During the first few years of a child’s life, they are constantly absorbing and experiencing new things. Along with basic information about the world we live in – birds fly, water is wet, falling down hurts – young children are 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 developing the skills to succeed in school. We often think of school readiness in terms of alphabetic knowledge and mathematical thinking skills rather than behavioral and emotional skills. Social and emotional wellness, or competency, can be far more important in determining academic success in kindergarten and beyond.
Why Are Social and Emotional Skills Important?
When considering the development of social and emotional skills, it might not seem to connect with the idea of being a successful student. However, in order to develop the skills to pay attention, follow directions, and finish tasks, young children must first develop a sense for 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, which then form the foundation for the 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 to use as they develop relationships with their 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, and child care providers are a key part of the process. There are several different ways in which teachers and care givers are influencing 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 – and, for others, the response they see from those around them or their personal sense of accomplishment will act as reinforcement. Too much attention to negative behaviors can also serve as reinforcement and cause inappropriate ways of dealing with peers or emotions to be repeated.
Label and Identify
Young children can begin to gain control over their feelings by learning to label their emotions. Having the words to attach to feelings of anger or fearfulness is the beginning of understanding and dealing with feelings that can cause stress or uncertainty. Helping children to talk about why they feel they way they do 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
If you’re interested in working on developing the emotional and social skills of the children you provide care for, consider reading more about tools available to help make early childhood education as fun as it is important.