Social-emotional skills help your child connect with other people. Without them, children can find it difficult to recognize emotions in other people and to understand what they’re feeling themselves.
It’s important, then, to begin teaching your child about social-emotional skills early in life. This makes it easier for your child to form relationships and empathize with other people as they grow up. Not only that, but studies show that children with good social and emotional skills perform better academically, meaning higher-paying careers and a better quality of life.
We can begin teaching our children these vital life skills as early as 15 months right through early childhood. Begin by taking a look at the following tips for social-emotional skills and give your child the very best head start:
1. Identify and vocalize your child’s feelings for them
Talking about feelings out loud normalizes emotions and helps your child develop ways to manage feelings.
This practice should begin early and can start even before your child can talk. Toddler emotions can swing from temper tantrums to giggles within minutes. When you can see you're child is frustrated, for example, describe their feelings for them in a simple manner:
"You look like you’re angry because Mommy has said it's time for bed. You're upset because you want to carry on playing."
"Wasn't playing with your friends fun today? Making friends makes us happy."
Talking about feelings in this way gives young children the vocabulary to talk about their emotions and begin thinking about their feelings.
2. Acknowledge and reassure
Being a child can often be emotionally overwhelming. A simple tantrum can swiftly develop into a full meltdown, and a simple day at the park can be the best day ever.
Whether it’s anger, jealousy, excitement, sadness, or any other type of emotion, it’s important to let your child know these are all okay to feel.
Children can often learn to treat certain emotions as bad and be reluctant to share how they’re feeling. To counter this, regularly explain to your child that experiencing different emotions is something everybody does. All feelings are ok to feel, including the ones we consider negative.
3. Discuss your own feelings and share stories
A way to legitimize feelings, both negative and positive, is to talk about your own feelings with your child. Showing that you also feel a range of emotions can legitimize them for your child, making them easier to talk about as they grow.
One way to do this is to share stories of your own when your child is feeling a certain way. For example, if your child is feeling frustrated, share a time that you were frustrated too and how you resolved things.
“Are you frustrated? I was frustrated this morning too because I couldn’t find my keys but in the end, it was ok because once I calmed down I found them.”
4. Ask your child questions about feelings
As well as identifying your children’s emotions for them, children should practice noticing how they’re feeling themselves. Expressing feelings is something even adults have difficulty doing, with many of us unable to identify when we’re feeling anxious or upset over something without it being pointed out to us.
As parents, we can help children become socially and emotionally mature by asking them lots of questions about feelings. This is not only fun and a good way to bond but can help develop conversational skills too, especially in younger children.
Try asking some of the following questions to get started:
- Which friend makes you the happiest?
- What makes you feel really sad?
- What does this color make you feel?
- When Mommy/Daddy says no to you, how does that make you feel?
- What’s your favorite food?
- What was your favorite/least favorite part of today?
- If your teddy could talk, what do you think they’d say?
- What do you like doing the best?
- Who’s your best friend?
5. Read storybooks and fiction
We now know that regular reading leads to higher levels of empathy and emotional intelligence in both adults and children.
Reading with your child has long been known to be beneficial, but one of the newer revelations is that it can aid emotional intelligence. Sitting down with a storybook gives opportunities for your child to see things from other people’s points of view, get insights into the thoughts and feelings of others, and serve as frames of reference for their future experiences.
For children, fiction is a great way to teach and reinforce values and appropriate social behaviors in children too. Children get to see how people behave differently when they feel a certain way and the effects of people’s actions.
Look for books that focus on people so your child can relate easier, talking about the feelings involved as you read together.
6. Discuss the feelings of characters on TV
While screen time has become something of a boogyman in recent years, there is now some evidence to suggest that carefully selected content can be beneficial.
Specifically, television shows that depict people sharing things, getting on well with others, and rejecting stereotypes can improve these skills in children who watch.
Some studies also suggest that TV shows can help children to regulate their emotions, as well as befriend people from different backgrounds.
Importantly, only certain types of TV shows in moderation have this effect. Educational shows that have an altruistic message work best with classics such as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesames Street being the most often cited for younger children.
Watch these shows with your child and talk about their feelings and emotions as you do. Also, try to get your child talking about the feelings of the characters within the show.
7. Practice recognizing emotions in others
Getting your child to identify the feelings of others is as important as identifying their own. Learning early on how to spot various emotions in other people gets them socially-emotionally ready for school and better able to make friends.
Encourage your child to connect facial expressions and body language with certain emotions. Ask your child what someone who is sad might look like. Discuss why a character in a book is crying. Get them to draw faces showing various emotions if they’re able to.
One of the very best ways to get your child talking about emotions is to turn it into a game. Spark Matching Cards are a fun way for your child to identify emotions and feelings in the faces and body language of other people. Using bright and colorful characters, children aged 2+ can develop social-emotional skills with ease.
Children who learn to identify and manage their feelings and emotions are often happier and more successful than those who don’t. Helping your child develop these social-emotional skills early on is therefore one of the most important areas of their education. Talking, questioning, observing, and playing games about emotions give children the very best head start.