< back to HR Hub


What is social emotional learning?

At a recent Bubble working parent club event, Allison Henry, Head of schools at Moshi kids spoke to us about social emotional learning (SEL)


The developmental continuum


At different ages children are all socially and emotionally different from each other because it is a developmental continuum, just like our babies learn to first rollover, sit up, crawl, cruise our furniture, walk, run. The same thing is true for our social emotional learning skills.

When babies are learning how to make eye contact, they’re learning how to track your face, and then they’re learning how to give you something. Take something. Then through our parallel play, where they’re playing alongside a sibling, where they’re learning how to deal with their own frustration, then they move into collaborative play where they’re playing one on one or in a group setting, and they’re learning how to deal with frustration and how it impacts the group.

All the way through adulthood, we’re still learning about self-awareness and what we bring to the group and how our emotions and our behaviours and our attitude affect the people in our workplace, our family. When we talk about these social emotional learning competencies, it’s not something you ever master and are done with. It’s following us all the way through adulthood. And as we have experiences and as we have different relationships, we’re learning how to build those skills over time.

The importance of our breath


Our breath is really important for the regulation of our minds and bodies so that we can do our best social and academic work. So this is something to consider when we think about the child’s perspective of are they set up for success for social, emotional and academic learning?

If you think about the power of our breath and about  emotional well-being before we’re going to teach them any sort of new skill or we’re going to introduce a challenge to them, put them in a new social situation, go through a big transition. Our breath is really powerful in terms of helping our body with regulation. So really we’re going to do our best performing in whatever situation in life when our body is regulated.

Stress causes us dysregulation, any sort of upheaval in our environment that’s different than what we’re typically used to experiencing is going to cause dysregulation. And young children need us. And this is where Moshi comes in to help them co regulate because they don’t yet have those skills to self-regulate.

It’s when you think back to having your newborn and your infants and we’re teaching them how to self-soothe so that they’re able to use those strategies to to calm themselves down, to put themselves to sleep. This is a continuation of that. So we are co regulated with our children around social emotional well-being. And so Moshi has all of these really amazing tools that you literally press play. It’s all there for you.

What is social emotional learning?


Social emotional learning is if you think about our knowledge, our skills and our attitudes, and what those have to do with our minds and our behaviours. The way we think and the way that we react. So we want to, at a very young age, teach kids how to name their emotions and feelings. And then when those emotions and feelings are going to impact our ability to be with others and do our best work, how do we manage those? That’s where that regulation comes in and all of this is in service to developing really healthy identities, relationships with people and making good decisions.

There is an advocacy organisation in the United States. It’s called the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning and they are really the thought leaders, a think tank around social emotional learning. They provide the definition for social and emotional learning and what I love about the way this is framed is it looks at social emotional learning from a systems context.

It’s never happening in isolation. Your child is not learning in a bubble, right? Alone. They are part of their environment that includes their caregivers, their family, their educators, their after school caregivers, and then your larger community.

So why social and emotional learning is so important is that it helps them expand from outside of their little circle. What happens when they’re young is that everything is really ego driven. “I need to take care of myself.”

Social emotional learning encourages them to think about themselves in this larger, more global context of participating in the world around them.

5 social emotional learning competencies


These are the five social emotional learning competencies:

  • Self -Awareness
  • Self -Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision Making

These competencies are over time and under these competencies are skills that we have to learn.

If you think about the first time you ever brought your child into the kitchen and said, we’re going to learn how to bake muffins today, we’re learning how to measure.
We’re learning how to pour, mix, and hold the bowl so it doesn’t spill onto the floor. We are remembering to put the eggs back in the refrigerator. Those are all skills needed to become a competent baker.

The same applies to social emotional learning. So you don’t wake up one morning and say, “Oh, I can manage myself today.” There’s a bunch of skills that have to go into that.

The first thing you have to be able to do is even identify the way that you’re feeling:

Does it impact me?
Does it impact the others around me
What actually helps me with regulation?

So breathing is a really good example of a self management tool that you can take with you anywhere, and it’s something you don’t need any resources for. You are actually in control of your breath, which when you say to a young child, you actually get to be in control of that, that’s really empowering.

You are the only person who can control your breath.
You get to control your body.
Isn’t that amazing that you have this superpower of getting to be in charge of that?

Then we look at social awareness as a competency and this is where your empathy comes in, your ability to see other perspectives, your ability to recognize that you actually have an impact on the people and community around you,

Relationship skills start with eye contact, turn taking, sharing. As kids get older, this is where you develop to asking questions, making comments, and then you have responsible decision making.

This is a good decision for me. Is it a good decision for the other people around me as well? Is this going to benefit me and others in the long run?

So these are the overarching competencies with skills that develop over time.

Social emotional learning objectives


  • Self-Awareness: Recognise emotions—including stress and anxiety, happiness and joy, and anger and sadness—and learn how to identify them and apply them to situations.


  • Self-Management: Use techniques such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, and visualisation to focus attention, regulate emotions, and ease away stress.


  • Social Awareness: Maintain a positive outlook, show concern for the feelings of others, and develop positive relationships. Reflect on one’s role in actively promoting personal, family, and community well-being.


  • Responsible Decision-Making: Make decisions about personal behavior and interactions with peers that are safe, respectful, and in alignment with norms.


  • Relationship Skills: Establish and maintain caring relationships with others by sharing, being kind, and showing empathy and compassion for others’ feelings. Seek and offer support and help when needed.


These are in this order for a specific reason, it all starts with ourselves. If you have read articles from Forbes and Harvard Business Review, they’ve all studied what workplaces are really looking for in employers and employees and it all comes down to social emotional learning.

Self-awareness comes up the most in polls of top level executives around what they’re looking for which is why it’s so important that we work on this at such a young age.It’s really important to take a step back and really recognise your emotions, because those are going to impact your attitudes, your behaviour and your skills that you’re able to bring to the table. With really young children typically you start with happy, sad. Then you’re adding tired, frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed, surprised.

So we’re constantly building their repertoire of language and how it makes their body feel and naming it. And then what do you do with that emotion? Because even really big emotions like excitement, especially as we enter the holiday season, excitement is an amazing emotion to have. We all want joy and excitement. However, If too much excitement is preventing us from being able to sit and have our dinner or enter our bedtime routine, that’s something that we need to help them through, that whole regulation process.

No emotion is good or bad. There are reactions to situations. It’s what we do within that emotion, when we need to move on to the next part of our day and that’s where self-management comes in. This is all around focusing our attention regulation.
When you think about the development of social emotional learning, as you’re looking at your own kids, you think about these things and where might they fall in this developmental continuum.

What social emotional learning looks like in the home


Some examples of activities you can do at home with your children to encourage social and emotional learning development:


  • Self-awareness through naming and talking about emotions (when reading, watching a kids program, or as part of a direct experience)


  • Self-management through making making a plan of what to do when you are frustrated or impatient


  • Responsible decision making through helping to make a plan for a meal


  • Relationship building through cooperative play with a sibling, peer, or adult


  • Social awareness through observing and talking about the people in your community


What social emotional learning sounds like in the home


Some examples of language/phrases you can use at home with your children to encourage social and emotional learning development:


  • I notice that you helped your sister without her asking. That shows that you were paying attention to what she needed.


  • During our Go Fish game today, we are going to work on staying calm when we don’t get the card we want. Remind me, what does staying calm look and sound like?


  • You cleaned up all of your toys by the time the song ended! You worked really hard to be responsible.


  • You two played trains without any arguing about who got which train. That showed me that you worked on turn taking and had a lot of fun together.


About Allison:

Allison Henry leads education research and efficacy for Moshi. Moshi, is an app that provides social emotional learning, mindfulness, cognitive skill building through storytelling and play. She has three daughters, 13, ten and eight. Alison’s background is in education, counselling and she worked as a developmental specialist for early intervention. She has lots of experience leading social emotional learning from birth through three and then transitioning to school age years

< back to HR Hub