These Children Are In Your Classroom: How Teachers Can Integrate Social-Emotional Learning to Support Children who have Adverse Childhood Experiences

Danielle O'Reilly


Research indicates that two-thirds of children in the United States have at least one adverse childhood experience.  Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events, such as abuse and family dysfunction, which can negatively affect well-being and school performance.  Children who have three or more ACEs are three times more likely to experience academic failure, five times more likely to have attendance problems, and six times more likely to have behavioral problems than those with no ACEs.  These children are also more likely to have emotional insecurities and difficulty connecting with others.  The integration of social-emotional learning (SEL) is a strategy that teachers can use to better support children, especially those who have ACEs.  SEL helps create a safe learning environment for children that fosters equality and respect, while teaching conflict-resolution skills, stress management techniques, and other behaviors that may not be modeled at home.  Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine how SEL benefits children in elementary school, especially those who have ACEs.  A second purpose was to examine ways teachers can integrate SEL into their classrooms.  This study addressed two research questions: (1) How does social-emotional learning benefit children in elementary school, especially those who have adverse childhood experiences? and (2)  How can teachers integrate social-emotional learning into the classroom?  Data was collected through classroom observations over one academic year and interviews with four elementary teachers.  Results indicated that the negative effects of ACEs are reduced when integrated efforts are used to develop children’s social-emotional skills.  Teachers can integrate SEL by creating a safe, low-stress classroom environment, planning time for mindfulness and movement, and embedding SEL into academic instruction.


Adverse Childhood Experiences; Social-Emotional Learning; Elementary Education

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