In a recent study published in the international journal, Journal of Educational Psychology, we looked at SEBs among children in the first year of school.  

We looked at five different SEBs that have been identified as central in children’s healthy development at school and in life:

  • Cooperative behaviours – for example, accommodating the ideas of other children in activities rather than consistently imposing one’s own.
  • Socially responsible behaviours – for example, responding in appropriate ways to adults and other children.
  • Helpful behaviours – for example, aiding children who need help (e.g., if a child dropped his/her belongings on the floor).
  • Anxious behaviours – for example, tenseness, worry, and social withdrawal.
  • Aggressive-disruptive behaviours – for example, bullying other children or being disobedient or having temper tantrums.

The aim of our study was to see if different children had different combinations of these.

For example, there may be some children who have more of a negative mix (e.g., high anxiety and aggressive-disruptive) and lower levels of the positive SEBs, or there may be some children who have the same negative mix but these are cushioned by also having some of the positive SEBs.

We also investigated whether these profiles were associated with differences in academic achievement three to five years later (via students’ NAPLAN results).

This information is helpful for understanding the types of children within the classroom and how they fare academically. In turn, this information can help teachers better understand and support them.

Our Study

Our study was conducted among over 150,000 NSW children in their first year of school.

What Social and Emotional Behavioural Profiles Did We Find?

As shown in the graph below, we identified four main SEB profiles:

  • Profile 1 represented 68 per cent of the children in the study and we named this the Prosocial Profile. This group exhibited high levels of cooperative, socially responsible, and helpful behaviours, and low levels of anxious and aggressive-disruptive behaviours.
  • Profile 2 represented 13 per cent of the children and we named this the Anxious Profile. This profile showed low levels of cooperative and helpful behaviours, average levels of social responsible and aggressive-disruptive behaviours, and high levels of anxious behaviours.
  • Profile 3 represented 14 per cent of the children and we named this the Aggressive Profile. This group exhibited low levels of cooperative, socially responsible, and helpful behaviours, slightly above average levels of anxious behaviour, and above average levels of aggressive-disruptive behaviour.
  • Profile 4 represented 4 per cent of the children and we named this the Vulnerable Profile. This profile showed very low levels of cooperative, socially responsible, and helpful behaviours, and very high levels of anxious and aggressive-disruptive behaviours.

Were the Profiles Linked with Achievement?

We found that the profiles were associated with different levels of NAPLAN achievement in Grades 3 and 5. Children in the Prosocial Profiles had the highest achievement in both Grades 3 and 5.

This was followed by the Anxious Profile, and then the Aggressive Profile, and finally the Vulnerable Profile.

In fact, we found the same pattern of results after controlling for children’s prior achievement and their background characteristics (e.g., age, gender, socio-economic status).

What Does This Mean for Students and Teachers?

Taken together, these findings provide knowledge about the types of children within the classroom and their unique needs in relation to SEBs.

The results also emphasise the importance of SEBs in children’s academic development—not only are SEBs associated with healthy development as shown in previous research, we found they are also associated with higher academic achievement.

For practice, the different profiles provide guidance for supporting the different children within the classroom.

For example, for the Anxious Profile, intervention efforts might focus on providing anxiety-reduction skills and building cooperative and helpful behaviours.

In contrast, for the Aggressive Profile, students would likely benefit from a focus on aggression-reduction strategies as well as efforts to build socially responsible behaviour.

Social and emotional learning is a potential avenue for practice and there are many resources available to teachers in this area (e.g., kidsmatter.com.au). A few examples include:

  • Building positive connection with students by employing “connective instruction”. According to research by Andrew J Martin and Martin Downson, in this approach, teachers connect with students on a personal level (e.g., actively listening to students, having positive expectations of students), on a subject-matter level (e.g., making the content relevant and meaningful to students), and on a pedagogical level (e.g., ensuring all students are able to keep up; providing clear feedback)
  • Establish a positive classroom environment by creating class norms and engaging in modelling and group problem-solving of common social issues
  • Implementing programs that are aimed at building SEBs such as resilience, promoting coping, and reducing stress and anxiety. A recent practice guide published by beyondblue provides many examples of strategies for school staff and parents.

Our study provides knowledge about children’s SEB profiles in the first year of schooling.

This is important for better understanding the types of children within the classroom and the types of intervention approaches that can help address any areas for further support and development.