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Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Updated: May 21, 2021

Sometimes a child may exhibit certain behaviors in the classroom, which can make the teacher really upset. For example, a child can be outright verbally aggressive to his peers, which usually ends up in a fistfight; others will reject the idea of waiting for their turn or lining up in queue, while others may want to boss their counterparts. As a teacher or a parent, how are you supposed to help such learners?

Social emotional skills are one of those indispensable aspects when planning for a successful inclusive classroom. They comprise self-awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management, self-esteem, and relationship skills. A great way to teach these skills is through applied behavioral analysis (ABA) techniques. With ABA skills such as positive reinforcement and learning adaptive behavior, parents and teachers can help improve the way a child behaves and functions in their day to day activities. Some great strategies include;

Adopting self-management skills

Why is self-management necessary when addressing SEL? It's because the child will get to learn how to manage frustration, disappointments, and self criticism. Consider a child who bangs his head during math lessons; the child is clearly frustrated with the complexity of the math topic. Therefore the child can be taught when to tell the teacher if they are frustrated, how to initiate self-imposed brakes during the lesson—that way they relieve themselves when overwhelmed with extensive classroom lessons or an over stimulating environment. The concept is based on adaptive behavior where autistic child or any special child with social emotional deficit is trained how to adjust to his present environment through age-appropriate self-help skills and recurrent patterns of desired behavior.

How can I teach these skills?

There are four basic steps to teach any self-management skills to a child struggling with social emotional problems. The steps involve:


The teacher has to discuss with the child why it is important to behave in a certain way. If the child is struggling with shyness or aggressiveness, it's essential to explain to them the joy of partaking in group work or social events.


Involves allowing the child to recognize some examples of the desired behaviour. Try to show the child some examples. Examples could be their closest friends or someone they value, a movie character or a book character. Whichever the example, try to capture the child's interest as much. Children appreciate those who can address them positively and gently.


Creating an environment for the child to train their social emotional skills. An environment could be sports, drama, or any set up event such as modelling.


Encourage the child to learn the difference between appropriate social emotional skills and inappropriate ones. Broph (1994) suggests that children should be taught to assume responsibility as much as they are willing to handle during their earlier years.

Positive Reinforcement

The vast majority of children's behaviors are reinforced by an adult's reaction to that particular behavior. For example, Children with aggressiveness are likely to continue with aggressiveness when praised. Moreover, many behavioral scientists have demonstrated that immediate consequence of an action can control the likelihood of a behavior. For example, when children accidentally touch hot objects, they immediately snap their hands in response to the pain. The pain will decrease their likelihood of touching the same object in the future. Following this concept, it's paramount that children with social emotional deficits are rewarded whenever they exhibit any appropriate behavior at school and home. The reward could be praise, a smile, approval, or even a token. Specialists recommend the use of tokens immediately after the behavior is observed. The tokens should also be varied to sustain the child's motivation for more extended periods. Teachers can use this approach to increase, decrease, initiate or extinguish a behavior.

Using small groups

Social emotional learning is best effected when approached in terms of group activities. For example, a child may receive his instructions in small groups of students as opposed to generalized lecturing. The small group approach enables the teacher to have direct dialogue with a child together with two or three general learners.

Small groups also improve positive interdependence. With positive interdependence, children can have quality interaction and cooperate mutually as they work in a non-stressful environment. Children will also get to assume the role of a teacher, making them open to frequent positive compliments for their efforts as role models. When children are clear about their roles in a specific group, they are more likely to feel motivated to learn and thus boosting their social emotional skills.

Additional benefits include, the child being able to cultivate empathy and positively perceive each other. For example, most autistic children with language delay may struggle with social environments and can face disparity with ordinary learners in inclusive classrooms. Teaching social emotional skills is a great way to get learners to appreciate each other. Allow the children to perform activities such as clapping high five, jumping, and exchanging photos.

When schools are ready to handle the whole challenge of inclusion, there is a likelihood that children with special needs will receive an appropriate education.


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