Social and Emotional Development

Children with robust social and emotional development experience happiness in everyday activities and can cope well in difficult situations. They are able to call on inner resources to calm themselves down or pick themselves up. They show compassion, spontaneously help others, try to stop quarrels, and invite peers to join an activity. Thriving children can maintain their focus, listen attentively, work independently and think before they act.

Download and share our quicksheet which includes an overview of the measure and ideas for taking action.

Measures of Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the development of skills or competencies that help us positively relate to one another.
On the MDI, these are measured by asking children about their levels of optimism, empathy, prosocial behaviour, self-esteem, happiness, sadness, worries and self-regulation. For grade sevens, the MDI also includes questions about responsible decision-making, self-awareness, perseverance, assertiveness, citizenship and social responsibility.
See theTechnical Guide for the list of questions for all dimensions and additional detail on scoring the MDI.

Optimism refers to the mindset of having positive, yet realistic, expectations for the future and putting in effort towards making good things happen. Optimism helps children manage stress and develop coping behaviours. Children high in optimism tend to have higher self-esteem, stronger self-regulation, more motivation to achieve and reduced depression and anxiety.

Empathy is the foundation for healthy social relationships and academic achievement and is a necessary precursror for prosocial behaviours. Empathy is the experience of being able to take another person’s perspective and feel what that person is feeling. Empathy can be taught and nurtured when adults model prosocial behaviour and verbalize empathic feelings, especially during conflict situations.

Prosocial Behaviour
Prosocial behaviour is voluntarily choosing behaviours that help and benefit others, such as sharing and cooperation. Prosocial skills help children have healthy relationships with adults and peers, can protect them against bullying, anxiety and depression, and can improve academic achievement.

Self-Esteem refers to children’s perceptions of themselves and sense of self-worth. It is based on how children judge their own abilities in different situations, such as academics, athletics and with friends. Having a healthy self-concept (neither overly high nor low) is critical for middle childhood health and well-being and strongly linked to children’s satisfaction with life.

Happiness refers to how content or satisfied children are with their lives. More than just feeling good, children with a positive, friendly attitude are more likely to attract positive attention from peers and adults, develop positive personality characteristics, and have healthy relationships and living environments. Experiencing happiness also strengthens children’s coping resources when negative experiences occur.

Having some worries is normal, and being able to think about possible future outcomes, good or bad, is a hallmark of cognitive development in the middle years. But when children cannot stop thinking about their worries or begin to worry about many things excessively, their well-being is negatively impacted. Children who cope well with worries typically have less intense negative emotions and fewer extreme emotional reactions in social situations.

Absence of Sadness
Sadness can be healthy response to hurtful encounters, disappointment, and loss, and will abate as circumstances change. The complete absence of sadness is not a requirement for well-being. However, children should not experience overwhelming feelings of sadness frequently, or untethered from specific circumstances.

Self-regulation refers to a person’s ability to adapt their behaviour, attention, emotions and thoughts in response to what’s going on around them. Sitting still when appropriate, the ability to defer reward and positive self-talk are a few key examples. Self-regulation contributes to positive school engagement, teacher-student relationships and academic competencies in middle childhood. Self-regulation is also important for preventing children from taking part in risky behaviour, which tends to increase as they move into adolescence.

Social and emotional learning programs that teach skills for self-awareness have led to improvements in children’s peer acceptance, prosocial behaviour, optimism and emotion control, and decreases in peer aggression.

Asked of Grade 7 students only:

Responsible Decision-Making
Responsible decision-making involves the ability to make choices that benefit one’s own interests while also being respectful toward others. This includes being aware of the consequences of one’s actions. Ethical choices based on awareness and consideration for others builds civic responsibility, positive relationship skills, and compassion.

Self-awareness is the ability to accurately recognize the influence of emotions and thoughts on behaviour. It means being able to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, while possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism. As children develop self-awareness they become more skilled in recognizing and regulating their emotional reactions, thus allowing them to re-engage with difficult problems and find the skills needed to cope with or solve challenges.

Perseverance refers to the persistent effort to achieve one’s goals, even in the face of setbacks. Middle childhood is a time when children begin to distinguish between effort and ability and can learn to value and find motivation in hard work. Encouraging perseverance is especially important after negative events to avoid learned helplessness and low self-image.

Assertiveness includes the ability or willingness to communicate one’s point of view and to stand up for oneself, while at the same time respecting the perspectives of others. As children learn to develop assertiveness, they increase their ability to recognize and speak openly about their feelings and desires, reach compromises with others, cope with rejection or criticism, build and maintain self-esteem and self-respect, expand self-awareness and self-evaluation, and communicate more effectively.

Citizenship, is rooted in feelings of identity and belonging in society, and is developed throughout one’s life. By interacting with the world and by watching the positive examples of the adults around them, children can learn to act responsibly within their communities, help those in need, develop skills to improve society, and behave in a lawful, respectful manner.

Social Responsibility
Children exhibit social responsibility when they interact as respectful, kind, and responsible citizens, reflect upon political and social issues, and act to help contribute to society. Socially responsible behaviour includes volunteering, speaking out against injustice, and developing the confidence to “make a difference” in society.

MDI data shows that in recent years children in both grades 4 and 7 reflect high levels of thriving on measures of optimism, happiness, self-esteem and empathy – but lower scores are found in prosocial behaviour and self-regulation.