The 3 Arguments for a Focus on Well-Being


There are still many people that remain unconvinced that a focus on children’s social and emotional development[1] is much more than an “add on”, something that is “nice to do”, “motherhood and apple pie” or “fluff.”

Do you still need convincing?  

Or do you need to convince others of the importance of promoting well-being?

Here are the three most compelling arguments for making Heart-Mind well-being a priority. Let’s dive straight into the money.



Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: what are the top 21st century employment skills?

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and UNESCO are among the international bodies that have concluded that new realities demand that people bring a different set of competencies to the workforce than what was previously considered required for success. In the 1970’s writing, computation and reading made the top of the list of skills most sought after by employers.  Today teamwork, problem solving and interpersonal skills trump the list. Research shows that people who are able to work with one another, manage stress and be resilient are better able to enter, stay in and progress in the workforce today. These essential qualities for employment translate directly to having Heart-Mind well-being.

A return on investment of 11:1 is something to pay attention to!

Coined “the heart payoff,"[2] it makes fiscal sense to invest in the social and emotional development of children and youth. A study out of Columbia University[3] looked at social and emotional learning interventions in terms of their economic value.  Researchers found that for every dollar it cost to implement social and emotional learning programs in a classroom, eleven dollars in savings[4] was realized.


But time spent on social skill building is time away from reading, writing and arithmetic!

FALSE! That commonly held sentiment is completely wrong. Groundbreaking studies[5] show that core academic learning actually increases with an investment of time, money and energy into social and emotional learning during school hours. In fact the studies showed:

  • Improved attendance

  • Improved social and emotional skills, e.g., self-awareness, self-management, etc.

  • Improved attitudes about self, others, and school

  • Improved prosocial school and classroom behavior

  • Reduced conduct problems (behavior), such as classroom misbehavior and aggression

  • Reduced emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression

...and here’s the kicker:

  • An 11 % improvement in academic performance measured using standardized achievement test scores.


Brain science tells us that social and emotional development can be taught, can improve and has an impact on health, wealth and public safety for generations!  

Social and emotional skills are malleable and sticky!

“Heart-Mind” skills can be learned through the environments we provide to children, the way we relate to children and what we model, and through explicit instruction[6] of skills and abilities. Not only can we teach the skills, but research shows that there is a “stickiness of social and emotional learning[7]” so that when we develop “Heart-Mind” skills, they stay with us overtime.

We can prevent social problems!

One long-term study[8] followed a group of 1000 children from birth to 32 years. Researchers found that Heart-Mind qualities (in particular self-management) developed in childhood predicts the following in adolescence and adulthood:

  • physical health

  • substance dependence

  • personal finances

  • criminal offending outcomes

  • child aggression

  • delinquency

  • violence

  • mental health

Societies are improved at a genetic level!

The emerging science of epigenetics[10] is proving that early experiences alter human biology and development at a genetic level. Research has shown, in fact, that conditions such as maternal health and education, nutrition, environmental toxins, poverty, and parenting practices all affect how our DNA is expressed. It is shown that changes in DNA expression influences people’s capabilities and potential.

“We already know enough to say that children who are at risk can benefit from nutritional, financial, educational and emotional interventions...What we know is that we can help children who, through no fault of their own, are at risk of failing to live up to their potential.” Dr. Tom Boyce


Feeling equipped with cold, hard facts to promote positive human qualities? For some visual tools, share the following videos with family, colleagues, employers and policy makers!

Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl: Why Educate The Heart

Dr. Adele Diamond: The most important thing to do as a parent.

Dr. Clyde Hertzman on Aggression and Bullying


Social and emotional learning, often referred to as SEL, is the knowledge and skills that make up Heart-Mind Well-being.

CASEL - the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning is a hub for SEL information and research. They identify 5 competencies of SEL as self-awareness, emotional management, social awareness, relationship skills and making responsible decisions.

“Social-Emotional Learning Pays Off" is the title of a commentary by Tim Shriver (CASEL Board Chair) and John Bridgeland (CEO of Civic Enterprises and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council). They review the science and economics behind investing in SEL.

Social and emotional learning programs in schools, according to this recent study, highlight $11 of benefits for every dollar spent. 

The "savings" are calculated using an index that includes costs such as adminstrator time, vandalims, criminal probability, substance abuse, delinquency, mental health issues.

This research was included in a meta-analysis, done by Loyola University and CASEL – the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning ( This review was the largest, most scientifically rigorous review of research ever done on interventions that promote the social and emotional development of students between the ages of 5 and 18. The results from the school-based study are based on 207 studies of programs involving 288,000 students from rural, suburban and urban areas.

A study published in Developmental Pschology (2015) looked at providing children mindfulness attention training. The results show that explicit instruction not only improved cognitive skills but also lead to significant increases in social and emotional competence and well-being in the elementary classroom setting.

In a study that followed children in Seattle who received a social and emotional intervention in elementary school, researchers discovered that after 12 - 15 years those that participated in the program had significantly better social outcomes as compared to a control group. Lasting benefits were seen in education, household income, community involvement, mental health, substance use, sexual behaviour and crime. 

Heart-Mind well-being refers to the balance between educating the mind and educating the heart. While there is a great focus in our society on academic achievement, research has demonstrated the positive impacts of developing our hearts - the way we "feel" and "relate to one another". In fact, heart and mind learning are interconnected.

The five Heart-Mind Well-being qualities are:

  • Secure and Calm
  • Compassionate and Kind
  • Solves Problems Peacefully
  • Alert and Engaged
  • Gets Along with Others

Researchers followed a cohort of 1,000 children from birth to the age of 32 and found that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes independent of intelligence, social class and social mistakes made as adolescents.

Canada spends $14.4 Billion dollars annually on the treatment of mental illness and by 2020 the Canadian Psychiatric Association estimates that mental illness will the leading health care cost in the country. 

Watch this great video by KidCareCanada with Dr. Tom Boyce explaining epigentics - how environments and genetics come together.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.