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Promoting Children's Social/Emotional Well-Being

Learn about how understanding and supporting your child and their individual needs promotes social and emotional well being.

What is it and why does it matter?

Social and emotional development refers to a child’s growing ability to:

  • Form close, safe and secure relationships with caregivers and friends
  • Experience, manage, and express emotions in positive ways
  • Feel confident to explore their world and learn

The healthy social and emotional development of children under five years of age is linked to their later success in school, ability to form healthy relationships throughout life and their overall well-being. There are many practical things that caregivers can do to promote their child's social and emotional well-being.

Understanding and supporting a child’s unique temperament

Children are born with varying activity levels, ability to focus attention, and ways of expressing and managing emotions which together make up their ‘temperament’. A child’s temperament can change overtime as they interact with people and places and develop more complex thinking skills. For example, with support and guidance from loving caregivers, a toddler overwhelmed by new situations or people can learn to cope and remain calm in their preschool years.

It is important for caregivers to understand:

  • Their child’s unique temperament (external link) including their potential strengths and challenges
  • That there are no good or bad temperaments
  • That their own temperament can affect how they interact with their child

Children need caregivers to try their best to:

  • Avoid labelling their child e.g. ‘They are is so shy’ as over time it may become how their child defines themselves
  • Create opportunities for children to develop self-regulation and executive function skills
  • Guide and support children in adjusting and coping in different environments, especially for those that might be experienced as stressful by their child. For example caregivers can help a very shy or anxious child adjust to a new setting by:
    • Preparing them ahead of time, telling them what they can expect
    • Staying close to their child as they introduce them to the new experience
    • Talking about what they see/hear in a reassuring manner
    • Modelling positive interactions with other people by introducing themselves and their child to others
    • Engaging their child in an activity that they enjoy
    • Inviting other children to play along with them as their child becomes more comfortable
    • Praising their child for making a new friend and conquering their fears!

Promoting Executive Function & Self-regulation Skills

Executive function and self- regulation are a child’s ‘air traffic control systems’. These ‘systems’ help children:

  • Express and manage emotions in positive ways
  • Understand what others might be thinking or feeling
  • Control impulses
  • Remember instructions
  • Plan and prioritize
  • Focus their attention and stay on task
  • Problem solve

Executive function and self-regulation also promote other important life skills that children need to succeed in school such as math and reading skills and working well with others. These skills take many years to fully develop. However, there are two times in life when they develop quickly: during the preschool years and at the beginning of the teenage years.

What can caregivers do to promote these skills:

A child’s ability to develop these skills starts with having caregivers who can model these skills! In addition caregivers can:

  • Create opportunities (external link) for children to practise taking turns, following instructions, stopping one activity and starting another
  • Establish consistent routines
  • Ensure they get a good night’s sleep
  • Reduce stressors where possible (ensure they have had enough to eat, ensure they are on track with their development)
  • Talk about and label feelings
  • Help them to problem solve
  • Give choices within limits
  • Tell them what to expect
  • Give reminders before a transition occurs
  • Most importantly help them to feel safe and secure

Helping children to feel safe and secure

It should be no surprise that children who are cared for in a warm and loving way in the early stages of life form closer relationships with their caregivers. We call this attachment. Children who are securely attached to their caregivers feel safe and secure, helping them to feel confident in exploring their world and take on new experiences necessary for healthy development.

Children also benefit from developing safe and caring relationships with others such as babysitters, teachers and coaches. These important relationships play a key role in shaping a child’s social and emotional development by teaching them how to:

  • Care about others and their feelings
  • Cooperate and shares
  • Express opinions
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Form their own identity
  • Feel good about themselves

Secure attachments formed in the early years act as a protective factor (external link), helping children to be resilient (external link) throughout all of life’s challenges.

Caregivers can support children in developing healthy relationships with others by:

  • Providing opportunities for children to connect and interact with other adults and children through supervised play dates, attending community programs together, going to your local park etc.
  • Reading stories together and talking about healthy relationships e.g. what makes a good friend
  • Introducing your child to the people in your neighbourhood and/or community who can help them to grow and feel good about themselves
  • Helping your child develop trust in others by leaving them for short periods of time with someone who shares your values and can also make your child feel safe and secure in your absence

Helping children express and manage emotions

Learning to manage emotions happens over time and we as parents and caregivers play a vital role in nurturing the emotional development of our children. There are things caregivers can do to help children deal with their feelings:

  • Role model self-control
  • Set limits
  • Have a few simple, clear rules to follow
  • Teach your child how to deal with small upsets or disappointments
  • Teach your child how to recognize and label their emotions (external link)
  • Praise them when they are able to use their words not their hands to express feelings
  • Teach healthy coping strategies when your child is calm. Help children manage stress by reading them stories such as ‘Tucker the Turtle Takes Time to Tuck and Think’ (external link), practicing yoga and/or ‘mindfulness (video)’ so when stress comes their way they are better able to cope.

Mindfulness activities for young children

  • Blowing Bubbles: Children breathe in deeply and blow out slowly as they attempt to make bubbles. Encourage them to watch the slow, gentle movement of the bubbles as they blow.
  • Blowing on a Pinwheel: Children breathe in deeply and blow out slowly as they attempt to move the pinwheel. Encourage them to watch how the pinwheel turns with their breath.
  • Blowing on a Cotton Ball: Children breathe in deeply and blow out slowly as they attempt to move cotton balls placed on the palm of their hand. Encourage them to watch the movement of the cotton balls as they breathe.
  • Smell the Flowers!: Children breathe in to smell the flowers and slowly let their breath out.
  • Rock the Teddy Bear!: Have children lie on their back and place their favourite teddy or ‘cuddly’ toy on their tummy. Encourage them to rock the ‘teddy bear’ to sleep by taking deep breaths (belly breathe) in and slowly breathing out – Remind the children to be gentle so that they don’t wake the teddy bear!
  • Sparkle Jar: Mindfulness Jars can be used as a focal point for mindfulness/meditation or to calm down when children are feeling agitated or stressed. Have children shake the jar, take a deep breath and slowly let their breath out… Encourage them to watch the glitter gradually float to the bottom. Focusing on the glitter can help slow down their breathing and thought process, helping them to feel more relaxed.

Making friends

Relationships are the building blocks for healthy social and emotional development. Friendships play an important role in helping children:

  • Learn about themselves and how to get along with others
  • Develop talking and listening skills
  • Develop empathy (external link)
  • Develop pro-social skills e.g. waiting and taking turns, sharing
  • Develop problem solving and thinking skills
  • Manage stress and feel safe
  • Feel good about themselves
  • Be resilient (external link)

Help your child build healthy friendships by:

  • Reading books on how to be a good friend.
  • Being your child’s coach. Practise taking turns and sharing during family play time. Explain that friends expect the same good behaviour.
  • Role playing. Brainstorm with your child how to settle conflicts between friends e.g. ‘What do you think you can do if both of you want to play with the truck at the same time?’
  • Providing your child with “social scripts”. Practise simple, everyday conversations with your child. For example, provide your child with the words for asking a new friend to play, ‘Hello would you like to play Legos with me?’
  • Setting-up play dates. In the beginning arrange a play date with another child for a short period of time with someone who shares in your child’s interests. Choose some activities ahead of time and review the ground rules before the friend arrives e.g. ‘The toys are for sharing’. Practise how to be a good friend. Praise your child for remembering and following the rules.
  • Being a good role model. Demonstrate good social behaviour around your child.
  • Knowing your child’s limits. Friendships are important to our overall well-being but not all children are comfortable in social situations. Allow your child to have some space and take a break when it appears that making friends is starting to be too much for them.