What is social and emotional development?

Parents want their children to be healthy and happy. It’s easier to tell if your child is developing physically, but do you know if your child is developing the appropriate social and emotional skills? Supporting their emotional and social development is just as important as supporting their physical development. Social and emotional development is a child’s ability to understand the feelings of others, control his or her own feelings and behaviors, get along with other children, and build relationships with adults. In order for children to develop the basic skills they need such as cooperation, following directions, demonstrating self-control, and paying attention, they must have social-emotional skills.

What are social-emotional skills?

Social-emotional skills are essential for connecting with others! They help us manage our emotions, build healthy relationships, and feel empathy.
Some examples of social-emotional skills in use are:

• Recognizing if someone is sad, and asking if they’re ok.
• Expressing yourself with your friends in a different way than with your parents.
• Understanding your thoughts and feelings and being able to relate to others.

While these skills may sound complex, social, and emotional development begins at a very young age.

When does social and emotional development begin?

Babies start learning these skills from birth! As soon as they begin interacting with the people who care for them, they begin to understand and recognize thoughts and feelings.

How do parents impact social-emotional development?

Parents help to nurture social-emotional skills so kids develop healthy relationships with friends and family members. Even as a baby, your little one is picking up on how you respond to their social and emotional needs. They notice how safe they feel at home and in your presence. They learn how to feel empathy, recognize emotions, and say “I’m sorry” by following your lead.

What do social-emotional skills help kids do?

Kids with healthy social-emotional skills are more likely to succeed in school, work, and life. Social-emotional skills help kids:
• Make friends and keep friendships
• Gain confidence
• Resolve conflicts
• Manage stress and anxiety
• Learn social norms
• Make appropriate decisions
• Resist negative social pressure
• Learn strengths and weaknesses
• Gain awareness of what others are feeling

How long does it take to develop social-emotional skills?

Social-emotional growth takes time and even continues throughout adulthood. Early experiences with family, caregivers, and peers greatly impact social and emotional development, but throughout our lives, we will continue to be shaped by our experiences! These experiences can include meeting new people who have a great impact on your life, overcoming difficult situations, or even raising children.

Why is it important for children to have positive social and emotional skills?

Having positive social and emotional skills is important throughout life and can have an impact on how they function at home, school, and in the community. When young children are faced with social, emotional, or behavioral challenges it can impact their chances for school success and healthy relationships. A child’s positive relationship with trusting and caring adults is the key to successful emotional and social development.

What can you as a caregiver do to support positive social and emotional development?

• Lead by example, by modeling positive behaviors.
• Be affectionate.
• Be considerate of feelings, wants, and needs.
• Express interest in daily activities.
• Respect their viewpoints.
• Express pride in accomplishments.
• Provide encouragement and support during times of stress Be a model of the emotions and behaviors you want your child to show. You are your child’s first teacher and they look up to you as a role model.
• Be responsive to your child’s emotions and behaviors. Responding will help to develop trust between you and your child.
• Ask open-ended questions, such as “What would you do?” to help develop problem-solving skills.
• Use stories to talk to your child about different social situations and how each person might be feeling.
• Encourage kids to try new things and learn how much they can do.
• Play games to teach kids how to take turns, win and lose, share, and negotiate.
• Ask your child questions when they are upset. These questions can be about why they are upset or offering alternatives to understand the root of their unhappiness. For example, “Would you like to brush your teeth or take a bath first?”
• Sit with your child when using a screen (not recommended before 18 months) and make it a social activity, e.g. asking them questions or playing turn-taking games.

This article is courtesy of Dr. Ralp Kuechel. Dr. Kueche is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. More about Dr. Kueche.