask your child what the thought process was, whether the outcome was positive or negative. It can be as simple as asking, “What made you make that decision?” or “What were the considerations you considered when you made that decision?” or “What were some of the consequences you thought about when you made that decision?” This will help you highlight any gaps in their decision making. If you do this on a regular basis, it will increase the likelihood that your child will slow down and pay more attention to their decision making.


Social and emotional skills do not always come easily. In high stress situations, it is tough to maintain self-awareness and express empathy. In a high-drama conversation with your child, it can be tough for both of you to engage in a calm and supportive discussion. It is therefore very important that social and emotional skills are practiced every day. The more these skills are practiced, the more natural they feel, and the greater the likelihood they will be used in high-stress situations. Intentional practice means practicing a social emotional skill you want to develop. Once you get better at this skill, try adding the next skill. and emotional skills do not always come easily. In high stress situations, it is tough to maintain self-awareness and express empathy. In a high-drama conversation with your child, it can be tough for both of you to engage in a calm discussion that supports the relationship. It is therefore very important that social and emotional skills are practiced every day. The more these skills are practiced, the more natural they feel, and the greater the likelihood they will be used when needed, especially in high-stress situations. Intentional practice means being deliberate about trying a social emotional skill you want to develop. Once you get better at this skill, try adding the next skill.

  • “It sounds like you have some ideas about how to respond to your friend. Try it with me, and I will pretend I am your friend. What specifically would you say?”
  • “Let’s redo that conversation and try it a little differently.”


Through social and emotional development, you acquire important life skills. These skills help you understand yourself and others and achieve your goals. From childhood to adulthood, we develop these skills by building awareness, improving decision making, and practicing. Social and emotional development is critical to success in life. These skills will support success in school and childhood happiness. In adulthood, these skills will help us with improved work performance and higher pay.6,11,12


[1] Elias, M. (2007). What is social and emotional learning? Retrieved from Institute for Social and Emotional Learning website: http://www.instituteforsel.org/why-sel

[2] Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (2018). What is SEL? Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/what-is-sel/

[3] Jones, S. M., & Bouffard, S. M. (2012). Social and emotional learning in schools: From programs to strategies. Social Policy Report, 26(4). Society for Research in Child Development.

[4] Jones, S. M., & Doolittle, E. J. (2017). Social and Emotional Learning: Introducing the Issue. Future of Children, 27(1), 3–11.

[5] Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x

[6] Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school-based social and emotional learning interventions: A meta-analysis of follow up effects. Child Development, 88(4), 1156–1171. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12864

[7] Zins, J., Bloodworth, M., Weissberg, R., & Walberg, H. (2007). The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success: Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17, (2-3). 191-210. doi:10.1080/10474410701413145

[8] Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283–2290. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

[9] Domitrovich, C., Durlak, J.A., Staley, K., & Weissberg, R. (2017). Social-emotional competence: An essential factor for promoting positive adjustment and reducing risk in school children. Child Development, 88(2), 408-416.

[10] Donelan-McCall, N., & Olds, D. (2012). Prenatal/postnatal home visiting programs and their impact on the social and emotional development of young children (0-5). Retrieved from http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/home-visiting/according-experts/prenatalpostnatal-home-visiting-programs-and-their-impact-social-and

[11] Cherniss, C., Goleman, D., Emmerling, R., Cowan, K., & Adler, M. (1998). Bringing emotional intelligence to the workplace: A technical report issued by the consortium for research on emotional intelligence in organizations. Retrieved from http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/technical_report.html

[12] Oden, K., Lohani, M., McCoy, M., Crutchfield, J., & Rivers, S. (2015). Embedding emotional intelligence into military training contexts. Procedia Manufacturing, 3, 4052-4059.

Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2019). Social and Emotional Development. Retrieved from https://www.ParentingMontana.org.

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