The Five Core CASEL Competencies

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (2003), the goal of an SEL program is to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These five core competencies provide children a foundation for social relationships and academic achievement, as evidenced by more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress, and improved test scores and grades (Greenberg et al. 2003). As children master these competencies, they develop concern for others, make good choices, and take responsibility for their behaviors. Accordingly, the Kimochis Lessons were developed around these five core competencies.

1. Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and name personal emotions. It also includes the ability to understand your own needs, as well as your strengths and limitations. This awareness of self is crucial to early school success. When children have an awareness of their own emotions, thinking, and behavior, they have a better chance to succeed in school, life, and work (Galinsky 2010). A critical component in understanding others is being able to label feelings that reach beyond the basics of happy, sad, and angry. For social success, a child needs to recognize where along an emotional continuum our communicative partner may be and figure out how our partner’s emotional state affects (or should affect) our behavior (Vagin 2012).

Research has shown that 4-year-olds have an understanding of their psychological selves and of their feelings and intentions. As self-understanding develops, it guides moral development and also sets the stage for self-control and self-regulation (Marsh, Craven, and Debus 1998; Marsh, Ellis, and Craven 2002). Young children who can identify emotions in themselves are more likely to have success when they transition into kindergarten (Eisenberg, Fabes, and Losoya 1997).

2. Self-Management
Self-management is the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors so that goals are achieved. It also involves persevering with difficult tasks and in complex social interactions. By age 4, children can begin to self-regulate by anticipating what to do and changing their responses (Florez 2011). It requires children to remember and generalize what they have been taught, to initiate changes in their behavior, and to constantly monitor their behavior in varying situations. These foundational self-management skills are emerging during the preschool years as the brain develops (Shonkoff and Phillips 2010).

A very important job of parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators is to provide experiences to children that allow them to manage and regulate their emotions. This job continues throughout early childhood into the adolescent years. The development in self-management is visible in the difference between the impulsivity of a toddler and the deliberate behavior of a 5-year-old. The relevancy of self-management skills to school success is obvious. When early childhood educators are asked to identify areas of critical importance with regard to school success, they often name competence in cooperation and self-control as highly significant (Lane, Pierson, and Givner 2003).

3. Social Awareness
Social awareness is the ability to understand what others are feeling and have the understanding to take their perspective. Theory of mind is the ability to understand how different beliefs, motivations, moods, and levels of knowledge affect our own behavior as well as the behavior of those around us. Theory of mind is a necessary component of perspective-taking. Perspective-taking refers to our ability to relate to others, empathize with them, and see things from their viewpoint. In order to do this, we must be able to perceive what their motivations are as well appreciate their feelings and thoughts.

Researchers also refer to social awareness as the development of empathy, which is the response we have when we are able to recognize and understand another’s emotions. Empathy plays an important role in relationship to academic and emotional success. It has been found that children who have good perspective-taking skills are better liked by their peers (Fitzgerald and White 2003). Preschoolers progress through a period of development that helps them to understand that people’s intentions, desires, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are motivators of behavior. As their ability to identify emotions in others increases, they are able to explain the causes of emotions and their consequences in developmentally more complex ways (Denham 2006; Lagattuta and Thompson 2007). Preschoolers who are more socially and emotionally perceptive have greater success in their relationships with peers and adults (Denham et al. 2003).

4. Relationship Skills
To be successful in school, children need to be able to form positive social relationships, work together, and deal effectively with conflict. Research suggests that when children are intentionally taught social skills, given opportunities to practice, and provided guidance in teachable moments, they develop positive peer relationships, acceptance, and friendships (Dunn and McGuire 1992). Children who learn social-emotional skills early in life are more self-confident, trusting, empathic, intellectually inquisitive, competent in using language to communicate, and capable of relating well to others (Cohen et al. 2005).

When young children are provided practical social-emotional strategies and modeling by adults, they develop the ability to initiate and join groups of peers, to cooperatively and spontaneously share with others, to communicate in ways that others understand, and to use strategies (i.e., turn-taking) to avoid conflict (Howes 1987 and 1988; Vandell, Nenide, and Van Winkle 2006). Children who enjoy positive relationships with peers experience higher levels of emotional well-being and have self-beliefs that are stronger and more adaptive than children without positive peer relationships. They also tend to be engaged in and even excel at academic tasks more than those who have peer relationship problems (Rubin, Bukowski, and Parker 2006).

5. Responsible Decision-Making
When young children learn to make positive choices about their personal and social behavior, they are making responsible decisions. Focus in the classroom and school community needs to be placed on problem-solving, reflection, perceptive thinking, self-direction, and motivation skills that will contribute to lifelong success (Adams and Hamm 1994). Research shows that students need effective problem-solving skills when making decisions about social situations (Denham and Almeida 1987). Children also need to know how to make good choices about their own behavior in the classroom and at school.