Research has shown that children’s learning is influenced by a range of social and emotional factors. How well children do at school is affected by things such as: 

  • how confident children feel about their abilities 
  • how effectively they are able to manage their own behaviour 
  • how well they can concentrate and organise themselves 
  • how effectively they can solve problems 
  • how positively they are able to get on with teaching staff and with peers 
  • how effectively they take into account others’ needs 
  • how well they can understand and accept responsibilities. 

Good schools recognise the need to purposefully address these key areas through both the taught curriculum and the vision and values of the school – the ‘way of being’ that characterizes the way the school community thinks and behaves. At MBIS, a carefully planned programme called ‘Learning for Life’ runs across the ages and stages, offering weekly opportunities for the children to discuss and reflect on key aspects of social and emotional learning. At the same time, the vision and values of the school – characterized by 5 Personal Learning Goals (Respect, Reflectiveness, Resourcefulness, Relationships, and Resilience) are very much the language of learning, positively weaving their way through the daily interactions of the children and adults.  

For children to develop social and emotional skills they need guidance that is matched to their level of development, as well as practice. In addition to teaching social and emotional learning at school, parents can encourage children to use these skills in everyday interactions at home. Prompting and encouraging children to apply their learning in this way helps them develop their skills.  

Here are two examples that show how everyday situations can be used as opportunities for supporting children’s social and emotional skills development.  

In the first example, Nour is very excited about a family outing, but her behavior is very annoying to the rest of her family, especially to her baby brother. The following table considers the problem, the skills Nour needs to learn, and how a parent or carer might support her learning. 

 

Skill 

The problem 

Needs to learn 

How to support 

Self-awareness  Doesn’t recognise she is wound up.  To recognise she is feeling excited and how it affects her.  Name it: “You seem pretty excited. You might tire yourself out using up all that energy before we even get there!” 
Social awareness  Doesn’t take account of others’ needs.  To understand how others have different feelings and needs from hers.  Ask/explain: “See how the baby is getting upset? He wants you to stop poking him.” 
Self-management  Doesn’t know how to contain her excitement.  To be able to be excited without annoying others.  Redirect: “Let’s see if you can use that energy to help us get ready.” 

In the next example, Ahmed who is 10 years old, is angry because his young pre-schooler sister, Mariam. This is because she has scribbled all  over the homework she had left on the kitchen table. For that reason, Ahmed is angry with Mariam and angry with his mother for allowing  this to happen.  

In this case, by looking at the ways that Ahmed could use social and emotional skills, we can see how he could be supported to solve this problem and further his skills for effectively managing other similar problems in the future.  

Skill  

The problem 

Needs to learn 

How to support 

Self-awareness  Doesn’t recognise he is angry  To recognise that he is angry and remember that he can work this out calmly.  Show you understand: “I can understand why you would feel angry.” 

Prompt: “Let’s think this through.” 

Social awareness  Unaware of other’s viewpoints  To understand his sister’s point of view: as a pre-schooler she thinks the homework is just paper to draw on.  Encourage perspective-taking: “Mariam didn’t realise it was important. I don’t think she did it on purpose – do you?” 
Self-management  Unable to control anger  To use strategies that help her to calm down.  Show and encourage: “We can sort this out better when we do it calmly.” 
Responsible decision-making  Doesn’t understand the possible implications of actions  To not leave homework lying around.  Ask: “What do you need to do to fix it this time? What can you do next time so it won’t happen again?” 
Relationship skills  Unable to explore and rationalise feelings  To be able to discuss the issue with a parent or carer and to explain her feelings to Meg in a calm way.  Show and praise: “How about telling Mariam that you’re unhappy and that you don’t want her to draw on your things again?”; “Thanks for working it out calmly. I’m impressed with the way you’ve handled it.” 

 

It’s important to recognise that social and emotional skills develop over time. They may develop differently for different children. Parents and schools working together to help children develop social and emotional skills can really make a positive difference in children’s mental health.  

Key points 

  • Get involved – find out about the social and emotional learning programme your child’s school is using. Learn the language and basics and look for opportunities to apply them at home. 
  • Talk about feelings – help children explore theirs. 
  • Be a model – use the skills yourself and show children how they work. Parents and carers don’t have to be perfect; showing them you can make a mistake and learn from it can be really helpful too. 
  • Be a guide – turn difficulties into learning opportunities. 
  • Acknowledge and appreciate – provide explicit feedback and praise. 
Richard is Head Teacher at Maadi British International School. MBIS promotes a child-centred, learning-focused approach through a dynamic creative curriculum