Developing Social Emotional IEP Goals: Your Guide with Examples 

Social emotional skills are fundamental for students’ overall well-being and academic success. This guide aims to assist educators in creating impactful Social Emotional IEP goals, aiding students with special needs in developing resilience, empathy, and effective communication skills.

Understanding the Concept of Social Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning (SEL) encompasses the skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. For students with special needs, SEL is crucial in navigating social interactions and managing personal and academic challenges.

The Significance of Social Emotional Goals in IEPs

Incorporating social emotional goals into a student’s IEP supports their holistic development. It helps in fostering a positive self-image, improving relationships with peers and adults, and equipping them with skills for coping with stress and adversity.

Creating SMART Social Emotional IEP Goals

Specific: Goals should be clearly defined, targeting specific areas of SEL like emotional regulation, empathy, or decision-making.

Measurable: Include clear criteria for tracking progress in social emotional development.

Achievable: Ensure goals are realistic and attainable, taking into account the student’s current abilities.

Relevant: Align goals with the student’s personal, academic, and social needs.

Time-bound: Set a clear timeframe for achieving these goals.

Social Emotional IEP Goals and Compliance

Creating effective Social Emotional IEP goals involves careful alignment with the student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) and adherence to legal requirements under education law. This ensures that the goals are tailored to the student’s unique emotional and social development needs, providing a clear path for progress and growth.

  1. Alignment with PLAAFP: The goals should directly address the specific social and emotional needs highlighted in the student’s PLAAFP. This alignment ensures that each goal is relevant and focused on areas where the student requires the most support.

  2. Compliance with Legal Standards: The goals must comply with the standards set by education laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This compliance ensures that the goals support the overall educational objectives for students with special needs.

  3. Measurable and Observable Criteria: Each goal should have measurable criteria that allow educators and caregivers to observe and assess the student’s progress in social and emotional areas.

Disclaimer: The goals provided in this guide are examples to illustrate potential areas of focus in social emotional development. However, it’s important to tailor each goal to the specific circumstances and needs of the individual student, ensuring they are meaningful and achievable for them.

Social Emotional IEP Goals Samples

Emotional Regulation

  1. By (date), the student will identify and accurately label their own emotions in 7 out of 10 opportunities.

  2. By (date), when feeling overwhelmed, the student will use a taught coping strategy in 8 out of 10 observed instances.

  3. By (date), the student will demonstrate appropriate frustration management techniques in 80% of observed situations.

Empathy and Understanding Others

  1. By (date), the student will recognize and verbalize how others might feel in a given situation in 7 out of 10 role-play scenarios.

  2. By (date), the student will engage in acts of kindness towards peers at least three times a week.

  3. By (date), the student will identify and discuss characters’ emotions and motivations in 4 out of 5 reading assignments.

Positive Relationship Building

  1. By (date), the student will initiate and maintain conversations with peers during unstructured times in 4 out of 5 opportunities.

  2. By (date), the student will collaborate with classmates on group projects, contributing positively in 4 out of 5 group activities.

  3. By (date), the student will demonstrate active listening skills in conversations with peers and adults in 8 out of 10 opportunities.

Responsible Decision-Making

  1. By (date), the student will identify a problem, think of possible solutions, and choose the most appropriate one in 4 out of 5 scenarios.

  2. By (date), the student will reflect on their decisions and discuss the outcomes and alternatives with a teacher or counselor in 3 out of 4 instances.

  3. By (date), the student will demonstrate adherence to classroom rules and routines in 9 out of 10 instances.

Self-Awareness and Self-Confidence

  1. By (date), the student will express their strengths and areas for growth in 4 out of 5 self-reflection sessions.

  2. By (date), the student will set a personal goal, track their progress, and discuss it during counseling sessions, showing progress in 3 out of 4 goals.

  3. By (date), the student will participate in class activities and discussions, demonstrating increased confidence in 7 out of 10 opportunities.


Incorporating social emotional IEP goals is a powerful approach to empower students with special needs. By setting SMART goals and using effective strategies, educators can help students develop crucial life skills that enhance their emotional intelligence and social interactions.

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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.