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Social and emotional learning: Supporting children and young people’s mental health

This EIF policy briefing sets out the case for an increased emphasis on social and emotional learning in schools, as part of initiatives and support designed to prevent mental health problems among children and young people.

Policy briefing



What is the problem?

  • There is a widely held view that more and more children are experiencing mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and conduct disorders. Poor mental health in childhood is associated with a number of negative outcomes in later life, including poorer educational attainment and employment prospects.
  • Also, children from deprived backgrounds are significantly more likely to experience mental health difficulties than those from more affluent backgrounds. Recent research shows that this inequality gap is widening.

Social and emotional learning: a critical part of the solution

  • Social and emotional skills, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making, are fundamental to children’s health, wellbeing and future success, including their educational attainment.
  • Emotional wellbeing and self-esteem in childhood are strongly associated with good mental health in adulthood. Children’s social skills, self-control, self-regulation and self-efficacy also appear to be important to adult mental health and wellbeing.
  • Schools play a central role in children and young people’s social, emotional and academic development. Engaging in effective social and emotional programmes is associated with significant short- and long-term improvements for children and young people.

What needs to change?

  • Social and emotional learning should be given greater prominence within schools, given its links to mental health as well as attainment, employment prospects and other outcomes for children.
  • There is a need to implement high-quality social and emotional skills-based interventions within the context of a whole-school approach. Comprehensive implementation tools and guidelines are required to support schools in adopting a whole-school approach to social and emotional learning.
  • Teachers and administrators need good-quality training in effective teaching practices to support social and emotional learning, to enable this to become a part of everyday classroom activity.
  • Teachers or school support staff should also be trained by specialists to deliver more targeted, evidence-based support for children with emerging mental health needs.

About the contributor

Stephanie Waddell

Steph is assistant director for impact and knowledge mobilisation at EIF.