Social & Emotional Development

Social and emotional development refers to the development of important social and emotional competencies and is linked to mental health, social behaviour, and academic performance in children. Social and emotional competencies in childhood are also associated with important outcomes later in life Schonert-Reichl, 2019. For example, children with higher social-emotional competencies are more likely to graduate from high school and be ready for post-secondary education, have greater success in their careers, more positive relationships at work and home, and better mental health throughout their lives Domitrovich et al., 2017.
The social and emotional competencies measured by the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) are those that have been identified to promote healthy development and resilience and protect against common risk factors Thomson et al., 2018. The social and emotional competencies on the MDI were chosen because they are malleable and actionable; that is, with the right supports, these competencies can be nurtured and promoted in children. However, without intervention, social-emotional well-being tends to decline as children transition from middle childhood to early adolescence Eccles, 2004.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs can improve children’s social and emotional competencies and well-being, as well as their academic success Greenberg et al., 2017. Improvements in children’s social and emotional competencies from participating in SEL programs coincides with better academic performance, more positive social behaviours, and less aggression, emotional distress, and drug use Schonert-Reichl, 2019. Promoting social and emotional competencies can also prevent bullying behaviours and victimization Divecha & Brackett, 2019.

The MDI's Measures of Social and Emotional Development

Empathy is the experience of being able to take another person’s perspective and connect with what that person is feeling. Empathy is the foundation for healthy social relationships and is a necessary precursor for prosocial behaviours Schonert-Reichl, 2011. Empathy can be taught and nurtured when adults provide children with affection, give children opportunities to take the perspectives of others, help children understand how their actions affect others, encourage children learn about their own feelings, model prosocial behaviour and verbalize empathic feelings Schonert-Reichl, 2011.
Optimism refers to the mindset of having positive, yet realistic, expectations for the future and putting in effort towards making good things happen. Higher optimism is linked to higher self-esteem, stronger self-regulation, more motivation to achieve, and reduced depression Carver & Scheier, 2014 ,Thompson et al., 2014 .
Self-regulation refers to a person’s ability to adapt their behaviour, attention, emotions and thoughts in response to what is going on around them. Self-regulation is an important protective factor for children exposed to risk and is a strong predictor of school success Claro & Loeb, 2019; Duckworth & Carlson, 2013; McClelland et al., 2015 self-regulation is also linked to greater prosocial behaviour Moilanen, 2007 . The MDI measures both short-term and long-term self-regulation. Short-term self-regulation specifically involves responding to situations “in the heat of the moment,” such as controlling an impulsive reaction, trying not to fidget in class, or focusing one’s attention on an immediate project or activity. Long-term self-regulation requires activation of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is still developing throughout adolescence and into early adulthood Moilanen et al., 2018 ;Casey et al., 2019 . This type of self-regulation involves planning and adapting one’s behaviour in the present to achieve a goal several days, weeks, or even months in the future.
Prosocial Behaviour
Prosocial behaviour is voluntarily choosing behaviours that help and benefit others, such as sharing and cooperation. Prosocial behaviour is linked to peer approval and social acceptance. Children who exhibit more prosocial behaviours are more likely to be liked by their teachers and peers, and are also more likely to have higher grades and standardized test scores. In addition, children also have higher academic achievement when their classmates are prosocial Bergin, 2014 ; Wentzel, 2014 .
Absence of Sadness
Sadness can be a normal response to hurtful encounters, disappointment, and loss and is considered to be a transient emotion in contrast to depression Zeman et al., 2001 . However, children should not experience overwhelming feelings of sadness frequently or experience feelings of sadness that are disconnected from specific circumstances. Note that because the MDI is strengths-based, the questions on this measure are reverse scored so that children who score in the low range on “Absence of Sadness” dimension have greater feelings of sadness in contrast to children who score in the mid or high range.
Absence of Worries
Due to important cognitive changes that occur during middle childhood and early adolescence, children develop an increased ability to think about possible future outcomes, both good and bad, and to think about themselves in comparison to their peers. This can lead to an increase in worries during this developmental period and even to social anxiety Erath et al., 2007 ; Immordino-Yang et al., 2019 . While having some worries is normal, when children cannot stop thinking about their worries or begin to worry about many things excessively, their well-being can be negatively impacted. Note that because the MDI is strengths-based, the questions on this measure are reverse scored so that children who score in the low range on “Absence of Worries” have higher levels of worries compared to those children who score in the mid or high range.
Happiness refers to how content or satisfied children are with their lives. More than just feeling good, high levels of life-satisfaction in children are associated with positive peer relationships and relationships with adults at home and at school Gadermann et al., 2016. Children’s life satisfaction can also act as a protective factor against stress and the development of problems, such as depression Proctor et al., 2009 .
Self-Esteem refers to children’s perceptions of themselves and their sense of self-worth. It is based on how children judge themselves and their abilities in areas such as academics, athletics, appearance, behaviour, and social competence Harter, 2015. During middle childhood, children begin to compare themselves with their peers in these and other areas which can influence their self-esteem Harter, 2015 . Having healthy self-esteem (neither too low, nor unrealistically high) is critical for health and well-being in middle childhood and strongly linked to children’s satisfaction with life Harter, 2015; Proctor et al., 2009 .

(GRADES 6, 7, and 8 ONLY)

Self-awareness is the ability to accurately recognize the influence of emotions and thoughts on behaviour. It means being able to assess one’s strengths and limitations, while possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism Weissberg et al., 2015 . As children develop self-awareness, they become more skilled in recognizing and regulating their emotional reactions Yoder, 2014; Rivers & Brackett, 2011, thus allowing them to re-engage with difficult problems and find the skills needed to cope with or solve challenges Rivers & Brackett, 2011 .
Responsible Decision-Making

(GRADES 6, 7, and 8 ONLY)

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 Weissberg et al., 2015 . Children’s brains, and therefore decision-making abilities, are still developing during middle childhood and early adolescence Immordino-Yang et al., 2019 , but at the same time children also need to be supported with more opportunities for responsible decision making Fuligni & Eccles, 1993 .

(GRADES 6, 7, and 8 ONLY)

Perseverance refers to the consistent 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 Dweck, 2002 . Greater perseverance is linked to higher rates of academic achievement, academic engagement, and high school graduation Eskreis-Winkler et al., 2014; Tang et al., 2019.

(GRADES 6, 7, and 8 ONLY)

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. Assertiveness is a constructive communication strategy that supports healthy relationships and problem solving; it is a positive alternative to aggression Peneva & Mavrodiev, 2013; Sigler et al., 2008. Assertiveness can also be a protective factor against bullying Avsar & Alkaya, 2017; Sigler et al., 2008 .
Citizenship & Social Responsibility

(GRADES 6, 7, and 8 ONLY)

By interacting with the world and by watching the positive examples of the adults around them, children can learn how to act in socially responsible ways in their communities, help those in need, and develop skills to improve society. Volunteering is increasingly seen as an important aspect of engaged citizenship Kim & Morgul, 2017. Volunteerism during youth has been linked to volunteerism in adulthood, improved academic outcomes, improved psychological well-being, and even decreased risk for cardiovascular disease Kim & Morgul, 2017; Schreier et al., 2013 . Civic engagement in youth has been linked to higher life satisfaction and academic outcomes Chan et al., 2014 .

For more detailed information on the measures included in the Social and Emotional Development dimension of the MDI including a full list of questions that contribute to each measure, how each measure is scored, and how the results are visualized, please consult the MDI Companion Guide.

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