Your child’s early years are a time for many milestones and magic moments. But these years are much more important than just taking their first steps, smiling at grandma or grandpa or learning their first words. Through their relationships with you and other family members, your child is building expectations about themselves, their world and the people in it.
Your child is beginning to figure out what they are all about, including feeling good about themselves and their abilities. They’re developing social skills that will help them get along with others throughout their entire lifetime, and emotional skills to help them recognise and express a wide range of feelings.
These first skills form the foundations for children’s ongoing development and their mental health and wellbeing – both now and into the future.
Stages of Development
Your baby is a born communicator – you’ve probably already noticed them expressing a wide range of emotions (I noticed very early on a seemingly unlimited supply of unhappy emotions with wet diapers). Through their interactions with you and other supportive adults, they learn to feel good about themselves and to have fun and enjoy relating with others. They also learn how to communicate what their needs as well as their wants from you.
Toddlers want to make their adults happy. The catch is that they also want to be happy. Toddlers do this by imitating others. They can build their self-confidence by ‘helping’ with everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping. While doing so, they are also making their adult happy. It’s a “win/win!” They also adapt their behavior according to their caregivers’ responses and are able to learn ways of coping with conflict and solving problems.
As their language, thinking and planning skills develop, preschoolers are better suited to wait for things they want, negotiate solutions to everyday problems and make decisions for themselves and as they deal with others.
Supporting social and emotional skills development
It’s important to recognize that social and emotional skills develop over time, and that they may develop differently for different children.
You can help your child build their skills by:
- talking about feelings – describing and labelling emotions; helping children manage their feelings.
- being a role model – talking with children about your own mistakes, saying sorry and trying to make things better shows them that these are a part of life and can be learning opportunities for everyone.
- providing security by being consistent and predictable.