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Why is Personal, Social and Emotional Development important

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) are the three building blocks of success in life. They are often viewed as one area of learning and development due to how closely linked they are.

  • Personal development – how we come to understand who we are and what we can do, how we look after ourselves.
  • Social development – how we understand ourselves in relation to others. This includes how we make friends, understand the rules of society and behave towards others.
  • Emotional development – how we understand our own and others’ feelings. Including how we develop our ability to see things from other peoples point of view (empathy).

PSED in children with learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilities often encounter difficulties beyond the typical PSED problems experienced by children without LD’s (i.e. reading, writing, math, memory, organisation). When experiencing regular struggles and setbacks, children with LD’s can develop negative self-esteem even when support is available.

Self Confidence and Self Awareness

The self-confidence aspect of PSED examines how children develop confidence in themselves, their abilities and how they express their ideas.

Low self-esteem and a lack of confidence interfere with a child’s ability to learn and can reinforce a cycle of failure and negativity. For many children, strong feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, or shame can even lead to psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression.

Children tend to develop and thrive best when they feel they have someone “on their side”, this helps them to feel valued and gives them a sense of self-worth. This sense of self-worth, in turn, leads to building confidence and having a better understanding of when they need help or support form other people.

Building Self Confidence in Children with Learning Disabilities

Some other ways of supporting children with learning disabilities to build self-confidence include:

  1. Help them feel special

    Showing your child that they are valued and appreciated for who they are can have a marked impact on their ability to bounce back from difficulties, this can be as simple as setting aside a specific time with them each week to spend time together without distractions such as phones, where you engage with something they enjoy.

  2. Teach them problem-solving skills

    Nothing builds self-confidence for a child like the ability to solve their own problems. Helping your child to develop coping strategies for dealing with difficulties they encounter on a daily basis can be a much more effective way to support your child than simply rushing in and dealing with a problem yourself. Try asking your child what they think would help, if they get stuck, try to help them build a list of possible solutions by breaking down the issue and figuring out what would work for them.

  3. Reinforce their strengths

    When children encounter difficulties at schools, it’s often easy for them to forget that they have strengths, areas in which they do well or excel. This can include traits like determination, kindness and generosity. Making a list of these strengths and displaying them somewhere both they and you will see it often can be a great way to remind them that there is more to life than just the points-based outcomes used in schools.

  4. Help them be realistic

    Understand first what your child can reasonably be expected to accomplish. Accept the problem so you can accept your child as they are. Your child takes cues from you, so misconceptions of what they can realistically achieve will be picked up by them and become a source of frustration. Helping your child to understand and accept the nature of their learning difficulties, helps them to build realistic and achievable expectations and goals for themselves, and develop a sense of control, which builds self-esteem.

  5. Get them to contribute more

    Children’s self-esteem is boosted when they can see the impact of their contributions on the world and others. Showing them that they can improve the lives of those around them will help boost their self-worth and motivation to do more. This can be achieved at home by giving them jobs to build a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.

Feelings and Behaviours

The feelings and behaviours aspect of PSED relates to how children learn to understand and cope with both their own feelings and the feelings of others. It also includes how to manage those feelings without letting them overwhelm them at every annoyance or upset they encounter.

Another aspect of personal, social and emotional development is how children learn to follow simple rules for different settings. This can include areas such as home, play areas, preschool etc. Children with additional needs will require the support of adults to help them understand these complex situations.

Stress and anxiety can cause children and young people to display lots of different coping mechanisms. Autistic people can experience meltdowns – which isn’t bad behaviour – and stress and anxiety can cause something called stimming. Stimming is an expression of physical and repetitive behaviours which can help people to cope in certain situations. Read how one our bloggers learned to embrace her stimming and see it as a positive force.


Forging relationships with peers is an important part of a child’s personal, social and emotional development, but can often be difficult for children with learning disabilities.

Forging these relationships is very dependent on their ability to play and learn in different situations with peers, both 1 on 1 and in groups. Children need an enabling environment, offering the opportunity, space and time to develop their use of personal, social and emotional skills in relation to their peers, not just parents/ carers and other adults.

Children learn to develop these relationships in a number of ways, including:

  • Observing and emulating positive role models.
  • Sharing in decision making and having their opinions heard and valued.
  • Listening and responding appropriately to the views of others.
  • Being involved in carefully planned and structured group activities.

Young disabled people want to have relationships too. We have some great real-life blogs from young people themselves, including autism and relationships – a little bit of myth-busting. We also feature practical resources from organisations like Supported Loving. Supported Loving focuses on supporting disabled people to find and maintain loving relationships.

Relationships and Sex Education

From September 2020, the Department for Education is introducing compulsory Relationships Education for primary pupils. Additionally, they are bringing in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for secondary pupils. From that date, it will also be compulsory for all schools to teach Health Education.

If parents need more information on what their child’s school will be teaching, or how the teachings will be inclusive for all pupils in the class, the best thing to do is contact their child’s school.

Mental Health

Supporting young people with their mental health is an important part of their Personal Social and Emotional Development, however, knowing the best way to go about this is difficult. We feature blog posts from young people about how parents can support their young person. So many things come under the umbrella of mental health, including anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression.


Disabled children and young people can be more vulnerable to bullying for lots of different reasons. Being seen as ‘different’ at school can be tough. A child doing different work or receiving one-to-one support may start to feel excluded from the rest of their class.

Some of the ways in which children with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to bullying include:

  • Students with learning disabilities can sometimes feel less able and less confident than their peers. This can lead to them feeling less entitled to stand up for themselves.
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings and understanding the verbal or nonverbal communication of others, including their intentions and expectations.
  • They may not be able to follow the rules of conversations and in games.
  • They may struggle to manage their own behaviour and feelings. This can include being too loud, hyper, disruptive, talkative etc. Peers can sometimes struggle to deal with this kind of behaviour.
  • Children with learning disabilities are often ‘too honest’ and are unable to conceal their weaknesses and mistakes. This leaves them vulnerable to others.

Stopping Bullying

Young people with disabilities can find it difficult to speak out about bullying. In certain cases they may not even realise it is happening.

Stopping bullying often means taking steps with the school. The main options for this are talking directly to the teacher or SENCO who is responsible for your child, or by bringing it up with the school board.

When dealing with bullying it’s important to try and keep a diary with dates and times of incidents, along with names of any witnesses who may have been present. In order to do this encouraging your child to confide in your when these incidents occur is important.

It is also important to make sure you and your child know how to stay safe online.

See PSED Articles

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