Some children have problems in school because they cannot relate to their classmates or interpret social or nonverbal cues. Their cluelessness makes them targets for bullies and makes academic learning all the more challenging for them, according to researchers at the Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Chicago.
"Children's ability to develop positive peer relationships is critical to their well-being," says Clark McKlown, the Center's research director, "Compared to children who are accepted by their peers, socially rejected children are at substantially elevated risk for later adjustment troubles."
Across the globe, many schools are taking steps to prevent problems for students with social-skills difficulties. The teachers are conducting classroom lessons in social and emotional learning (SEL) to teach all students practices for managing emotions, caring for others, building friendships, communicating, making decisions, and solving problems.
"Social and emotional learning is a way of looking at education that helps people to build relationships and create positive relationships," says Jean Osgood, public outreach coordinator for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, a nonprofit organization that promotes SEL.
SEL programs boost not only students' interpersonal skills, but also academic achievement, according to Osgood. She cites studies showing that students in SEL programs achieve higher test scores and grades.
"The students feel safe in school, feel like they are surrounded by caring people, and that frees them up to learn without the encumbrance of distress," she says.
Schools in Germany, the Netherlands, Colombia, the United States, and other countries have incorporated SEL into their curricula. For instance, in 2008, 40 Los Angeles elementary schools instituted a Second Step Model School Program, which sets aside time every school day for teachers to instruct students on empathy, emotion management, problem solving, and cooperation. …