Social Emotional Development
Social Emotional skills are one of the most important things children are learning in early childhood. In this article I am going to teach you how to support children’s social emotional development.
How to support children’s social emotional development
- Have conversations with your child individually on a regular basis.
- Let your child know they are liked and appreciated.
- Learn about your child’s interests and preferences.
- Say positive, affirming things to your child daily.
- Play on their level.
- Follow their lead during play.
- Share information about yourself and find commonalities with your child.
- Acknowledge their efforts.
- Provide direct instruction on appropriate social interaction skills.
- Maintain a respectful attitude when interacting with others.
- Design activities for your child to practice social interactions.
- Demonstrate problem-solving techniques in relationships.
- Guide and assist your child in choosing words to express their emotions.
- Acknowledge, respect, and validate their expression of emotion.
- Value their expression of negative emotions as teaching opportunities.
Have conversations with your child individually on a regular basis.
Having back and forth conversations with our child actually builds their brain. Plus, it is practice that helps your child learn social skills such as turn taking, eye contact, and carrying on a conversation. Read about the science behind having conversations with your child here.
Let your child know they are liked and appreciated.
The relationship your child has with their immediate family is building the foundation for all of your child’s relationships. Just like with any healthy relationship, feeling valued by the other partner is important. Do this by looking for the good. Saying thank you. Smiling at your child. And making time to have fun together.
Learn about your child’s interests and preferences.
Taking the time to learn about your child builds a strong, deep connection. It also models what healthy friendships are like, setting your child up for success in later relationships.
Say positive, affirming things to your child daily.
- You are special to me.
- You are working so hard.
- I feel so proud of how kind you’ve been to your brother today.
- Thank you for helping me.
Play on your child’s level.
Get on the floor to play. Sit on child sized furniture together. Or, set up games at a table where you can both be at a similar height.
Follow your child’s lead during play.
I have two thoughts with this one. First, setting aside time to be fully engaged in play is huge for your relationship with your child. Second, including play in the everyday is so powerful. What I mean by that is allowing play to be a part of life. One example of this is playing restaurant while making dinner. You are getting dinner made, and your child is exploring and learning while helping you.
Share information about yourself and commonality with your child.
Have you noticed a theme yet? If I had to say the biggest thing you can do to help your child build social emotional skills, it would be model friendship. The friendship you have with your child will help them know how to be a friend later in their life. So, there are lots of actionable things to do, but summed up, be a friend to your child.
Acknowledge your child’s efforts.
Everyone likes to be recognized, and children are no different. Recognize what your child is working on and how they are improving. Encourage them to keep improving, growing, and developing.
Provide direct instruction on appropriate social interaction skills.
There are two different times for this. The first is at home. Take time to teach what appropriate behavior looks like at a restaurant, when playing with a friend, when meeting someone new, etc. The second is in the moment. This will be more of cues and reminders. For example, when your child is climbing under the table at a restaurant, or someone offers their hand to shake. You can remind them what you’ve talked about so they are able to do their best in the situation.
Maintain a respectful attitude when interacting with others.
Be an example. Model what being a friend, or being polite looks like. Your child will pick up on your example and become similar to you in their social interactions.
Design activities for your child to practice social interactions.
- Going to a restaurant
- Going to the grocery store
- Meeting a new adult
- Going to the feed store
- Going to a museum
- Hosting family dinner
Demonstrate problem-solving techniques in a relationship.
First and foremost, problem-solve in your relationship with your child. Then, model problem-solving in your other relationships. Then, help your child problem-solve in their relationships.
Guide and assist your child in choosing words to express their emotions.
This is a HUGE social emotional skill that is making incredible growth in early childhood. Children go from knowing zero words, to beginning to describe these complicated experiences using words. Be patient as you help your child identify their emotions and put words to them.
Acknowledge, respect, and validate their expression of emotion.
It’s okay to feel big emotions, not know how to express them, and not know what to do about them. Become a safe space for your child to learn about their emotions.
Value your child’s expression of negative emotions as teaching opportunities.
Normalize that everyone feels negative emotions, that they likely don’t want to feel. These big, negative emotions give us a chance to learn about ourselves. A chance to practice self control.
Social emotional skills are something we are all working on. In early childhood is when so many of these skills are growing so fast. Take a step back to analyze what you are doing to support that growth. Then congratulate yourself for how you are doing your very best. And make a plan for how to be better.