Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
The most effective social and emotional learning (SEL) requires a strategic, systemic approach that involves everyone, from district and school leaders to community partners to family members, working together to ensure students receive the support they need. Successful SEL is not a standalone program or an add-on. It is central to how schools, communities, and families value and support the social, emotional, and academic development of their children.
- Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
There is a growing, national understanding of the importance of developing social and emotional skills in young people to help them do well in school and successfully navigate into adulthood.
Research and practice are showing that children who develop social and emotional skills have a greater chance of achieving better long-term outcomes. This goes for young people from all socio-economic strata, but is especially true for young people from low-income backgrounds, who often face more intractable obstacles. Although rigorous academic preparation is a critical factor, a strong body of research and practice is showing that more is needed to ensure a child thrives in school and beyond.
The Five SEL Skills
The Foundation recognizes the importance of the following five social and emotional skills as critical to student success:
3Mastery orientation to learning
The Tauck Family Foundation enlisted the expertise of Child Trends, a national non-profit, non-partisan research firm, to review the literature and help us better understand which social and emotional skills and competencies contribute to positive outcomes for children and youth. We were particularly interested in skills that are both malleable (i.e., can be taught to elementary children) and predictive of future positive outcomes, including academic achievement and school engagement. From this work, we identified a group of social and emotional skills—self-control, persistence, mastery orientation to learning, academic self-efficacy, and social competence—that have strong evidence showing that they increase children’s capacity to benefit from school.
However, we support our investees’ commitment to additional research-informed social and emotional skills, competencies, and approaches that lead to positive child outcomes.
Trauma and ACEs
Trauma and Toxic Stress
Trauma is the emotional, psychological, and physiological residue left over from heightened levels of toxic stress that accompanies experiences of danger, violence, significant loss, and life-threatening events. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events occurring before age 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. A landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, and risky behaviors. The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes.
Research about the lifelong impact of ACEs underscores the urgency of prevention activities to protect children from these and other early traumas. When children do experience trauma, understanding the impact of ACEs can lead to more trauma-informed interventions that help to mitigate negative outcomes.
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Trauma and SEL
Social and emotional learning (SEL) helps children to survive and cope in various situations. Trauma affects kids’ social and emotional skills, such as their ability to identify, express and manage emotions. Children exposed to trauma may internalize their feelings because they don’t have vocabulary to express their experiences, or they may externalize aggression, anger and fear because they learn to perceive situations as dangerous.
SEL teaches kids that actions are connected to their thoughts and feelings, and to do this, kids first need to be able to notice their feelings and identify the physical sensations in their bodies, such as heat, muscular tension, pressure, tingling, and feeling hollow. When they can do that, they can learn how to name the feelings and come closer to identifying their feelings, such as sadness, frustration and anger. Once they understand the physical part of their body and then connect it to the emotions, only then can they have the words to describe their feelings and safely learn to express them in a healthy way, verbally or nonverbally. Then they can learn coping strategies for managing their strong feelings.
While not all kids will experience trauma, they will all face challenges at some point in their lives, so they all can benefit from learning skills for managing adversity. A trauma sensitive environment that supports kids’ needs to feel safe and supported paired with strong adult social and emotional competencies and social and emotional learning (SEL) supports for students ensures students will cultivate healthy student behaviors and have opportunities to thrive in the face of difficulties and hardships.