Early childhood is a period of both great opportunity and vulnerability. What happens to us in early childhood sets the stage for later health, well-being and learning. In the past, most of the focus was on building young children’s academic skills in an effort to ensure they were prepared for school. In recent years, a growing body of research has demonstrated the strong link between young children’s social-emotional competence and their cognitive development, language skills, mental health and school success.
The dimensions of social-emotional competence in early childhood include:
*Self-esteem-good feelings about oneself
*Self-confidence-being open to new challenges & willing to explore new environments
*Self-efficacy-believing that one is capable of performing an action
*Self-regulation/self-control-following rules, controlling impulses, acting appropriately based on the context
*Personal agency-planning & carrying out purposeful actions
*Executive functioning-staying focused on a task & avoiding distractions
*Patience-learning to wait
*Persistence-willingness to try again when first attempts are not successful
*Conflict resolution-resolving disagreements in a peaceful way
*Communication skills-understanding and expressing a range of positive & negative emotions
*Empathy-understanding & responding to the emotions & rights of others
*Social skills-making friends & getting along with others
*Morality-learning a sense of right & wrong
These dimensions of social-emotional wellness don’t evolve naturally. The course depends on the quality of the nurturing attachment and stimulation that a child experiences. Research shows that a relationship with a consistent, caring and attuned adult who actively promotes the development of these dimensions is essential for healthy social-emotional outcomes in young children.
Actively promoting social-emotional competence includes activities such as:
- Creating an environment in which children feel safe expressing their emotions
- Being emotionally responsive to children & modeling empathy
- Setting clear expectations & limits
- Separating emotions from actions
- Encouraging & reinforcing social skills such as greeting others & taking turns
- Creating opportunities for children to solve problems
Children who have experiences such as these are able to recognize their and other’s emotions, take the perspective of others and use their emerging cognitive skills to think about appropriate and inappropriate ways of acting.
Social & Emotional Competence of Children Action Sheet:
Questions to ask:
- How is the emotional relationship between you & your child
- How do you express love & affection to your child?
- How do you help your child express his/her emotions?
- In what situations are your child’s emotions hard for you to deal with?
What to look for:
- Does your child feel safe to express emotions in the relationship with you?
- Are you emotionally responsive to the child?
- Do you model empathy?
- Do you set clear expectations & limits?
- Do you separate emotions from actions?
- Do you encourage & reinforce social skills such as greeting others & taking turns?
- Do you create opportunities for children to solve problems?
Activities to do:
*Sketch out an interaction with your child. Begin with an experience that makes the child happy, sad, frustrated or angry. Then illustrate or describe what the child does when he/she feels those emotions, how you respond and how the child responds. Identify and walk through positive & negative patterns in the interaction.
*Think about an adult that you loved as a child. What was it about the relationship with that adult that made it so important? What elements of that relationship can you replicate in your relationship with your children?