Behavioral and Mental Health Benefits of Early Learning of Social-Emotional Skills

Many families today are under enormous pressures and far too often, beleaguered and overwhelmed parents, many of them single, are doing their absolute best to provide the basics of food and shelter for their children, with little time left to actively parent their children.

Far too many of our children know all too well the realities of stressed housing, subsistence economic environment, food insecurity, fractured family situations, mental health deficits and an insufficiency of constructive parental contact. A significant number of children spend too much time alone or with limited parental engagement.

Consequently, children are coming to early childhood centers and elementary schools without fundamental behavioral, social, emotional and interpersonal skills. Many school teachers report that they are spending between 35% – 75% of their time responding to student behavior problems and inattention, instead of teaching reading, writing and math. Many children do not know how to effectively get along with adults and other children. Their distracting, disruptive, aggressive or simply inattentive behaviors have a cascade of negative effects. The children’s behaviors hurt their own learning as well as their peers. Their inability to self-manage their feelings results in anger outbursts, fights, school avoidance, or even depression and shutting down. Disruptive children are more likely to be pulled from group learning situations or from class for disciplinary issues, thus losing valuable instructional time and falling further behind in learning. They often lose motivation for learning as well as their feeling of self-worth. They are seriously hampered in their learning and in their future potential as a result of these deficits.

There is a vast body of research correlating the early learning of social-emotional skills by children with decreased emotional distress, improved self-awareness and self-management, improved attitudes about self, others, and school, decreased classroom misbehavior and aggression, and improved academic performance (Durlack, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger , 2011).

As far back as 1990, Gresham & Elliott found that “untreated social skills problems are relatively persistent, are related to poor academic performance, and may result in later social adjustment problems or serious psychopathology.”

Click here to view additional research on the early learning of social-emotional skills.

The Project CLASS program is focused on helping teachers teach and students learn crucial social/emotional skills through initial workshop training and on-going, in-school support for critical skills.  Curricula include skills such as Paying Attention, Following Instructions, Asking Permission, Accepting Feedback, Accepting No as an Answer, Using Kind Words, Making Good Choices, Problem-Solving, and Calming Down.  These skills are the building blocks of relationships and are vital to development of behavioral health, mental health, values and character.  These skills are critical determinants of success or failure, in school and in life.