Social and emotional skills make kids smarter and healthier

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart has produced brilliant scientists who used their intelligence for evil.”

  • May. 5, 2011 9:00 a.m.
Betty Brown

Betty Brown

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart has produced brilliant scientists who used their intelligence for evil.”

Think about it — who would you rather work or spend time with? Someone who is clever and quick or someone who is kind, compassionate and can make good decisions?

Well, the good news is that you can have it all. Something called social and emotional learning (SEL) offers educators, families and communities the tools to prepare students for “the tests of life, not a life of tests,” as M.J. Elias would say.

SEL teaches skills like self awareness, emotional control, empathy, self confidence, and responsible decision making —skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically.

And the good news is that research shows kids taking SEL programs also rank higher in academic tests too, up to 11 per cent higher.

May 7 is Child and Youth Mental Health Day.

B.C.’s mental health plan states that “mental health is the foundation for overall health and well being and good mental health is linked to better physical health too.”

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, about 70 per cent of mental-health problems start in childhood and adolescence and then persist into adulthood — making prevention and treatment during the early years critical.

Schools have a unique ability to address all students and are one of the best places to provide supports such as SEL that promote positive mental health for all students. Creating a caring and safe learning place is the basis for both SEL and academic achievement and teachers hold the key.

We have all heard of the traditional three Rs of learning — reading, ”riting” and ”rithmatic” — but another R is gaining popularity with parents and educators  — relationships.

Three UBC Vancouver professors are actively working to bring the “fourth R” into the education system. Doctors Hymel, Schonert-Reichl and Miller are developing course work in social emotional learning and development for teachers to help their future students succeed in both school and life. Unfortunately, these teacher training courses are not yet mandatory.

So it seems clear. If we want happier, well adjusted, and smart students, shouldn’t we be addressing the fourth R in every classroom?

Find out what’s happening in your school or classroom.

Speak with your child’s teacher or principal, and remember to be kind.

For more info on social emotional learning visit the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning website at or contact Betty Brown at

Betty Brown is a mental health population health facilitator with Interior Health.

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