Preschool is a time when children take a look around their world and try to place themselves in it. They become more interested in other people, how their actions affect others, and how they feel about themselves. That’s why it’s so important to foster their social-emotional development at this stage. How they learn to handle social-emotional situations now will shape so many areas of their lives in the future.
What Healthy Social-Emotional Development Looks Like
Preschoolers are just beginning their journey of establishing emotional health and gaining a sense of belongingness. Even though they’re still learning about things like self-control, resilience, and self-confidence, preschoolers who have teachers and families that create a loving, trusting, and structured environment will be more likely to:
- See the world in a positive light.
- Trust their teachers, parents, and caregivers.
- Have an interest in making friends.
- Feel comfortable expressing themselves.
- Listen and follow directions.
- Show empathy towards others.
Promoting Social-Emotional Development
Fostering social-emotional development in children is something teachers, parents, and caregivers should be aware of every day. Here are a few significant actions you can take to help promote your child’s social-emotional wellbeing.
Let them know it’s okay to express emotions.
Children who grow up in homes where they can’t express feelings tend to repress emotions as adults. This can easily lead to unhealthy relationships and even depression. If a child knows it’s okay to be sad or angry, it’s easier for them to learn about these feelings and how to manage them. Validating their emotions by saying things like, “it’s okay to be sad” or “I understand why you’re angry” can help them work through their feelings.
Show love, affection, and understanding – even on bad days.
Experts often say that it’s impossible to love a kid too much, and we agree! Some may feel that constantly showing love, affection, and understanding will spoil a child, but it’s essential to their social-emotional development at this stage. Simple actions like smiling at them, using positive language, praising their efforts, and supporting them on tough days can all boost social-emotional health.
Treat them with respect.
When a child is treated with respect, it’s easier for them to build a positive self-image and treat others with respect. Showing respect comes in many forms, but mainly through active listening. Preschoolers may struggle with communication, but it’s still imperative that we show them that we’re listening and care about their interests. Making eye contact, responding to their questions, being excited when they’re excited, and acknowledging their thoughts and feelings can increase self-esteem and self-confidence.
Help them understand the consequences of their actions.
Preschoolers are old enough to understand their actions have consequences, which is why exploring this with them is so valuable to their development. For instance, they could use some guidance when they do something that upsets another person. If they took someone else’s turn while playing a game, saying, “Austin got upset because he was supposed to go next. Do you understand why that hurt his feelings?” can shed light on a new social situation.
Make consequences predictable and discipline with reason.
Unpredictable environments can be stressful for a young child. Preschoolers thrive with structure, and this is especially true when it comes to consequences. If they know what to expect when they break the rules, they’re more likely to comply with the consequence or avoid the action altogether. While it’s often upsetting when little ones misbehave, it’s still important to discipline with reason, design consequences to match the actions, and help them understand why the behavior is unwanted.
Allow them to make age-appropriate decisions.
Parents and caregivers can help children build their independence and identity by allowing them to make decisions when it’s appropriate. When other people are constantly making choices for them, it can prevent them from building their decision-making skills. Allowing them to make age-appropriate decisions also gives them a sense of responsibility and accountability.
Your child will have good days and bad days, but they can learn to handle any obstacle when they have a strong social-emotional foundation.