Social-Emotional Skills

It isn’t always easy to manage our emotions, but doing so is a key component of living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling lifestyle. Without a concrete understanding of emotions in both ourselves and others, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to get ahead in life.

Emotional intelligence is what helps us to take control of our mental state and form stable, healthy relationships with those around us. A strong social-emotional skill set has been linked to lifelong success, from academic performance to your career path. But just what are social-emotional skills? Here, we go over the basics of emotional intelligence and the vital role it plays in our lives and our society as a whole.

What Are Social-Emotional Skills?

Social-emotional skills provide the foundation we need to experience, understand, and healthily express our emotions. These skills also provide the foundation for managing emotions and building healthy relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.

On a very basic level, social-emotional skills are what help us to recognize our own mental state and that of others. We can tell if we are sad, happy, or anything in between by how our mind and body both feel at any given time. Emotional intelligence also helps us to recognize cues in the face, voice, and body language of others to pinpoint how they’re feeling.

Having strong social-emotional skills allows us to not only recognize our emotions but regulate our resulting behavior appropriately. For example, small children without social-emotional skills may stomp, scream, and rampage when they are upset. Most adults, however, have learned that the best way to deal with anger is to act in a calm and collected manner.

Recognizing our own thoughts and feelings is also a vital part of forming healthy, meaningful relationships. Nobody wants to be around a person that constantly allows negative emotions to get the better of them. Social-emotional skills enable us to express ourselves healthily, adapting to different people and environments as necessary and with a smile on our faces.

Developing Social-Emotional Skills

For most of us, social-emotional skills are learned during our childhood years. Some of us don’t even register the lessons that we receive, but the message can still stick. However, emotional intelligence is achievable at any age with the right motivation, though it may take some hard work.

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is the process that teaches people of any age how to deal with emotion. It helps both children and adults to develop new social attitudes and habits that will give them greater control over their emotional state. SEL is also designed to help people to connect with themselves and others.

It isn’t always easy to develop a healthy social-emotional skill set, especially in adulthood. Fortunately, with increasing research pointing to the importance of emotional intelligence, there’s a growing body of research pointing towards how we can improve this skill set in childhood or beyond. There are plenty of different SEL programs available today, most geared towards young children.

While most of these programs are designed to be implemented in primary school, this doesn’t mean that adults can’t benefit from the curriculum. It’s never too late to develop a healthy understanding of your own emotional state and that of others. However, learning a skill such as empathy takes time, dedication, and no small degree of motivation.

The Importance of Social-Emotional Skills

By learning how to control our emotions, we avoid unnecessary stress that may negatively affect us on both a mental and physical level. Showing emotional self-restraint is also seen as an admirable quality across just about all cultures and is more likely to result in a positive outcome during any interpersonal interactions.

Social-emotional skills have been consistently linked to success, both in the short and long-term. There are several areas where having emotional intelligence can help to strengthen in both children and adults.

Managing Emotions

The main end goal of healthy social-emotional development is to be able to manage your emotions in a calm and collected manner. When you’re feeling angry, you avoid lashing out, fighting, or doing other rash things that you may end up regretting later. When you’re happy, you reign yourself in to an appropriate level depending on your setting.

The first step to managing emotions is to be able to recognize mental states. For most of us, this happens somewhat intuitively. However, many children can also benefit from some coaching in their younger years.

Being able to pinpoint signs of different emotions in yourself and others is the key to emotional management. Once you understand your feelings, you can then take control of your emotions, thoughts, and, ultimately, your actions. With strong emotional control, you’ll be better suited to dealing with and adapting to the world around you.


It can be a challenge to find purpose and fulfillment in life. If you’re stuck in a rut, one of the best ways to get out is by starting the habit of setting goals for yourself. Emotional intelligence can help you to recognize your dreams and set goals for yourself. It also gives you the focus and the drive that you need to stay the course and see your goals through to the end.

When setting new goals for yourself, it’s best to start small. Break down bigger goals into a series of easily achievable steps. Doing this will help to keep you motivated and ensure that you don’t burn out prematurely.

It’s also a good idea to opt for goals with a measurable outcome. For example, if you’re looking to lose weight, you can give yourself a set amount of time in which to lose a certain number of pounds.

If you find yourself having trouble sticking to your goals, it may help to put your plan in writing. Doing this will make the objectives seem more concrete, and you can read your ideas regularly to help keep yourself focused, positive, and on-track. Telling others about your goals can also help by giving you a sense of social responsibility.

By setting, following, and achieving carefully chosen goals, you set yourself up for success in life. No matter how small or large the objective, you can feel good knowing that it will put you one step closer to reaching your dreams thanks in part to your social-emotional skill set.

Forming Relationships

Emotions are an essential part of any relationship, whether it be with friends, family, significant others, or even coworkers. In order to get along with others, it’s vital that you know how to recognize and adapt to different emotional states.

For example, if you’re speaking with someone who is getting angry, it can help if you make an effort to recognize and understand their mental state. It’s also best if you know how to keep yourself calm. That way, you can diffuse the situation with no hurt feelings and leave with important relationships intact.

“Reading the room” is a crucial skill in any circle. If you cater to the emotional state of your audience, people are more likely to gravitate towards you. This ability can help you to set your best foot forward in your personal, professional, or academic life.

With strong social-emotional skills, you’ll be better set to communicate and appropriately express yourself. You’ll also be better suited to adapting to different environments and different people, gaining friends and admirers wherever you go.

Making Decisions

Decision-making is an important life skill at any age, but it isn’t always easy. Responsible decision making is dependent partially on experience. It can be a challenge to know which move to make when faced with a new issue or obstacle in your path.

Having social-emotional skills can help you to make the right choice when faced with a tough decision. These skills give you the focus, adaptability, and emotional control that you need to make the best choices for yourself and others. You can objectively weigh risks versus rewards and opt for what’s likely to have the most positive outcome.

Emotional intelligence also helps us to learn to take responsibility for our actions. We learn to live with the consequences, both positive and negative. If we make the wrong choice, we’re able to get past it instead of allowing regret to let us stagnate. Conversely, if things go our way, we know not to let it go to our head and treat the next obstacle with the same calm, collected, and objective nature as always.

Teaching Social-Emotional Skills

While some social-emotional skills are intuitive, many must be passed down through the generations to help young people learn how to function in the society around them. However, it isn’t just children who can build on their emotional intelligence. Adults can also learn new skills that will help them to understand and manage emotions better.

Often, the best way is to lead by example. It’s easiest and most effective to teach people new social-emotional skills by showing them how you do so yourself. Mentors are a great way for both children and adults alike to learn new social-emotional skills and sharpen those that they already have. They can serve as a role model and demonstrate a calm, flexible approach to problem-solving. Mentors can also act as a resource and give helpful life advice to those who need it.

Mentoring and after-school programs led by a trusted and emotionally engaging role model have been linked to improvements in social and emotional development among kids and teens. Mentors can also help to teach valuable life skills such as emotional self-control, which helps youths to control their anger and aggression, avoid rule-breaking, and succeed in school.

Mentees don’t just benefit from their mentors by learning how to regulate their own emotions. By spending time with an emotionally mature individual, we can build our interpersonal and communication skills. Mentors can help to teach socially illiterate individuals how to deal with the emotional state of others as well, helping to improve relationships with peers, parents, teachers, and more.

A social-emotional mentor can be particularly useful for those who have learning or behavioral difficulties. For example, children and adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty understanding everyday social interactions as well as forms of nonverbal communication, such as tone of voice or facial expression.

Mentors can help with communication training and behavioral therapy so that those with conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome can build a strong foundation of emotional intelligence that will help them to fit in better with mainstream society.

One of the most well-known and widespread mentoring programs within the U.S. is the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. This program serves schools around the country, offering an opportunity for teens and adults to mentor at-risk children who don’t have a positive role model in their lives. This program has helped to prove that mentoring youths can help to build their emotional intelligence and improve their relationships with both peers and authority figures alike.

Key Social-Emotional Skills

It can be challenging to define emotional intelligence. There are so many skills that are vital to both your mental and physical health. Here, we go over the key social-emotional skills that you need to succeed, and how you can pass these skills along to others.


The ability to control yourself and your actions are the very foundation of all other social-emotional skills. Learning how to regulate emotions and behaviors is an integral part of healthy development, allowing us to function as productive members of society.

Self-control involves the ability to delay gratification and control impulses, even when in a heightened emotional state. It also has to do with focus and attention, allowing for better concentration at school and work.

It’s been shown that self-control in toddlerhood leads to positive outcomes as a teenager and adulthood. According to studies by renowned psychologist Walter Mischel, a toddler’s ability to delay gratification often indicated future success. For example, those better able to control their behavior had greater academic, behavioral, and social success later in life. They even showed higher SAT scores, and later on, job earnings.

The best way to teach self-control is by demonstrating it yourself, especially in situations where you feel angry or upset. Take a moment to calm yourself down, and make a concentrated effort not to snap at others. In this way, you can show both children and adults the best way to approach conflict is with a cool and collected mind.


While self-awareness may seem like an intuitive trait, it can take years of effort and dedication to get to know yourself. To be self-aware, you need to be able to accept all facets of yourself and your psyche. Achieving this is no easy feat, especially for those who are still figuring out their place in the world.

Self-awareness involves acknowledging both your abilities and your shortcomings. By being aware of your own limitations, you avoid setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s a key component of emotional intelligence, giving you the building blocks that you need to gain control over yourself and your emotions.

Those who are self-aware are also better at solving problems and making decisions. Because they know their strengths and limitations, they know when a seemingly attractive choice may not work for them.

With self-awareness also comes the consistent desire to improve. When we know our limitations, we can set realistic and attainable goals to better ourselves. Only by acknowledging your shortcomings can you create a strong emotional identity for yourself.

You can show others how to be self-aware by being open about both your talents and your limitations. Don’t feel compelled to push yourself too hard, but at the same time, show others that it’s okay to take a step back out of your comfort zone and observe yourself objectively.

Social Awareness

Awareness of others is just as important as awareness of ourselves. It allows us to interact with others positively, forming lasting bonds and fitting comfortably into our niche in society. Social awareness also ensures that we’re able to lean on others for support when times are tough. Humans are social creatures, and our emotional skill set should reflect such.

Social awareness doesn’t just mean the ability to hold an intelligent conversation. It is a vital life skill that involves learning how to recognize and address others’ emotions. It requires practice, experience, and a keen sense of observation.

Being socially aware also means acting empathetically towards others. You have to learn to place yourself in another’s shoes and try to understand the world from their point of view. It also means being able to adapt to different ideas, behaviors, and cultures with respect and tolerance.

With social awareness, you can gain the favor of strangers and form new friendships wherever you go. This skill also helps you to maintain positive relationships over time instead of allowing them to fizzle and die. It’s a crucial skill in just about any circle of life, from academia to the professional sphere.

It’s easy to teach social awareness to others, though it may take time and patience. You should be open and deliberate about sharing your feelings, whether positive or negative. Discussing your current mental state can help others to associate it with nonverbal cues and learn how to deal with different emotions.

You can also use disagreements as an opportunity to teach social awareness. When arguing a contentious point, be aware of how you communicate, including your words, tone, expression, and body language. By staying calm and discussing things rationally, you provide a positive example of how to control your emotions in a social setting.


The ability to adapt is important in life. It makes us more resilient, allowing us to forge headfirst through pain and strife and come out on the other side on top. Recovering from adversity is a vital part of emotional intelligence, and is the only way that we can grow as individuals.

Social-emotional problem-solving skills involve the ability to identify a problem and come to a solution without undue stress. You have to be able to gather accurate information, mentally organize it, consider all of your options, and weigh risks against potential rewards.

Effective problem solving is what makes us so adaptable as a species. It allows us to deal with the unexpected and overcome new obstacles instead of getting stuck in life. Knowing how to solve your own problems is not only an admirable quality in any social setting but can help to give you confidence and pride in yourself.

Having a strong problem-solving skill set is also a useful trait at home, at school, and in the working world. Being able to come up with novel and effective solutions is a surefire way to get noticed by the people on top. For many employers, it’s one of the key social-emotional skills that they look for in an employee.

You can teach others how to solve their own problems by discussing how you confront changes in life. Whenever you come up against an obstacle, make a point to show others what you’re doing to solve the issue. Always try to remain calm, focused, and in control. Doing this not only shows others how to face their fears healthily but also teaches them that they’re not alone when going through a challenging time.

Personal Responsibility

Part of learning to solve problems is learning to take responsibility for your choices. Personal responsibility is an important social-emotional skill that can be incredibly difficult for many of us to embrace. It means accepting failure with open arms, especially when there’s no one to blame but yourself.

To show personal responsibility, you need to be honest with both yourself and those around you. If you make a bad choice, it’s better to own up to the mistake than shy away from it or try to pin it on someone else. Doing this will earn you the respect of others and help you to become a more emotionally mature individual.

By owning up to your mistakes, you also learn to be more careful in the future. Being responsible means learning from your past instead of banishing ugly or embarrassing memories. You can show others how to take personal responsibility by sharing open observations about yourself and openly admitting your mistakes. You should also reward honesty whenever possible.


Taking responsibility for your actions doesn’t always have to be uncomfortable. When you make the right choice, it can be a huge confidence booster to take credit for your work. In that vein, it’s important to remember that others should be congratulated for superior performance.

Showing gratitude can help to strengthen your relationships, encourage others to be their best selves, and build upon your social-emotional skill set. Showing gratitude helps to strengthen all other emotional skills, from solving problems to setting goals.

When someone does something nice for you, you should always remember to express your gratitude. This can be as simple as a spoken “thank you” to something as elaborate as a gift of appreciation. Even small acts of service should be recognized.

If you’re trying to teach someone how to show gratitude, the best way is to thank them at every available opportunity. You can also make a point to tell them when you’re grateful to others in your life. At home, work, or school, you can post a gratitude list and encourage people to add a note on each time they feel thankful.

Optimistic Thinking

Our thinking patterns can have a substantial impact on our emotional state. When we allow ourselves to devolve into negative thoughts and self-hatred, it can send us into a spiral of anger and depression.

You should try to practice optimistic thinking to improve your emotional health. Instead of allowing yourself to focus on the negative, chase away nasty thoughts with more positive ones. Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, think towards all that the future has to offer. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, remind yourself about your best talents.

By thinking optimistically, you can avoid stress and sadness. Even if it takes some practice at first, over time, positive thinking will become second nature to you. You can even teach others how to change their thought patterns by expressing positivity whenever you’re around them. If necessary, you can show them your tricks to warding off intrusive thoughts.

In Summary

Social-emotional skills help us to understand both our own emotional state and that of others. They show us how to think, act, and grow as individuals throughout our lives. There are a wide variety of social-emotional skills that are key to managing your emotions, forming relationships, setting goals, and making decisions.

Most of us begin our journey of emotional intelligence as a child, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn new social-emotional skills as an adult. With emotionally mature models to follow, you can practice and build these skills to improve your well-being. As you learn, you may even be able to act as a mentor yourself. No matter what you’re looking for in life, we can all benefit from a strong set of social-emotional skills.

Leave a Comment