Social-emotional skills help children build healthy relationships and properly express their emotions. These skills help children show empathy to others and express themselves in a healthy and controlled way. From the moment babies are born, they begin learning social-emotional skills.
Childcare professionals and Caregivers communicate emotions to babies and show interactions to help them learn how to interact with their peers as they age. When I learned that baby talk is actually perfectly formulated for my son to learn and grow from, I stopped hesitating about using baby talk.
But beyond infanthood, your child needs social-emotional activities built into their regular playtime to continue building these skills. Your child will experience a wide variety of benefits from social-emotional activities.
The impact of social-emotional activities
If social-emotional activities sound like something you can do without, read on for the impact these activities can have on your child. From confidence to resisting negative social pressure from their peers, your child will grow immensely from social-emotional activities.
- Make and keep friendships
- Build confidence
- Improve conflict resolution skills
- Manage stress and anxiety
- Understand social cues and norms
- Enhance decision-making skills
- Resist negative social pressure
- Have better emotional awareness for their own feelings
Social-emotional activities you can do with your children Some social-emotional activities are available to you in your everyday life. Others you’ll need to look for opportunities and plan ahead for. Here are some ideas for how to nurture social-emotional skills in your child throughout their adolescence.
- Discuss emotions with your child instead of just diffusing them – when children's emotions get out of check, a parent's natural reaction is to try and calm those raging emotions. However, that's not necessarily the best way to teach children how to cope with big emotions and better understand how they feel. Instead, ask them how they are feeling. Labeling emotions when your child is dealing with them can help them better understand those emotions to be able to express them appropriately.
- Read books centered around social-emotional skills – books help illustrate concepts for children. Adding books that focus on social-emotional skills and have characters that exemplify the kinds of behaviors you’re looking to teach your child can help you teach this skill.
- Model healthy emotional behaviors – because children learn through observation, how you deal with your emotions will also be a teaching moment. Talk about your emotions, express how you are feeling and model the way you would like your children to work through their emotions. Discussing with your children when their behavior disappoints or frustrates you will help them understand what those emotions are and how to talk about it in social settings with others. Instead of keeping those emotions inside or having a large outburst, calm conversations where you’re open about your feelings will encourage children to handle their emotions in the same manner.
- In daily life, offer your child choices – when you make every decision for your child, you handicap them for making those decisions in other social settings. Instead, offer your child choices and teach them negotiation skills and how to solve problems. You want your child to learn these skills in a comfortable and safe setting. If children don't know negotiation and problem-solving skills and must learn them among their peers, it could lead to worse peer pressure and poor decision making when you aren't there to help.
- Discipline using positive strategies – discipline should both praise good behavior and discuss the negative effects of bad behavior. Your goal is to set rules and make your expectations clear. And when your child does not follow those rules, discuss the consequences with them.
- Recognize teaching moments – at times, teaching moments about social-emotional skills might come from a program on television or how another child is reacting to their parents while out in public. If you can recognize these teaching opportunities and explain the situation in the moment to your child, you can help them deal with the situation when the opportunity is presented to them.
Promote friendships and team activities Helping your child build friendships allows them to use their social-emotional skills in a real-life situation. Around preschool age is when children start to play together more and can work on group or partner activities. As your child reaches school age, encourage them to build friendships and host playdates. During this phase, children actually enjoy playing together and working as a cooperative. Take advantage of that interest level while it’s still fun to work together as older children might not show as much interest in working together in later years. When your child is playing with another child, try to only step in when you really need to. Allow your child the opportunity to negotiate, problem solve and recognize the other child’s emotions as you’ve taught them through everyday activities.And when you do step in, make sure to coach your child through the situation instead of just diffusing it. Talk about their feelings and recognize how they are feeling. Ask them how they think their friend is feeling as well to help them start reading social cues.In these situations, it’s helpful to show children that they can’t control how other people react. They can only control their own words and actions to help work through altercations and misunderstandings. That’s why it’s important to give children the opportunity to have these interactions while you’re observing them so that you can coach when the opportunity is available.
Children who struggle with social-emotional skills Some children have a harder time with social-emotional skills than others. It might be helpful to seek help from a professional who has a deeper knowledge and understanding of coaching children through social-emotional issues. Depending on the challenges your child is experiencing, one of the following specialists might be able to get them back on track.
- Speech-language pathologist
- Child psychologist or psychiatrist
- Occupational therapist
- Social worker
- Pediatrician with a specialty in developmental and behavioral studies
Realizing that your child is struggling with social-emotional skills does not mean you have failed as a parent. Every once in a while, children just need a little expert guidance in dealing with social situations and how to exhibit their emotions.