Time With Your Kids
Social and Emotional Well-Being
Parents of preschool children are focused on “school readiness,” which is a measure
of how prepared a child is to succeed in school. This measure of readiness involves
children’s social and emotional skills as well as their early literacy and math
(PDF 133KB) has shown that preschoolers have a vital need to learn and practice social and emotional
skills as a key part of learning. However, parents need to keep in mind that each
child develops skills at his or her own pace and changes very rapidly.
The key for parents of preschoolers is to recognize their children’s negative or
positive social and emotional behavior during the “critical” years of ages 0 through
(PDF 4.39MB) children may start to display difficult social and emotional behavior that could
need attention. Although there are many different types of problem behavior, all
cause parents and even children some degree of stress. Identifying social and emotional
issues early is essential to parents’ ability to seek age-appropriate services and
prevent problems from growing and harming their child’s ability to do well in school.
Social and Emotional Signs of School Readiness
Social and emotional
skills (PDF 4.39MB) allow a child to know and control his or her emotions, exhibit care
and concern for others, make good choices, and build positive relationships. Depending
on the child’s developmental stage and temperament, a child can:
- Follow structured daily routines;
- Get along with and cooperate with others;
- Listen, pay attention, and follow directions;
- Identify and control emotions;
- Solve problems;
- Communicate appropriately in social interactions; and
- Engage in cooperative play.
Preschoolers with these skills can enter school with the ability to meet the expected
goals; for example, they can follow a teacher’s instructions and play well with
When Children Lack Positive Social and Emotional Skills
During the critical years, children show a wide range of positive and negative social
and emotional skills.
Children (PDF 4.39MB) who are not practicing positive social and emotional skills at
home or at school may:
- Be disruptive;
- Disobey instructions;
- Have difficulty managing their emotions;
- Have difficulty engaging in positive peer interactions; and
- Have difficulty communicating appropriately.
It is normal for these behaviors to be present among young children. With a little
attention, parents can redirect negative behaviors into positive behaviors. However,
when a child’s negative behaviors continue over time and become more challenging
to manage, an underlying developmental delay or set of stressors may be present.
Seeking outside support may be necessary.
Possible Factors Affecting Social and Emotional Behavior
Below are two possible factors that may affect the development of a child’s social
and emotional behaviors. Parents can use the general milestones in these two areas
as guidelines to monitor their children if developmental issues arise.
- Speech and Language Development
Speech and language development greatly influences a child’s life. In fact, it directly
affects their ability to socialize and play with peers, to listen and follow directions,
and to understand their world. In essence, speech and language development has two
main sides. First, auditory comprehension refers to how a child
understands words, commands, and question forms. Second, expressive language
refers to a child’s ability to communicate using words and sentence lengths and
structure and to form speech sounds. Signs to monitor are:
- Trouble distinguishing between two similar sounds in a word, which affects children’s
ability to read and to understand instructions.
- Problems recalling numbers, words, or instructions, which affect their ability to
produce a specific word or phrase.
- Poor attention skills, which are seen with some children who respond inconsistently
to instruction and sometimes answer questions incorrectly. Over time, children will
have negative feelings about learning.
What to do: Parents who are concerned that their child might be
experiencing speech and language difficulties should consult a speech–language pathologist.
The child can be tested to see if his or her abilities fall within the range of
age expectations or if the child may require additional support to strengthen these
set of skills.
Aggressive behavior in young children is normal and can take several forms. Girls
as well as boys can be aggressive. They may pinch, bite, or yell—or they may just
hit another child. Children act aggressively for different reasons: feeling angry,
frustrated, tired, or fearful; as an attempt to solve problems; or feeling neglected.
What to do: Set a good example and control yourself; do not give
in to verbal or physical aggression. Instead, teach your children to know and control
their anger. In doing so, you need to explain that feeling angry is normal, especially
if someone has hurt their feelings. Be clear that hitting or fighting doesn’t solve
a problem and can make it worse. Teach your children the skills of how to think
and talk through the issue, and assure them that it’s okay to tell someone or to
get help. These skills will allow your children to think through the process and
manage their occasional anger. Teaching these skills requires time and guidance.
For children to grow into emotionally and socially healthy teens and adults, they
have to learn to handle frustration, disappointment, and sadness. However, if you
recognize that you may need added support, act early (PDF 795KB) to ensure that your children
develop a strong sense of social and emotional balance in order to be ready for
Building Positive Behaviors
Educator activity: Meeting the Challenge
in the Classroom
Quiz for parents: Challenging
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and
“Acknowledging Positive Behaviors” explores how to reward positive behaviors of
children and provides practical strategies for early childhood settings and home
Program-Wide Positive Behavior Support: Supporting Young Children’s Social-Emotional
Development and Addressing Challenging Behavior (PDF 4.39MB) provides information about
creating a nurturing environment to promote children’s social competence and address
Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (PDF 795KB) describes early childhood
mental health consultation and the existing evidence to foster healthy social and
emotional development in young children.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
The web page for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day provides materials
and resources for families, educators, and communities supporting a comprehensive
system of care approach to children's mental health services.
Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Young Children and Their Families
(PDF 3.08MB) provides information data and resources on socioemotional, behavioral, or mental
disorders of young children and adolescents.
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (Vanderbilt
University) gives parents and educators resources and tools about how to promote
successful environments that foster the positive social and emotional well-being
of young children:
Teachers College, Columbia University
Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does the
Research Say? (PDF 133KB) provides information on how social and emotional learning
is an integral part of education.
“Aggression: Why it happens and what to do about it” gives parents information on
why preschoolers get aggressive.
“Going to a Speech Therapist” provides tips for parents about different speech and
National Association of Educators of Young Children
“Real Life Calls for Real Books: Literature to Help Children Cope with Family Stressors”
is an informative article about reading to children and provides an excellent list
Center for Evidence-Based Practices: Young Children with Challenging Behavior
Preventing Challenging Behavior in Young Children: Effective Practices
(PDF 139KB) provides effective classroom strategies for preventing challenging behavior.
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