Social and Emotional Development Matters

Taking Action Now for Future Generations

Portrait of girls at school.

There is overwhelming agreement from the perspective of educators, parents, and policymakers that children should receive a broad education that prepares them to be active, engaged citizens who make positive contributions to support their families and communities. Although there are various models of educational goals, there is a consensus that education should focus on supporting essential capacities to help children navigate the world successfully.

Key Findings

In order for children to build social-emotional capacities that help them lead healthy and productive lives as adults:  

  • SEL Matters for Success: There is strong scientific evidence that social and emotional learning (SEL) programs improve children’s well-being, behavior, and academic outcomes. Evidence-based SEL programs at all levels from preschool to high school have been shown to promote the development of social, emotional, and academic competencies.

  • Investment Matters and Pays Off: When implemented with quality, SEL programs produce economic benefits. A cost-benefit analysis of six SEL programs found that for every dollar spent on SEL programming, society reaps an average benefit of $11.

  • Early Development Matters: Effective strategies include early home visitation programs that provide support to parents; parent skills training programs that strengthen parental responsiveness and enhance child security and social and emotional competency; and two-generation programs such as Early Head Start that provide complementary services to support both parental competencies and young children’s social and emotional health.

  • Parenting Matters: Although many parenting programs focus on ages birth to 3, in order to address children’s school readiness, parent engagement efforts need to intensify during the preschool years. The quality of parental care shapes development throughout childhood, and in the preschool years high-quality parental care is linked to making friends, getting along with others, and managing emotions and behavior.

  • Peers Matter: The development of healthy peer relations makes an important contribution to children’s social and emotional competence. Bullying and peer rejection can lead to serious interpersonal and mental health issues.

  • Development Matters: School-based SEL programs are more likely to be successful if they have a developmental perspective and provide a clear preschool to grade 12 scope and sequence that fosters both interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies.

  • Comprehensiveness Matters: Research demonstrates that comprehensive SEL programs, such as those that focus on all five of the competencies in the CASEL model, produce broader behavioral and academic improvements than those that are more narrowly targeted.

  • Systems Integration Matters: Schools from PreK to grade 12 should systematically integrate SEL across schoolwide programs, policies, and routines, and intentionally partner with families and their communities, to have the greatest impact.

  • Equity Matters: It is critical to remove barriers and create greater equity so that all students experience quality SEL. SEL benefits all young people.

  • Measurement Matters: SEL is measurable and assessments should be formative to continuously improve the quality of instruction and the systematic integration of SEL into schools.

Helping children develop these capacities is a formidable set of tasks for educators and families, and to nurture these capacities schools should be healthy, caring spaces that support equitable pathways for children to reach these goals. Because of the complex, diverse, and rapidly changing world in which we live, all of these broad capacities require the development of children’s social and emotional competencies.

The diverse set of briefs presented in this series attest to the breadth and depth of, and advances in, research on SEL. There is now rigorous research demonstrating the potential of SEL programming and practices that was not available one or two decades ago.

About Pennsylvania State University

Founded in 1855, the Pennsylvania State University is a renowned public research university that educates students from around the world and collaborates with partners to share valuable knowledge that improves the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. For more information, visit www.psu.edu. To learn more about the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, visit www.prevention.psu.edu.