How to Teach Your Child Social-Emotional Skills From Day One

Many first-time pandemic parents are concerned: Are their children developing social and emotional skills? As the world has been in lockdown for the better part of two years, many children born in 2020 or later have missed regular play dates, birthdays, music classes, and other opportunities for frequent interactions with peers — a time when they would normally develop social skills for life. But the good news is that parents can develop and maintain social-emotional learning from day one.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

“Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process by which children develop important skills in empathy, communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, and emotion management,” says Tia Kim, Ph.D. , vice president of education, research, and impact. to the Children’s Committee . “These lifelong skills prepare children to build and maintain positive relationships, excel academically, make responsible decisions, and collaborate in the workplace.”

Why is social-emotional learning important for children?

While social-emotional skills can be learned and taught throughout a person’s life, studies have shown that kindergarten students who were stronger in SEL were more likely to graduate from high school, graduate, and land stable jobs at a young age.

“We know that children’s social-emotional development is critical to their success in life,” says Dr. Kim. “A 2017 study found that SEL benefits children for months and even years, including a 13-point increase in academic performance, positive attitudes and social behavior, and a reduction in the likelihood of behavioral problems, emotional stress, or drug use.” .

How parents can teach SEL skills from day one

Parents can start teaching their children basic versions of these foundational life skills from a very young age—and they should. “Research shows that many of the social-emotional skills of young children are learned through their relationships with their parents,” says Dr. Kim. Here are some of the specific ways families can support their child’s early social-emotional development.

Practice responsive care. The World Health Organization defines responsive care as “the ability of a caregiver to notice, understand and respond to a child’s cues in a timely and appropriate manner.” Calling it “essential for the health, nutrition, safety and security of children,” WHO recommends that all infants and children receive prompt care during their first three years of life. (This means that, contrary to popular belief, you can’t “spoil” a baby by holding it “too much”.)

Essentially, Dr. Kim points out, empathetic care meets a child’s needs, so the child knows they are loved and safe. “This may seem like a trifle to some people, but that is why it is very important to show tenderness to babies by touching them, picking them up, comforting, rocking, singing and talking to them, even when they are moody,” says the doctor. Kim.

Learn to solve problems ahead of time. When babies are only 12-24 months old, parents can start teaching their kids how to confidently solve problems. If your toddler is trying to figure something out on his own, like how to open a jar, give him time to try to figure it out on his own. Praise the problem-solving process and celebrate their perseverance and determination. Dr. Kim gives the following example: “Good idea! You were very resourceful when you opened the lid of this jar. Sometimes it helps to use a kitchen towel to get a better grip. Try opening it with this.”

Cultivate healthy conflict resolution skills. Parents can teach toddlers how to resolve conflict in healthy and appropriate ways by helping a child understand how their behavior makes the other person feel, using short sentences and simple language. I know you want this toy. But when we take toys from others, they become sad. Let’s take turns.”

Confirm their emotions. When a toddler has tantrums, which they inevitably will, instead of immediately trying to get him to stop, identify and acknowledge how he feels. “Sometimes when children are upset, parents rush to fix everything and get rid of the discomfort, because we want to save children from any pain. However, it is important for children to learn how to deal with difficult feelings they may have throughout their lives. Research has shown that labeling and acknowledging difficult feelings really helps children learn to deal with them,” says Dr. Kim.

For example, a parent might say, “I see you’re angry that you can’t watch TV right now. It’s time to go to the store. When you stop being angry, I will help you put on your shoes. Naming feelings helps children recognize and empathize with others when they are experiencing difficult emotions.

Model and practice empathy. Hand in hand with emotional validation, you are modeling empathy for your child. When you see that they are upset, before proceeding to “correct” the behavior, establish contact with them and empathize with them. Learn about their emotions. “Are you upset that your coat doesn’t button up? It’s normal to feel disappointed. When you get better, would you like me to help you with that?” The frequent practice of talking about feelings (their own and the feelings of others) will go a long way in developing empathy and their ability to have successful friendships in the future.

When to worry about your child’s social-emotional skills and who to turn to for help

Each child will develop social and emotional skills at a different pace. But combined with constant communication with your child’s pediatrician, parents can refer to the CDC Milestones Checklist to assess whether their child may be experiencing developmental delay. (The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checklist was recently revised from milestones expected to be achieved by 50% of children at a certain age to include milestones expected to be achieved by 75% of children at a certain age) . Dr. Kim notes that while the milestone checklist does not replace standard developmental screening tools , it can be a valuable resource for early identification of potential delays.

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting developmental guidelines, always contact your child’s pediatrician first. “I think it’s important for parents to stay calm and know that social-emotional skills can be learned and taught throughout their lives,” says Dr. Kim. “Every child is different and will develop differently, so it’s never too late to start developing these skills in your child.” Throughout the program, stay in touch with teachers and caregivers to ensure the best possible outcomes for your child.

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