As humans, our social and emotional development is crucial. It influences many aspects of our interpersonal and intrapersonal experiences. Our emotional development allows us to recognise, express and manage our emotions, which in turn shapes our behaviours allowing us to achieve our goals and interact with others effectively. Our social development allows us to interact, form positive relationships, and work with others, as well as showing understanding and empathy.
Developing these skills is essential to support wellbeing and positive mental health. So, below we’ve listed our top 5 tips for how and why to support your child’s social and emotional development!
1. Express Feelings at Home
As children develop, they experience a range of emotions and become aware of how their moods change and how other people’s feelings change. Children are very observant, and studies have found children who come from families where love and care for one another are not expressed (verbally or physically) are less likely to share their feelings or express them in inappropriate ways. This is very unhelpful for their wellbeing and mental health.
So, it is important for kids to observe members of their family and others at home talking freely about their emotions and sharing their feelings appropriately. When kids observe this, they not only learn how to share and describe their feelings, but they learn that both positive and negative feelings are natural reactions to life. It’s normal for our feelings to go up and down (If you haven’t seen the movie Inside Out, I highly recommend it for this point). This knowledge helps kids gain control over their feelings. When they’re bottled up inside they’re scary and overwhelming. Bring them out in the open, understand them and make them useful – this will help your kids to learn and into healthy adults.
Social and emotional skills develop early in life beginning with an infant’s bond to their parents. These skills continue to grow as they form more relationships with other family members and caregivers.
From birth, babies enjoy the company of others and a close attachment with their ‘special person’ who they depend on. According to Van der Voort (2014) and colleagues, most children have this kind of relationship, referred to as a ‘secure attachment’ with their parents. Basically, the parent is seen as a secure base from which they can explore the world. These children are more likely to develop social competence, as they have positive models of relationships to work with, and enter future social interactions with a basic sense of trust due to this experience with their primary caregiver. This is essential to healthy development!
Children who do not have this secure attachment with a parent are less likely to regulate their emotions and build positive relationships in the future, compared to those who do. They begin to feel helpless and alone in the world and end up having difficulties with finding their unique identity.
3. Model appropriate behaviours
Very young children observe and copy the behaviours they see around them and use this as they begin interactions with others.
This begins from infancy, when babies imitate facial expressions and sounds made by their carers. As they develop and grow, they make lots of progress in regards to their interaction with others, and learn how to react to other’s emotions influenced by how they see those around them reacting.
Parents can directly teach social skills by modelling them and providing opportunities for their child to rehearse and practise these new skills. Parents can encourage and praise the child for successfully using a new social skill e.g. asking a question or using a greeting.
4. Encourage imaginative/pretend play
Involvement in imaginative/pretend play provides opportunities for children to share and try out their feelings. From about 18 -24 months, kids begin to partake in simple pretend play games, imitating what adults or other kids are doing. It can be quite literal and depends on actual objects e.g. using a spoon to feed a teddy bear, before progressing around 3 years + to acting as different characters or using puppets to express emotions and behaviours.
This type of play not only helps kids deal with and understand emotions, but provides a way to interact with others in a non-threatening way. They can experience difficult emotions and practise expressing and regulating feelings appropriately, as well as testing out social skills they’ve observed.
5. Don’t push kids to express feelings
Whilst sharing and expressing emotions is important, pushing kids to share their feelings is counterproductive. Rather, it is important to model your own healthy emotional expression and to give kids the opportunities to express feelings in their own time or way (especially for kids who may have been told to ‘be strong’ and feel seeking help is a weakness).
Games and activities that include turn-taking or creating shared stories together can help explore emotions, whilst allowing kids to understand that other people have emotions and learn that it’s okay to share them. Tools like feeling charts, images, and age-appropriate words to describe feelings can be helpful tools to begin these kinds of conversations.
For older kids, using analogies can be helpful to address feelings. For example, talking about blowing up a balloon and if you continue to blow it up it will stretch until it pops is a useful way of discussing why we shouldn’t bottle up emotions until they overwhelm us.
Promote your child’s social and emotional development with these toys:
Here at Educational Toys Online we understand the value of educational toys in supporting healthy development. We have more than 300 items available in our shop, and offer free shipping for all product orders over $150. Contact us on 1300 33 11 13 or use our online contact page.