Strategies for Teaching Social-Emotional Skills to Children
Especially for those who have difficulty expressing themselves
What is social-emotional learning in early childhood?
Children are learning so much in their early years as the world opens up before their eyes. A large part of this learning is about whom they are and their place in the world. As they watch the behaviors of those around them and experience the feelings such as happiness, sadness, frustration and overwhelm, they are learning to name these emotions as well as how to express them in a meaningful way.
Children need these skills to be successful not only in making friends, expressing themselves, learning academic skills but also in later years and into adulthood.
When we see behavior issues in children we are often watching them struggle with expressing their actual needs, wants, and feelings.
Read on to hear the Practical Tips for Supporting Social-Emotional Development in Our Children
Promoting social-emotional learning in preschool years
Whether in the classroom, preschool, daycare or at home, there are many moments with children learning about the rush of their emotions where the feelings are just too much for them to handle. Our role in supporting their growth and development is to guide them through it safely and help them understand the role our emotions play in who we are and how we act.
Children’s actions; biting, hitting, throwing toys, screaming – are all signs that the child needs additional support learning a new skill and naming their needs, wants and feelings.
We can help them learn a more socially acceptable and safe way to feel heard and understood.
How to support social and emotional development in preschoolers
Amazing Books that Support Social Emotional Learning in Children
Practical Tips for Supporting Social-Emotional Understanding in Children
- Name the emotions that the child is feeling in the moment – this helps them to vocalize and understand what the feeling is called (or clarify to you what they believe they are feeling) while they are experiencing it. It can be hard for anyone, of any age, to understand an emotion while they are in it. But it helps to put a name to what is felt to support its normalcy. Keeping it simple while the child is feeling the weight of their experience is more than enough at this time. Working to put teaching to the experience comes later.
“Little Bee it looks like you are feeling frustrated right now. Is that how you feel?”
“No! I feel sad. They took my toy and now I don’t have anything left and they won’t give it back.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re feeling sad. Should we all talk about the toy together? Would you like me to help?”
- Name the emotions that someone else is feeling– children learn a lot from the people around them and being able to see what it looks like when someone else is feeling an emotion they have also felt allows them to see how emotions change our behavior, and the response of those around us.
“It sounds like our friend is feeling sad right now. It looks like his Mommy is going to give him a snuggle and chat about it to see if they can make it feel better. What do you notice about how our friend is feeling?”
- Embrace the moment as a teachable one – Allowing a conversation to come from what is being experienced
inthe moment, allowing the child to label and express how they are feeling as best they can, while you are there to support them through it. But more so afterward, you can refer to how they felt, what it felt like, what that looks like in someone else, what it looks like in books we have read.
- Teach the naming of emotions throughout the day – classrooms often use circle time as a
changeto look at a chart of faces and expressions to open up conversationabout how everyone might be feeling. This is a wonderful practice but would be even more impactful if used as a regular reference throughout the day. During a heated moment, pointing to the chart where a child could find the facethat most matches his/her experience, afterward if that is an easier space for a child to express, during stories as you talk about how the characters are feeling, and as the day ends.
- Naming all emotions, not just those that are negative – So often as educators, we focus on the negative behaviors we hope to support and address. But focusing on only the “negative emotions” sends a message. We want to teach children that they are allowed to feel exactly what they need to feel, but that the actions that we choose to take to illustrate our emotions are impactful to those around us as well as possibly harmful to ourselves. Ensuring that we talk about all emotions, name them all and share in it creates an open space for conversation.
- Love them through it – It can be incredibly overwhelming to feel the rush of emotions that come to a child when something has happened in their world; no matter how big or small. Anger, frustration, sadness
andexcitement all deserve the same response of our understanding and support. Sharing with children that we will not be leaving them to work through this alone but if they are going to hurt us, we need to step away helps them to understand that there is an acceptable way to share this emotion with someone.
- Teach through play – As a fellow lover of learning through play, Barb O’Neill of Transform Challenging Behavior says that play is the best way to connect with children who are exhibiting challenging behavior. Play gives us the space to act
inthe moment and share learning opportunities through play and story. Through play we are building children’s attention spans and connecting with them, setting the stage for meaningful discovery when those overwhelming moments arise.
- Modeling and prompting – as those who work the most closely with children, we are most aware and prepared for when these challenging moments occur. Being proactive in engaging in the play and interactions that are most likely to lead to the social-emotional skills we are working through, we can be there through an entire activity to help them vocalize when it would otherwise be difficult.
- Use meaningful tools to support learning through play and story – using a puppet (as recommended by Barb O’Neill), books, songs, games and meaningful play, you can support the reinforcement of the social-emotional skill development as well as the naming of actions and emotions that help our children understand this area of their life in many different ways, through many different means.
Amazing Resources for Supporting Social-Emotional Learning
Children need these skills to be successful not only in the early years but throughout their life and through meaningful interactions and proactive planning we can support the development of these skills.
Support the Development of these Skills
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