By guest contributors Julia Ogg, Katelynn Gohr and Kayla LaRosa
Imagine you are 4 years old. You are given the choice of eating one marshmallow now, or receiving two marshmallows if you wait. What would you do?
In a now famous series of studies, Walter Mischel and colleagues (Mischel, Ebbesen & Zeiss, 1972; Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988) had preschool and school-age participants make this decision. This research taught us that children who were able to delay eating the marshmallows to obtain the larger prize were more likely to do well in school and in their careers for decades following the study.
This ability to delay gratification and regulate our emotions and behavior is a key component of a set of skills often referred to as social-emotional skills. In a world where academic skills are often viewed as the priority, social-emotional skill development may not always be on the forefront of most parents’ and teachers’ minds. However, research has shown that social-emotional skills are crucial for children to become successful both socially and academically.
What are the key social and emotional skills?
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning has identified five core skills that are widely recognized as critical social-emotional skills:
Why are social-emotional skills important?
Early social emotional skills are related to how socially, emotionally, academically and professionally skilled we are later in life. For example, having higher social-emotional skills in kindergarten is related to important outcomes at age 25 (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). These outcomes include:
Social-emotional skills help children to persist on challenging tasks, to effectively seek help when they need it and to be thoughtful in their actions.
Importantly, social-emotional skills can be taught. This was highlighted in a large review of research on social-emotional skills in 270,034 students in kindergarten through 12th grade (Durlak et al., 2011). The review found social-emotional learning programs in schools not only improved social-emotional skills, but also increased positive attitudes toward school, positive social behavior and academic performance. These programs also decreased the likelihood of kids getting in trouble or experiencing emotional problems.
Five strategies for promoting social-emotional learning in children
There is a common theme in these strategies. Children need to be taught and to have opportunities to practice social-emotional skills, in much the same way that they learn how to read and solve math problems.
These efforts come with a big payoff, as strong social emotional skills can help children in a wide variety of social and academic settings for years to come.
Julia Ogg, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University. She teaches courses in school psychology and child development. Her research is focused how symptoms associated with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder relate to classroom behavior and academic achievement. She also studies parenting attitudes and behaviors that support the development of academic enabling classroom behaviors (e.g., engagement, pro-social skills).
Katelynn Gohr is a second-year master’s student in school psychology at Northern Illinois University. She is interested in research and practice related to early intervention, parent involvement and working with students with autism.
Kayla LaRosa is a third-year doctoral student in school psychology at the University of South Florida. Her research interests include promoting social-emotional strengths in early childhood and the modification of parent-child interaction patterns to reduce behavior problems in youth.
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