During the first few years of a child’s life, they are constantly experiencing and absorbing new things. Young children pick up basic information about the world in which we live—birds fly, water is wet, falling down hurts. But they’re also learning about themselves and their emotions. Positive early experiences in building relationships, self-image, and the ability to relate to others in a positive way are key factors in social and emotional wellness.
We often think of school readiness in terms of literary knowledge and mathematical thinking skills rather than behavioral and emotional skills. But developing these skills can be far more important in determining academic success in early childhood classrooms.
Why Are Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills Important?
When considering the development of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, it may seem odd to connect it to the success of students. However, in order to develop the skills to pay attention, follow directions, and finish tasks, young children must first develop a sense of how their actions and emotions impact their own behavior and those around them. Young brains are incredibly flexible during the early childhood stage, and social-emotional development is a prerequisite to the development of other important relational skills.
Infants and toddlers develop emotional connections through interactions with adults. These important interactions form their foundation for future development of emotional literacy and empathy. As young children experience nurturing and responsive interactions, their social-emotional foundation is strengthened and they absorb valuable information. They use this information as they grow and develop relationships with peers and adults outside of their immediate families.
What Influences Social and Emotional Wellness in Early Childhood?
Understanding the role of emotions and how those emotions and subsequent actions impact others is a big task. Child care providers, from school teachers to daycare, are a key part of the process. There are several different ways in which teachers and caregivers can influence social and emotional development on a daily basis.
Young children are constantly watching the way their peers, parents, and care providers are interacting with others. They learn more from what they see than what we tell them to do. Modeling appropriate behaviors like sharing with others, being grateful, and being helpful, give young children a blueprint for how to interact with people.
Whenever a child demonstrates positive social behaviors, it needs to be reinforced for them to gain an understanding of what behaviors are desirable. Some children will feel pride when they are praised for socially appropriate behavior—helping a friend, sharing a toy, or handling emotional stress. For others, the response they see from those around them or their personal sense of accomplishment will act as reinforcement. Too much attention on negative behaviors can also serve as reinforcement and lead to inappropriate ways of dealing with peers.
Label and Identify Emotions
Young children can begin to gain control over their feelings by learning to label their emotions. Having words to attach to feelings of anger or fearfulness is the beginning of understanding feelings that cause stress or uncertainty. Helping children talk about why they feel the way they do and asking them to express and label their emotions is a good start on the development of empathy, self-control and compassion for others.
Learn More About Early Childhood Education
Looking for more insight on SEL and Early Childhood classrooms? We’ve curated our expert articles on these topics at the links below, so dive on in!