Did you know that a strong social and emotional foundation in early childhood strongly influences a child’s later positive attitude and behaviors, academic performance, and career path? Social and emotional development in the early years, also referred to as early childhood mental health refers to a child’s capacity to experience, regulate, and express a range of emotions; develop relationships with other children and adults; and explore the environment and learn.
Why does social emotional health matter?
Research has shown that children who are mentally healthy tend to be happier, more motivated to learn, eagerly participate in class activities, and exhibit higher academic performance. Children who display social and emotional difficulties tend to have trouble following directions and participating in learning activities. They may also suffer rejection by classmates, have low self-esteem, and do poorly in school. Therefore, emotional health is just as important as their physical health.
Now more than ever, parents are overseeing education at home and we understand the importance of promoting social emotional development from birth throughout a child’s early years, but where do you start? You are your child’s best teacher, so let’s start with these five ways to promote social and emotional development at home.
1. Establishing trusting relationship.
A trusting and caring parent-child relationship is essential for a child’s development. Children who have trusting relationships with their parents or other caregivers are more willing to ask questions, solve problems, try new tasks, and express their feelings than their peers who do not have such relationships.
2. Model appropriate behaviors.
Children learn a great deal about relationships from observing the behavior of their parents and caregivers. Apologizing when you’re in the wrong or treating others with respect and kindness are just a few behaviors that we would want our children to emulate.
3. Teach intentionally using books.
Parents and other caregivers can support their children’s social emotional learning by using books. Using books as a medium is an excellent way to discuss and identify character emotions and relate to experiences that they might not otherwise understand without visuals or storylines.
4. Nurture your child’s self-esteem.
The development of positive self-concept at a very young age empowers the child to feel competent, try new things, and strive for success. Being mindful of the language you use to describe your children, providing age-appropriate tasks that they can complete on their own, supporting your child’s interest, and setting reasonable and age-appropriate rules are some of the different ways to nurture a positive self-esteem.
5. Listen actively and react empathetically.
Being an active and empathetic listener may seem simple, but can actually be the most powerful tool in promoting social emotional development in early childhood. When children are experiencing strong emotions such as anger, excitement, and sadness, they are needing our attention and empathy. Making eye contact and getting down to their level are a few ways to show them that you are listening. Repeating back what they’ve said and reflecting the same tone as they are expressing allows the child to know that you are understanding what they are feeling.
Parents who help their children feel safe, secure, and loved are laying the foundation for a healthy social and emotional development. When you establish trusting relationships, model appropriate behaviors, teach intentionally, nurture their self-esteem, and listen actively and react empathetically you are paving the way for happy, engaged children who learn to avoid and resolve conflicts, share and take turns, and express their emotions in productive ways.