The Benefits of Teaching Kids Social and Emotional Skills

Part of maturing into adulthood is developing self-awareness and learning how to self-regulate emotions. As adults, we typically carry on patterns and behaviors we developed as a young child that may no longer serve us. If you're curious to know more about social-emotional learning or why emotional skills are considered to be one of the most important life skills, read on!

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To help kickstart your child's journey with social-emotional learning, we've created some adorable affirmation cards with our favorite Little Virtue characters. Each card has a breathing exercise and affirmation to help your kid calm down and build confidence! Simply download, print, and cut them out to start sharpening those social-emotional skills.

Social-Emotional Learning Helps Kids Manage Emotions

Social-emotional learning is a hot buzzword these days, but there's certainly a good reason why. Simply put, social-emotional learning (SEL) helps kids understand and manage their emotions. Imagine a world where you're grocery shopping and instead of your three-year-old having a nuclear meltdown, you both have the cognitive skills to soothe and calm emotional distress.

This is just one simple example, but social-emotional learning is much more impactful and intensive. At its core, social-emotional learning is an integral part of helping kids build good character and positive relationships.

Yes. It's the good stuff. Social-emotional learning includes major and important benefits such as helping kids set and achieve positive goals, feeling and showing empathy for others, establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, and developing social skills.

Little girl cutting out shapes

Strong Social-Emotional Skills Work for Everyone

We all wish for our kids to grow into kind, caring, and confident adults, the characteristics that make for greater confidence and a joy-filled life. Kids who can self-regulate are kind not only to others but also to themselves. They are confident and humble and create a positive impact on people and the world around them.

In short, social-emotional learning helps kids manifest their most genuine and best selves. Sounds amazing right? And the great thing is, social emotional learning doesn't just apply to kids.

Social-emotional learning helps individuals of ALL ages because it teaches important life skills and core principles that are crucial for both personal growth and academic success. Life skills like:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship-building
  • Decision-making

These are all good things we need and use every day! So not only are you helping your kid's positive social and emotional skills; but your own positive growth as well. Together you can both learn the tools for emotional learning at the same time.


Social Emotional Learning Helps Reduce Bullying

When we foster these skills in our youngest learners, we help them create a strong foundation they can rely on when they face hard challenges. Have you ever heard the phrase, "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional?" Social-emotional learning encourages kids' growth into emotionally intelligent adults with the resilience they need to navigate the world and social interactions.

No wonder social-emotional learning is so relevant and important. With all the challenges ahead both academically and socially, SEL helps children learn:

  • Empathy
  • Communication skills
  • Impulse control
  • Self-confidence
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Conflict resolution
  • Better understanding of their emotions as well as those of others.

Additionally, SEL can help students develop positive attitudes and reduce problem behaviors. Students learn to reduce bullying, improve academic performance, promote school engagement and attendance, increase graduation rates and future job prospects, develop healthy habits such as good nutrition and exercise, and reduce stress levels.[1]

Stats about how SEL helps kids

Many schools are beginning to implement social-emotional learning programs in a classroom environment to help benefit students in a school climate. There's consistent evidence that SEL programs help students develop more positive attitudes, increase student engagement, and provide students with prosocial behaviors that allow them to stay more engaged in learning throughout the school day.

Kids in school having a book read to them

Teaching Social Emotional Learning in everyday moments

So how we can effectively use SEL? How does SEL work?

Anyone can become certified in SEL teaching, but you certainly don't have to earn a credential to use it. At the heart of SEL is the ability to connect with your kids on an individual level, and we have the opportunity to do that every day. It's the gateway to building positive relationships.

These teaching opportunities typically come up when your child is struggling with something internally and starts acting out. Maybe they're disappointed they didn't get something they wanted, or maybe they're afraid to try something new. These are perfect opportunities to engage in a conversation that is both supportive and calming.

We can't help our children learn to regulate their emotions and address behavioral issues if we're not regulating our own. If you feel you're reaching your limit, take 3 to 5 big belly breaths and make sure that you're calm before you engage. This will increase your overall well-being, increase positive mental health, and will help you self-regulate.

Mom holding little boy in her arms

How to Model Emotional Learning

To teach emotional learning, we must model it first. First, start by expressing empathy for your child's struggle and ask how you can help. For example, you could say something like:

"It looks like this is difficult. I'm so sorry that you're going through this. How can I best support you right now?"

It may feel uncomfortable at first because in some ways you're talking to your child more as if they were an adult, but that's the whole point. It's forcing them to develop and use their prefrontal cortex and access their executive thinking, or the part of their brain that's more rational and helps them make decisions. This helps them increase their cognitive skills.

This brings us to the next step which is even more vital. You must resist the temptation to tell your child what to do or how to fix it.

Instead, let your kids develop a sense of their own needs and how to manage them. You can do this by modeling empathy by acknowledging their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This allows your child to feel heard, valued, and respected. An easy way to do this is to simply mirror back to them verbally what you're observing and remain curious.


"Sweetie, are you crying?"


(BIG SOB): "YYEEES!!!"""


"Are you crying because you're sad?"




"Oh i'm so sorry. I would feel sad too. What would make you feel better?"

This approach allows your child the opportunity to come to their own conclusions on how to manage their problem. This can empower them to learn valuable problem-solving skills and identify their emotions. Be patient as they take their time responding and stay positive. They may surprise you with their answer!

As they open up, be sure to be accepting of whatever emotions they share with you whether it's sadness, anger, fear, etc. Instead, you're just trying to understand your child first before attempting self-regulation. So ask open-ended questions that encourage more talking.

"Why did that make you sad?"

"What would you like to have happen next time?"

"Where do you feel sad?"

And finally, if they're struggling, help your child brainstorm ideas or possible solutions in a non-judgmental manner.

"Do you think maybe a hug would make you feel better?"

This approach will allow you to build strong relationships with your kids and teach them how to problem solve as they're learning social skills and emotional competence.

Two kids walking hand in hand at the beach

Model and Demonstrate Empathy

We all want to be supportive, unconditional, and loving parents. Parenting and emotional learning require patience, empathy, and vulnerability from us too! The great thing is that the circumstance of why our kid is upset doesn't matter nearly as much as our response to them. What matters is the positive experience between you and your child in how you respond to their needs. It is so important, and that is something completely within our control.

Ultimately your support, encouragement, and guidance throughout this process help build connection and trust. This active listening lets your child know that you are always there for them when they need you, no matter what!

So here are those three steps again.

  1. Model self-regulation and empathy in conversations with your child to encourage them to think independently and come to their own conclusions.
  2. Acknowledge each child's struggles, feelings, and experiences to help them feel heard, respected, and valued.
  3. Offer support and guidance throughout the process so they know you are there for them no matter what.

Research shows that kids who feel heard and seen are much more confident, have better mental health, better academic success, and better social skills than kids who feel alone and neglected.

Kids doing crafts at the table

All Emotions are Valid for Emotional Development

One of the most important things parents can do to teach emotional learning is to remind kids, that there is no such thing as a bad emotion. All emotions are valid and deserve to be acknowledged, no matter if they're positive or negative. If we're trying to control or regulate our kid's feelings for them so they only feel happy, we're doing them a terrible disservice. And by the way, this never works with us adults either.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when kids don't express their emotions, it can lead to a range of negative effects such as increased stress levels, physical health issues, difficulty forming relationships, and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and anger-management problems.

Conversely, children who are able to process and express their feelings in a healthy way tend to have better self-esteem and better interpersonal relationships. [2]

As child psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Lyles advises, “Rather than telling kids their emotions are wrong or inappropriate, help them learn to identify the emotion and recognize when certain situations or behaviors may bring out those feelings.” [3]

We don't need to judge ourselves for what we're feeling. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be afraid because fear also has a purpose. But what's not okay is being angry and then putting others or yourself in harm's way. There is a reason and helpful purpose for all of our emotions both positive and negative.

Kids playing together outside

Developing Self-awareness

A huge part of SEL is helping kids understand how to appropriately REACT to their emotions and identify what's happening. Big emotions can be scary for them. It can be scary for us! But SEL helps empower them to understand what's going to make good decisions and also learn what's important to them.

For example, if they feel sad when someone says unkind words, they can choose to not treat others that way because of how it made them feel. If we're too busy coddling them or trying to avoid fear all together, they won't be able to see how those emotions are useful and can help them develop into healthy and mature adults.

This is the difference between permissive parenting and gentle parenting. Permissive parenting doesn't hold strong boundaries or consequences for poor behavior. Gentle parenting however is starkly different if done right. there are firm expectations and consequences but never enforced out of punishment. They're meant to guide, correct, and instruct children how to appropriately respond and react to situations around them.

Appropriate Choices for Healthy Child Development

Equally damaging is not giving kids enough freedom or trust. Parents should give children the opportunity to make choices whenever possible and age appropriate. This helps children develop problem-solving skills, autonomy, and confidence in their decision-making abilities.

According to parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham, when making decisions for children “we’re robbing them of the opportunity to learn how to trust themselves.” To allow your child to make decisions for themselves, start with simpler decisions like clothing choices or menu selections at a restaurant and gradually increase the complexity of decisions as they grow in maturity and experience. [4]

This also relates to allowing your child to self-soothe in ways that they prefer and are helpful to them. The idea is to keep punting it back to them in order to make a good decision that they feel excited about.

Healthy Modeling

Problems start when negative emotions are chronic or start influencing our daily behavior. This can create painful experiences that aren't necessarily rooted in reality. If negative emotions go regularly unchecked or expressed, kids just like adults can develop a sense of entitlement to pain. This can lead to difficult behaviors such as aggression, pushing boundaries, or refusing to participate in activities.

According to psychotherapist Dr. Hilary Jacobs Hendel, this is because “Pain inflicts some kind of structure on their chaotic internal world and the only structure they know." It's important for parents to be supportive and understanding while informing boundaries in order to foster healthy emotional expression in kids. [5]

So yes, kids need to have meltdowns. They need to cry. They need to be sad sometimes. They have to learn how to manage negative emotions so they can feel positive ones. If we only allow for positive emotions, then kids will never be prepared to self-soothe or make healthy and good decisions when hard times come. And conversely, if we only let kids stay stuck in negative emotions for too long, then they won't have the confidence or motivation to improve their own situation.

Imagine your child saying, "I feel sad, but I know it's going to be okay." That takes amazing strength and wisdom. What a better world and place we would live in if we could all manage our own selves like this.

If your child is increasingly acting out, then by practicing SEL you can gently guide them to a more centered emotional place where they can feel empowered to trust themselves and their experience. Establishing and enforcing healthy boundaries with your child helps them to learn self-control, empathy, and respect.

Like all things, SEL takes a lot of practice and consistency, but the results are well worth it. You should be consistent in your expectations and consequences while communicating openly with your children.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, “You can't just tell kids what you want them to do without providing the emotional scaffolding to help them get there.” To support your children in developing positive behavior, it’s important to provide understanding and nurturing guidance. [6]

The root of discipline is the word disciple, which means to teach. It's to develop by instruction or exercise, especially in self-control.


To help with your and your child's emotional development, we've created a freebie down below of some affirmation cards with breathing exercises that will help your kid calm down and build confidence! Each card has a different theme and character so you can use them as you need. Simply download, print, and cut them out to enjoy. Please feel free to follow us along online on Instagram at thelittlevirtuesbooks.





[1] "Social and Emotional Learning," CASEL] (]

[2] "Expressing Feelings: How Children Benefit From Talking About Their Emotions," American Academy of Pediatrics] (

[3] "Ways to Encourage Healthy Emotional Expression in Your Children," VeryWell Family] (

[4] "How Kids Learn Confidence by Making Decisions," Aha Parenting!] (

[5] "Why Do Kids Seek Out Pain?" The Gottman Institute] (

[6] "How Parents Can Create Healthy Boundaries with Kids," Very Well Family] (