October 10, 2019

Enhancing Mental Health by Teaching Social Emotional Learning (SEL) In the Classroom

GoGuardian Team
A group of four students sit together discussing something

Experts recognize that social emotional learning (SEL) plays an important role in promoting positive mental health and mitigating symptoms of mental health disorders, like autism spectrum disorder and anxiety disorders, among children.

But what is in a social-emotional curriculum, and how does it impact both students and teachers? We’ll cover that and more below.

What is Social Emotional Teaching?

Social emotional teaching has many names: social emotional learning and social emotional development are a few among the many. It’s the process in which students gain emotional intelligence. In essence, they learn what their feelings are and how to handle them. But social emotional learning is also about teaching students to understand the feelings of others. It’s about learning to communicate their feelings, identify with others, understand and accept differences, and maintain relationships.

Improved social emotional learning can happen naturally. Typically most teachers simply have to enhance a student’s knowledge in this area. You can improve your students’ understanding of themselves, the world around then, and how to respond to it with activities such as:

There are dozens of social-emotional learning practices, tips, and strategies to improve the emotional intelligence and health of students. Many of them simply involve speaking with students about emotions and proper responses. But because this is a natural learning process that can be enhanced to create better responses and greater emotional health, there are lots of activities that involve self-reflection. This includes art and journaling, which gives children a chance to work things out at their own pace. This is essential for allowing them to develop the emotional intelligence skills they need to cope with the world.

The Relationship Between Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health

Each year, up to one in five children in the U.S. shows symptoms or signs of a mental health disorder. Most individuals with mental illness begin to experience symptoms and signs early in life. Untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions are likely to affect a student’s emotional wellness and their ability to learn, develop, and grow.

If not treated, the problems kids face can tie into severe problems found in schools, like low achievement, chronic absence, disruptive behavior, and even dropping out. Schools offer a unique and great opportunity to identify and help treat mental health conditions, such as ADHD, by serving students where they already are.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can equip students with the skills and competencies they need to develop resilience and effectively manage their behavior, emotions, and relationships with others. An important focus of a social-emotional learning curriculum is the promotion of positive development through fostering social skills.

SEL can be one of the most proactive initiatives for mental health illness prevention. Research indicates that focusing on social-emotional needs can help reduce anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, depression, and impulsive behavior in kids. This concentration can also help to increase test scores, attendance, and prosocial behaviors such as kindness, personal awareness, and empathy.

Positive social skills give children viable tools to regulate their emotions and make good choices about their behavior. Teaching kids coping skills, mindfulness, effective communication skills, and self-regulation gives them the resources needed to address various social, emotional, and mental health challenges that hinder learning.

How Focusing on Emotional Health in Schools Through SEL Is Impacting Students

Social-emotional learning is a vital component of education in many schools today. The recognition of the importance of social and emotional health in schools has led to more emphasis on the role that schools play in promoting and improving mental health for all students. This is in addition to providing support for kids who are already at risk or are exhibiting mental health problems.

Researchers have revealed that attention to social-emotional health and SEL education in schools reduces aggressive behaviors in the classroom, which frees both teachers and students to concentrate more on learning. Research also suggests that when students get SEL training in school, they are 42 percent less likely to become physically aggressive on school premises.

In addition, mindfulness practices—a staple of social-emotional learning—can reduce reactive stress responses in kids. A study by Rowan University examined various breathing techniques as a way to calm students with emotional and behavioral difficulties. The study indicated that mindfulness exercises are likely to have a noticeable positive effect on reducing aggression and reactive behavior.

Evidence-based social emotional learning programs are implemented in classrooms in order to address the needs of all students. SEL programming can be effective prevention for children, as participation in SEL programs fosters those skills that they need for coping with various life challenges.

By implementing social-emotional learning in school, you will realize that the time dedicated to fostering emotional intelligence and successful conflict resolution is well spent.

How the Focus on SEL and Mental Health Affects Teachers

Ask any teacher, and they will likely tell you that teaching is a very stressful job. Teachers not only have to manage a classroom full of kids, but they also have to respond to parent emails, handle administrative paperwork, develop curriculum, and be responsible for extracurriculars.

Studies indicate that up to 50 percent of new teachers quit the teaching profession within five years. With incredibly high rates of burnout and stress, it is important to support the emotional well-being of teachers.

Teachers who focus on SEL are more likely to respond to students with empathy. Angry and stern responses from teachers may breed resentment in kids who receive them. On the other hand, teachers who lead with care and compassion are more likely to build positive relationships with students and gain the trust and respect of their students. SEL programs help teachers with classroom management, as well as student engagement. Teachers with SEL programs manage their classrooms in a way that promotes interest and engagement.

How GoGuardian Supports Mental Health Through SEL

Mental health and suicide prevention are among the forefront of issues affecting today’s youth. Social-emotional learning can help create healthy environments for students, and our work at GoGuardian is crucial at a time when educators are increasingly recognizing the value of SEL in schools. GoGuardian is committed to student social-emotional well-being and mental health by exploring the benefits of SEL and using Beacon to alert schools of suicide or self-harm activity online.

Learn more about the benefits of social emotional learning and how you can help prevent suicide, self-harm, and cyberbullying in schools with GoGuardian.