Reading and writing skills are often flaunted as the essential skills kids need to learn in early childhood but what if other skills could be more important for their social, academic and psychological development?
Over the last few years, an increasing number of researchers have proven that emotional regulation lies at the center of your child’s wellbeing. What these researchers are saying is that children’s social-emotional development has a great impact on their academic performance over time, their attitudes and behaviors, and even their physical and emotional outcomes.
A child who has developed social and emotional skills is more “in control” of himself. But constantly staying in control of our behavior and our actions is no easy feat. Even among adults, it is normal to struggle with difficult emotions such as anger, anxiety, extreme stress, fear, panic and so on… so imagine how difficult it can be for a child to deal with the same emotions, especially when she has not learned to deal with the big emotions that come into play when she faces a difficult situation.
The truth is, childhood is a period marked by frustration for most children, and how they react to this frustration is directly linked to their emotional awareness and is often manifested in their behavior. In other words, a child lacking social-emotional development is more likely to lash out at others, have long and frequent tantrums, and generally display behavior often described as socially inappropriate.
Is social-emotional development more important than reading and writing skills?
Several years ago, there was little interest in the impact of skills such as emotional intelligence skills on children’s outcomes. Much has changed and it is now widely accepted that social-emotional skills have a much greater impact on children’s development than what was originally believed.
What researchers have found is that a socially and emotionally developed child is :
- More likely to build positive social interactions and to live “peacefully” with those around him
- More likely to make and keep friends and to cooperate with others
- More likely to display traits such as empathy
- More likely to recognize his own emotions and those of the people around him
- More likely to respond to difficult emotions appropriately
- Less likely to have meltdowns and tantrums (or more likely to have fewer and “less dramatic” meltdowns and tantrums)
- More capable of expressing difficult emotions appropriately
- More capable of controlling his or her impulses
- More likely to deal with frustration appropriately. For instance, he is able to ask for help when met with obstacles (in reading and writing for example)
Here are a few tips to foster your child’s social-emotional development
1) Work on your child’s social interaction skills
Building your child’s social communication skills is important because how your child communicates with others governs how he is perceived and the types of relationships he builds. Your child’s social communication skills also have an impact on his social and psychological well-being.
How to build your child’s social skills
- Teach your child how to communicate by being clear in the way you communicate. Be sure he is conscious about your expectations.
- Remember that there are different ways of saying the same thing. Using polite language sets an example to your child and is likely to get you better results. For instance, you could say something like “You can watch TV for 30 more minutes after your homework is done” instead of “Turn off the TV now!”
- If you believe that yelling at your child is an appropriate way to communicate, you teach him that yelling is an appropriate way to respond, to others and to yourself. Do not forget that your child learns more from how you interact with others than from what you tell him.
- When you practice democratic parenting, you teach your child that he must live by certain expectations, but that he also has a right to voice his opinions and that those opinions will be heard. Respecting your child’s “no” (when appropriate) teaches him that he has a right to express his opinion, and he will be more likely to voice his opinions when necessary.
- There is now evidence that fostering gratitude in your child can make him more helpful, trustworthy, cooperative and pleasant to be around. Remember that there are easy routines you can incorporate to help your child practice gratitude every day. Remember that there are numerous resources to help you set up a gratitude routine with your child.
- According to the available evidence, empathy is a teachable skill. Help your child develop an empathic outlook to life.
- Playing board games is a great way to teach kids about the importance of taking turns and thus to develop his social skills
2) Foster your child’s emotional awareness everyday
The most effective way to raise your child’s emotional awareness is to make the conservations around emotions a “normal conservation” in your home. This means being capable of recognizing those emotions and voicing them. Your child’s ability to label emotions appropriately is an important phase in the development of her emotional intelligence.
Talking about your child’s emotions helps her view those emotions as valid – “You look so sad, what can we do to…”, “I know it’s frustrating, do you want to …” Tying difficult emotions to possible solutions helps your child understand that emotions are normal and teaches her appropriate ways to respond to difficult emotions.
Using everyday situations to talk about emotions – the emotions portrayed by the people your child meets every day (or family members), the characters portrayed in her favorite programs, and so on – can help teach her about recognizing different emotions and can open up the discussion about emotions. Age-appropriate resources such as The Emotions Game can also help your child learn to identify and talk about her emotions and the emotions of others.
Talking about your own emotions is also a fantastic way to help your child learn not only about emotions, but also how to handle them. For instance, you could say “I was so angry when… so I decided to…”
It is important to teach your child about ownership in emotional intelligence. This simply means that each and every individual is responsible for how they react to their emotions. When you tell your child “you make me angry/sad…” you teach her that we do not own our emotions. Owning your emotions “I’m angry because…” gives her an example of how we can own and express our emotions appropriately.
Teaching your child to identify emotions is a first important step, but it is only one step toward emotional awareness. Your child also needs to know what triggers different emotions – different children react to the same situation in different ways – and ways in which he can cope with emotional situations. The Emotions Kit proposes numerous resources that can help your child learn to identify emotions, work on what triggers those emotions, and identify preferred calm-down strategies.
3) Cultivate your child’s self-regulation skills
- Self regulation has been associated with school readiness, well-being and academic achievement during childhood and adolescence
- Self-regulated children are able to pay attention even when faced with distractions.
- Self-regulated children know how to manage emotions
- Self-regulated children have successful social interactions.
How to foster your child’s self-regulation skills
Your child’s ability to recognize her emotions is directly linked to her self-regulation skills. Encouraging your child to express herself out loud can make it easier for her to talk about what she’s feeling. Games are a great way to get the conversation around emotions going.
Remember that certain activities can help kids strengthen their attention and concentration.