By: Dr. Shulamit Ritblatt, Leading Expert in Social-Emotional Development and Early Intervention
We often hear about the importance of social emotional development and about different programs/curricula aimed to enhance it, but what is social emotional development?
Key Social Emotional Skills Developed in Early Childhood
A child’s social-emotional development motivates them to learn critical skills such as the ability to communicate, connect with others, resolve conflict, self-regulate, display kindness and empathy and cope with challenges. These skills are crucial for school readiness. Without cognitive, social, and emotional self-control in the classroom, learning cannot occur. In one national study, 75% of kindergarten teachers identified social emotional skills such as being able to follow directions, not being disruptive, and communicating needs and thoughts, as being the most important school readiness skills, while academic skills were identified as far less important. One of the most comprehensive and leading programs in the field of social emotional development, recognized by CASEL, is the Circle of Education® program.
The Circle of Education® program provides the building blocks for social emotional development for children ages birth to six years of age utilizing a social emotional wellness approach.
Developing a Social Emotional Foundation
Setting up a social emotional foundation requires attuned adults able to provide the child with responsive and sensitive care. When children grow up in healthy, attentive and nurturing environment, they develop lifelong skills of self-regulation and executive functioning (working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control). These skills are needed to make choices and be autonomous. As toddlers become more self-aware, they wish to learn more about the world and other people around them. Based on positive attachment patterns formed towards the adults, the toddler develops prosocial behaviors to be able to share and care when interacting with other children.
Sharing and caring behaviors in children increase with age and become frequent, spontaneous, and autonomous. As children develop greater skills in waiting their turn, for instance, they have greater success in their relationships with their peers and their ability to share and care.
Exposure to Children Similar in Age
Exposure to other children of the same age helps children develop skills related to theory of mind, which is the ability to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings of their own (and that these may differ from theirs). Four-year-olds, for example, can understand that a peer may be missing their mom while at school and may be feeling sad as a result. Theory of mind is an important skill for children to develop because it provides a foundation for kindness, empathy and caring. Adults can help children develop theory of mind skills by verbalizing other children’s thoughts and emotions (particularly when there is a conflict).
Cooperative play with others is one of the ways for young children to learn to improve their emotional regulation. It is critical to set up experiences that require cooperation and problem solving. By age 3-4, children who have positive and healthy emotional literacy development are going to be able to use their skills to understand their social environment and manage everyday social interactions. Emotional literacy refers to the ability of a child to identify and label emotions, to understand and read others’ feelings accurately, to regulate and express feelings in socially appropriate ways, to develop and maintain friendships, and develop empathy. Research shows that children who are able to label and describe their feelings have more friends, less fights, and higher academic achievement than children without these capabilities.
Social Problem Solving
Opportunities for social problem-solving arise countless times throughout a child’s day. Whether it’s working out who gets to play with the popular toy or how to comfort a child’s hurt feelings, children are constantly given opportunities to solve problems with their peers. Children who rely on aggressive solutions to solve their problems, such as hitting or grabbing, tend to think about the problem from only their perspective. They have difficulty viewing a problem in terms of a “win-win.”
Adults can help children develop self-regulation skills: identifying and labeling their emotion, communicating needs, understanding others’ emotions and intentions, sharing and caring, waiting their turn, and problem solving, by guiding them through transitions and helping them manage strong feelings. As children participate in day-to-day routines at school and at home, they learn how to focus their attention and follow adult instructions. Every interaction moment between the adult and the child can be used as a teachable opportunity to enhance knowledge, skills and behaviors.
Social Emotional Learning & the Circle of Education Program®
Circle of Education® Research and evidence-based program for ages Birth to 8, focuses on Social Emotional Wellness, Academic Development, Family Engagement, Learning Readiness, Behavioral Health and Early Intervention. The Circle of Education® program helps to enhance and build social emotional skills in young children establishing the foundation to learning readiness as an integral part of daily routines and adult-child interactions.
The Circle of Education® program has been designated as a SELect program by CASEL, designed to be used with children from birth to eight years old.
The Circle of Education® EduPod module lesson plans address all learning foundations (math, science, social science, language, art, music and movement), domains (cognitive, social, emotional, health and routines), and support family engagement activities.
The Circle of Education® program was developed by Dr. Shulamit Ritblatt, a leading expert in social-emotional development and early intervention. Dr. Ritblatt is a Professor and past chair (2009 – 2015) of Child and Family Development at San Diego State University and a co-founder of delibrainy LLC.