Social-Emotional Skills and Competencies

Social-Emotional Skills and Competencies

Social-emotional skills and competencies provide the backbone of SEL strategies and can be categorised based on a number of approaches and systems. 

What are social-emotional skills and competencies?

Social-emotional skills, also known as the five SEL competencies, can be categorised into five areas, according to UK government policies and research, frequently referenced in related SEL frameworks, too. The five competencies and related skills can also be translated into SEL goals for children and students, adjusted to their age competency.

#1 SEL skills and competencies

  • Self-perception and self-awareness:
    • Recognising your own knowledge, emotions and value
    • Finding confidence that you can influence, and effectively so, your current abilities, strengths and limitations
  • Motivation:
    • Thriving towards goals
    • Believing that efforts lead to achievement, and distinguishing between goals set by others and oneself, and the value attached to the goal
  • Self-control and self-regulation:
    • How children and students manage and express emotions and how they can overcome short-term impulsivity in order to prioritise higher pursuits
  • Social skills:
    • The ability and tendency to interact with others, create and maintain relationships and avoid socially unacceptable responses
    • Skills related to communication, empathy, kindness and cooperativeness, in the absence of which the child is considered solitary, shy or withdrawn
  • Resilience and coping:
    • Both are present when the individual is able to adapt positively and purposefully facing stressful and difficult situations, where resilience is considered to be a developmental process (instead of a characteristic)
    • The ability to summon strength when needed and ‘beat the odds’ of adversity

 #2 SEL skills and competencies

You will likely encounter the five SEL competencies labelled in different ways such as the below common classification:

  • Self-awareness: 
    • Understanding one’s own thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals and values, and how they can influence them; and how these are connected to actions
    • Having self-confidence and the ability to analyse personal strengths and limitations, with self-efficacy and optimism
  • Self-regulation or self-management:
    • The ability to regulate thoughts, emotions and behaviours; manage stress and control impulses while taking on challenges to achieve goals
  • Social awareness:
    • Understanding others and social and cultural norms of behaviour, emphasising, feeling compassion
    • Recognising external, such as family, school or community resources and support
  • Relationship skills:
    • Skills that help students establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships, including the ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate, negotiate conflicts in a constructive manner, and seek help when needed
  • Responsible decision making:
    • Making responsible, ethical, constructive choices, considering behavioural norms, ethical standards, safety concerns and the health and wellbeing of self and others; evaluating the realistic consequences of actions

#3 SEL skills and competencies by Goleman 

In the UK, the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme was introduced based on Goleman’s original four-domains emotional intelligence framework from 1998 which was redesigned in 2002 with four domains (and became highly utilised in human resources and leadership development and management). 

The five domains were self-awareness, self-regulation (managing feelings), motivation, empathy and social skills, and the new, simplified framework consists of four: self-awareness, social awareness, social management and relationship management.

  • Self-awareness: understanding one’s emotions, strengths and limitations, values and motives, and their impact on others; associated competencies include:
    • Emotional self-awareness
    • Accurate self-assessment
    • Self-confidence
  • Self-management: self-regulating the internal states of the mind, emotions, impulses and actions in order to get desired results, contributing to well-being, self-efficacy, confidence and a sense of connectedness to others; associated competencies include
    • (Emotional) self-control
    • Transparency
    • Adaptability
    • Achievement
    • Initiative
    • Optimism
  • Social awareness: empathy and an awareness of other people’s feelings, the ability to “read” situations appropriately; associated competencies include:
    • Empathy
    • Organisational awareness
    • Service
  • Relationship management: to take one’s own and the emotions of others and successfully manage them in the context of social interactions, to get desired responses from others, otherwise known as “friendliness with a purpose”; associated competencies include:
    • Inspirational leadership
    • Influence
    • Developing others
    • Change catalyst
    • Conflict management
    • Building bonds
    • Teamwork and collaboration

Comparison of different SEL systems

Here’s how the different SEL competency categorisations overlap and compare:

SEL skills and competencies #1 SEL skills and competencies #2 SEL skills and competencies #3
Self-perception and self-awareness Self-awareness       Self-awareness
Motivation Self-regulation or self-management     Self-management
Self-control and self-regulation Responsible decision making
Social skills     Social awareness + Relationship skills Self-management + Social awareness + Relationships management
Resilience and coping   Self-regulation or self-management  


It’s worth mentioning that, according to Goleman, self-awareness must come before self-management and the other competencies. We can safely say that this can be expanded to the other categorisations as well: correctly perceiving and understanding one’s self is the foundation for other SEL competencies to start blossoming.

Long-term effects of the absence of SEL competencies and skills

A 2015 UK governmental study looked at the correlation between social and emotional learning competencies and skills and four dimensions, namely: mental health & wellbeing, labour market/ socioeconomic, physical health & health behaviours, and “other”. 

They found the following negative associations between the given skill groups and certain life situations and outcomes:

  • Underdeveloped self-perception and self-awareness can lead to:
    • Unemployment
    • Social housing 
    • Obesity
    • Clinical problems
    • Drinking 
    • Smoking
    • Early motherhood
    • Crime
  • Underdeveloped motivation skills can lead to:
    • Smoking
  • Underdeveloped self-control and self-regulation can lead to:
    • Unemployment
    • Social housing
    • Smoking
    • Clinical problems
    • Obesity
    • Drinking
  • Underdeveloped social skills can lead to:
    • Mental illness
    • Social housing
    • (Lack of or insufficient) degree
    • Clinical problems
    • Smoking

These potential life outcomes shine the light again on what long-term effects social-emotional learning has and why it is important for schools and educators to be provided with the needed standards resources to promote SEL programmes integrated into the everyday practices of school curriculums.

What do SEL skills and competencies look like in practice?

The “appearance” of SEL skills and competencies in practice can be varied, especially depending on the age of children and students. Below we collected a couple of examples that can show signs of social-emotional learning skills being successfully implemented by children in secondary education or similar age groups.

Possible signs and examples of self-awareness 

✓ Ability to identify emotions

I am feeling ____ today.

______ stresses me out.


✓ Assessing and recognising self-confidence and strengths 

I am good at _____.

I’m my best self when _____.


✓ Perceiving oneself accurately

I acted like that today because  ______ made me feel angry.

I have an important role in my community because _____.


Possible signs and examples of self-management

✓ Controlling impulses, successfully disciplining oneself

Can I get some space? I’ll be able to answer a bit later.

I have to take a breath here.


✓ Motivating oneself

I can do this.

These results can get better if I spend more time on the subject.


✓ Setting goals, taking on challenges

I have to do this to become a ______.

Once I’m done with that, I can move on to the next project.


Possible signs and examples of social awareness 

✓ Showing empathy

How would I feel if I were _____?

Is there anything I can do to help?


✓ Accepting and appreciating diversity

I can see why you have acted differently now.

Thanks for sharing with me how your family does this.


✓ Expressing respect to others

I appreciate the process you follow.

I am open to hearing your arguments.


Possible signs and examples of relationship skills

✓ Communicating clearly

When you did that, it made me feel ______.

What I mean exactly is ______.


✓ Building relationships

I am happy to work with you on that.

Can I ask for your help with that?


✓ Resolving conflicts

I have to disagree with you because _____.

Just so I can see clearly, what do you mean when you say _____?


Possible signs and examples of responsible decision making

✓ Identifying problems

Is this beneficial for me?

This can be a problem when I think about _____.


✓ Reflecting on situations

Was it worth it?

I think we made a good decision because ______.


✓ Showing ethical responsibility

Did I do something wrong?

Is there a way to ensure a better impact for everyone involved?