Reprint of my article published by Family Focus Blog on July 17, 2013
Social-emotional wellness refers to the ability to experience, express and regulate emotions, form secure positive relationships, to and individuate and acquire increasing independence. A child who has healthy social-emotional skills is able to label and understand his or her own feelings as well those of others. He can manage his own emotions and express them in a way that is positive and helpful to him and appropriate for his social situation. As children grow, they learn to empathize with people in their environment and are able to form and maintain positive relationships with adults and other children in their community.
Children, however, are not born with these abilities and must learn them. It is up to caregivers and educators to teach social-emotional skills implicitly and explicitly from early on. In order to be successful in this endeavor, adults need to read the child’s cues, acknowledge which stage he is at, and understand what is to be expected at each age. In the first year of a child’s life, he sends cues to parents and other caregivers to express how he feels. A young baby will cry when in distress and smile at the voices, faces and smiles of familiar people. Her little face and body will react when she is interested, surprised or frustrated. It is our responsibility to interpret and react to these cues in order to teach the child that we are in tune with their needs. Parents foster social development by changing their baby’s soiled diapers, smiling in response to their smiles, and talking to their child.. Parents should also play games like peek-a-boo and naming the things in the child’s environment such as toys and parts of the body. These activities increase attachment between baby and primary caregiver. As attachments are formed, your child will respond differently when an unfamiliar person attempts to hold, stroke or even feed him or her. The little one responds with anxiety. These are normal reactions indicating that the child’s social-emotional development is proceeding well.
Children 12 to 36 months of age see themselves as the center of the world and begin to be more self-aware. They begin to become more independent. As a result, they can have short-lived and rapid mood swings in which tantrums can be expected. They start testing their limits, are not keen to share and will not play with other children as much as play next to them. At this time, routines are very important. To support his or her development of social skills, you can begin by praising your toddler for doing things independently and give them toys to play with. You can start planning playdates and encourage your child to make decisions and explore. Continue to sing songs, clap hands and dance together. Encourage your child to imitate your silly moves. In his third year, listen and talk with your child. Talk to them about how you feel and teach them to do the same by identifying and acknowledging how they feel. When conversing, do not stand above them: get to their level, look them in the eyes and speak face to face.
At three to five year old, children begin to enjoy playing with other children. They need to learn how to share, take turns and talk about their feelings in order to express themselves and resolve conflict. Teach them implicitly by modeling such behavior. Explicitly teach them the language of feelings and social negotiation. They’re eager to please and want to be trusted. At this stage, it is important to set clear and consistent consequences for what happens when they break the rules. As their mind develops, they will begin to show an understanding for the point of view and feelings of others (empathy). Let them participate in role-playing games with others in which they can play pilot, doctor, policeman, etc., to gain independence, build confidence and learn the roles of adults around them. Discussing books and movies and giving them small household chores, such as setting the table or cleaning up their toys after a game also helps with development of strong social-emotional skills.
Solid social-emotional skills are crucial for young children to thrive and handle difficult situations. The key is to establish secure relationships with caregivers that will teach them about compassion, trust, generosity and empathy through experience.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nwardez/3740406214