Scientific research indicates there is a very strong relationship between social-emotional learning and cognitive development and well-being. Children as young as 18 months exhibit compassion, empathy, and altruism. Some schools have programs designed to help students better identify and manage their emotions, establish respectful caring relationships and resolve conflicts using nonviolent means. A decade of academic research across several countries has consistently shown that schools with high quality social and emotional learning dramatically reduces aggression and increases social and emotional understanding among children who receive it. Children who have participated in such programs are kinder, more cooperative, and more inclusive of others, and are less aggressive and less likely to bully others compared to children who do not participate in such programs. These positive effects have been shown to last for years.
“At the Greater Good Science Center, we believe that these core competencies are crucial to our well-being in that they can serve as the foundation for creating a meaningful and successful life,” says Vicki Zakrzewski, University of California at Berkeley Greater Good’s education director. “But, at the same time, these skills have to be cultivated, because the environment can inhibit their development.”
Practicing emotional regulation and other relational skills is important because these are the pro-social behaviors that will help young children become more engaged, get along with others and succeed in the world. Young children learn these skills as young as preschool.
Social and emotional research suggests that one specific trait, gratitude, not only helps people form, maintain, and strengthen supportive relationships, but it also helps people feel connected to a caring community. The development of appreciation and a grateful perspective in preschool has lasting benefits.
Young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves. Moreover, grateful teens (ages 14-19) are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.
The development of social and emotional strengths has clear value for a meaningful future and productive society. Schools and parents are in a partnership of developing young children into moral and well- adjusted adults who will contribute to a world with greater well-being.