Health topic: Mental Health Health Promotion

Develop social emotional skills

What's it about?

Social emotional skills help students to be successful at school and through life. For example, kids use these skills to focus during instructional time or to be a good friend at recess. Teens use these skills to think critically and make responsible decisions after school.

There are several different frameworks used to define and describe social emotional competencies. Many school health partners use the five competencies set out by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's renewed interest in developing social and emotional skills in young people. They're seen as valuable tools to help students thrive in uncertain times.


What's involved?

Social and emotional skill development happens when schools provide focused instruction reinforced with practice, role modeling, and a supportive school environment. 

With attention to public health measures, here are some practical ways to take action during the COVID-19 pandemic:


Make skill-building part of your pedagogy

  • Make social emotional skill development part of everyday curriculum-based teaching. Embed skill instruction into English Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Music, Drama, Art, Physical and Health Education, or Career and Life Management.
  • Teach social and emotional skills in a way that is SAFE:
    • Sequenced, so that skills are tailored to developmental need and build on each other
    • Active and experiential, so students can role play, discuss, collaborate, and cooperate
    • Focused, with time for skill-based instruction each day or week
    • Explicit, so that students understand the skills they are learning and why they matter

There are lots of instructional resources focused on social emotional skill development. Need help deciding which one is right for you?

Check out Alberta Education’s guide, Building social emotional competencies: Choosing instructional resources.


Reinforce with everyday opportunities 

  • Capitalize on “teachable moments” in real time so students can practice social emotional skills in relevant, authentic situations.  For example, help them talk about, try out, or reflect on ways they can:
    • Communicate in the hallway or on the school grounds
    • Resolve conflict in the gym or at the bus stop
    • Join a game with their cohort at recess
    • Coach a classmate through a challenging task
    • Problem-solve when they struggle to work together as a small group
    • Resist peer influence after school
    • Cope with exam stress
    • Stay hopeful in tough times
  • Encourage planning and goal-directed behaviour as part of daily life at school. For example, help students to:
    • Use print and digital planners or calendars
    • Set goals and keep track of them
    • Use tools like decision trees to guide choices and think through consequences
    • Figure out how and when they will complete a task or assignment, or study for a quiz
    • Acknowledge small successes and celebrate them
    • Talk about goals they have for themselves (now and in the future), and how they can make them happen


Role Model

Role model social emotional skills in your interactions with students. You’ll set a powerful example. Try these ideas:

  • Acknowledge when you make a mistake, and talk about how you’ll make things right
  • Show how you handle frustration, like how you calm down
  • Demonstrate how you solve a problem in an informed, thoughtful way
  • Give and receive constructive feedback from students
  • Be open to compromise


How it connects

Social emotional skills are shown to buffer against risk factors for poor health (like substance use, bullying, and violence) and bolster protective factors (like healthy relationships). They may also improve school performance and behaviour. These findings are consistent across many factors, including race, income, and school location.

Social emotional skill development is supported by all components of the comprehensive school health framework—healthy environments, effective teaching and learning practices, supportive policies, and strong partnerships. Emerging research suggests that family engagement plays a key role.

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