The mental health of children has been a hot topic in the news recently. The COVID pandemic has helped bring more awareness to the importance of mental health. There have been several studies that have provided evidence that rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions have increased, especially among children. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association joined forces and declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics website stated, “We have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the pandemic. Children and families across our country have experienced enormous adversity and disruption.” 1.
Some parents and educators are advocating for more social emotional learning (SEL) to be incorporated into our school systems to help with the mental health of children. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) developed and is helping grow the concept of social emotional learning. The idea of social emotional learning has been around since 1994 but it has gained more attention in the past few years due to the focus on children’s mental health.
The goal of social emotional learning is to help children in school to be able to feel and understand their emotions, and to show empathy for others. By doing this it will help children make better decisions, work towards goals, and develop good relationships.
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, there are five core social emotional learning competencies 2.
Children should be able to recognize emotions and how those emotions affect behavior. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses to build confidence.
Children should be able to take control and take account of their thoughts, emotions, and actions. They need to be able to set goals and take steps to work towards those goals.
- Social awareness
Children should be able to put themselves in other’s positions who are different from themselves. They should have empathy and act ethically.
- Relationship skills
Children should be able to develop and have ongoing good relationships with people from various backgrounds and cultures. This will help them build skills in listening, communication, resolving conflict, helping themselves, and helping others.
- Making responsible decisions
Children should be able to choose how to deal with situations based on ethics, safety, consequences, and well-being.
Social emotional learning is incorporated into schools by education systems receiving the training and building it into their curriculums. Incorporating social and emotional learning into school shows promising results and could help improve kid’s mental health. In a 2021 review done by the Early Intervention Foundation, it was found that “Universal social and emotional learning interventions have good evidence of enhancing young people’s social and emotional skills and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety” 3. Although social emotional learning cannot replace the mental health care, it could be a good solution on preventing and identifying mental health problems among children.