Social and emotional skills

Social and emotional skills are the skills that help children and young people develop their resilience and manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

They are important life skills that support pupils’ ability to cope with and negotiate their way through difficult situations, as well as build positive relationships with their peers and adults.

These skills can improve academic attainment and enhance pupils’ motivation, as well as promote wellbeing and help prevent mental health difficulties from developing.

Schools can play a pivotal role in building the strong emotional foundations that all of us need in order to thrive and be mentally healthy.

What are social and emotional skills?

Social and emotional skills help children and young people to:

  • identify and manage their feelings and their behaviour, and reach out for help where necessary
  • build and manage healthy relationships
  • have self-control
  • resolve conflict
  • be self-aware
  • handle and overcome difficulties
  • make good decisions
  • build resilience, self-esteem and confidence
  • think positively about themselves and how they perceive the world around them
  • recognise and prevent poor mental health
  • grow into well-rounded and healthy adults.


How can schools develop children and young people’s social and emotional skills?

Social and emotional skills should be developed from an early age and taught throughout a student’s education. These skills can be taught and integrated in some of the following ways:

High-quality lessons
All children and young people should have access to high-quality lessons designed to build and strengthen their social and emotional skills.

Health and wellbeing education, throughout primary and secondary education, can be used to teach social and emotional skills. In England, this is known as RSHE; in Northern Ireland it's called Personal Development and Mutual Understanding in primary schools, or Learning for Life and Work in secondary schools; and in Scotland and Wales it's known as Health and Wellbeing.

Health and wellbeing education lessons should not be used as one-off activities or time fillers. They should also not be led by school staff who may not have a good knowledge of the students in the class - it’s important to be aware of themes that could trigger some students, or make them feel uncomfortable or upset. Staff should be mindful of those who may be affected and put extra support in place.

Health and wellbeing education lessons can offer excellent opportunities to:

  • develop children and young people's social and emotional skills and promote wellbeing
  • normalise discussion on mental health and minimise stigma
  • help children and young people stay safe and manage risks that might undermine their mental health.

In-school programmes and interventions
There are lots of programmes aimed at all children and young people that can be delivered in schools. Many have been proven to help promote social and emotional skills and mental health.

These programmes build on the skills learned in health and wellbeing lessons. Many good quality programmes require a license to be purchased, although staff training can often be included in these costs.

You can find out more about different programmes on our whole-school programmes and small group programmes pages.

Quality-assured resources
We have hundreds of quality-assured resources – including lesson plans, activities, assembly ideas, toolkits and classroom tools - to help support you in teaching children and young people about key social and emotional skills and promoting good mental health and wellbeing.

Search and save your favourite resources in our library.

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