SAIL Cares about the Social Emotional Health of Children

Dear Parents and School Leaders,

For more than two years, we have all lived under higher levels of stress due to the pandemic. Decreases in social support because of disruptions in relationships with peers and teachers and the persistent stress surrounding related social situations have been particularly unhealthy for many children.

Like you, SAIL CoLab researchers/authors (who are also parents) care immensely about children and their successful development into healthy, happy, educated citizens. These developmental outcomes, and the social skills and academic enabling behaviors needed to accomplish them and buffer stress, however, don’t just happen. Our children need to be in school and need adult guidance and care to reduce persistent stress, focus their learning, and create opportunities to apply positive, healthy behaviors effectively. Thus, parents and educators have important roles to play in helping children develop powerful social skills that buffer stress, facilitate learning, and foster healthy relationships.

The researchers/authors of our assessments and interventions have developed efficient, effective, and fair tools that identify all children’s strengths and teach them to improve 30 important social skills. These skills were originally identified in 1988 by a representative sample of thousands of parents and educators, and proven through rigorous research many times since, to enhance social relations and enable academic engagement. Example simple but powerful social skills include listening to others, paying attention to your work, taking turns in conversations, staying calm when pushed or hit, owning your own actions, respecting others’ property, making compromises, asking for help when needed, and expressing your feelings. These intra- and inter-personal skills are used almost daily by parents, teachers, and children alike to facilitate social interactions involving communication, cooperation, assertion, responsibility, engagement, empathy, and self-control. Such positive interactions among our nation’s 50 million students at school and in their communities are needed perhaps more than ever!

Many of the social skills identified by parents and teachers as critical to success have been referred to as 21st Century Skills or Social Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies. We at SAIL CoLab have used the 2015 CASEL competence framework to describe clusters of our social skill assessment items and instructional skill units. However, because we also recommend assessing and reducing behaviors indicative of children’s emotional behavior concerns, we encourage people to think broadly about children’s social emotional health and its development with evidence-based, skill-building programs that respect individual differences.

Social skills or SEL programs are not created equal even when they are developed to align to a common competency framework like that advanced by CASEL. Nor are these programs always used as intended to advance children’s development and cultivate safe and supportive learning conditions. So, take a close look before deciding whether a particular program is acceptable and likely to be effective for your children. As a starting point, take a close look at the content of our assessments and intervention programs at You will see the SSIS SEL Brief + Mental Health Scales (2020) include parents’, teachers’, and students’ perspectives to assess all children reliably and fairly. You also will learn the SSIS SEL Classwide Intervention Program (2020) explicitly teaches the same skills assessed and embraced by most parents and teachers as very important to school success. This program respects individual differences and focuses on individual students’ development of interpersonal skills that buffer stress, cultivate successful relationships, and enable learning. When used together, these one-of-a-kind assessment and intervention tools invigorate healthy and constructive opportunities to get along with others, many of whom have very different backgrounds and interpersonal needs. With an investment of less than 2% of annual instructional time, our combined assessment-to-intervention program can have a triple-positive impact on children by increasing their social skills, decreasing many problem behaviors, and increasing academic engagement.

SAIL CoLab researchers/authors and their partners have championed sound social emotional skills assessment and evidence-based intervention practices for decades. We are eager to continue to support and work with parents and educators to help all children develop social behaviors that are stress reducing, socially supportive, and healthy. Let us know how we can best help you help your children!