Dr. Barbara Smith (University of Colorado-Denver) says that the last two decades of research have made it clear that a child’s emotional and behavioral adjustment is extremely important to their early school success because learning is a social process.
Healthy social-emotional development lowers the occurrence of emotional distress and problem behaviors and significantly increases test scores. Children who are mentally healthy are typically happier, motivated to learn, have a positive attitude towards school, are more likely to participate in classroom activities, and typically display higher academic performance. All of these are reasons why social-emotional competency is one of the top kindergarten-readiness skills your child needs!
What is social-emotional competency?
Key areas of social-emotional competency are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. (Source.)
What does that look like? A socially and emotionally competent child will generally:
- Have positive interactions with others
- Engage in cooperative play
- Have a positive outlook
- Follow directions
- Make and keep friends
- Show empathy
- Identify and healthily express emotions (self-regulation)
- Navigate and resolve conflicts/able to problem solve
- Persist in and concentrate on a task
- Demonstrate curiosity about the environment and people around them
- Have positive feelings about themself and others
- Enjoy discovering new things
If a child is struggling to make and keep friends, follow instructions, and manage their own emotions, their bandwidth for academics is limited. Think of when a child is sick – they are tired and emotional, their ability to concentrate is minimal, and their energy is spent on meeting their basic needs. This is not the time to drill a child with multiplication facts! Instead, we focus on helping the child regain their physical health so that their capacity to manage other aspects of their life is restored. In the same way, if a child is lagging in their social-emotional development, it’s time to help them get healthy!
Supporting your child’s social-emotional competency
Trusting, loving and nurturing relationships are essential for a child’s social-emotional development, as is demonstrating affection and warmth. Evaluate the quality and quantity of time you spend with your child. Are you meeting their basic needs for connection? How do you respond when your child is dysregulated? Do you join their chaos or do you bring calm to their storm? Do you give them your full attention? Do you make eye contact with them when speaking to them? Do you regularly spend one-on-one time with your child?
Parent/caregiver self-regulation (modeling) also is essential for your child. There is a saying that goes, “more is caught than taught!” You cannot expect your child to display that which you have not modeled for them. You can learn more about self-regulation here.
Social interactions with other children where they can play, share, problem-solve and learn to communicate their wants/needs is important! Acknowledge the positive interactions that you see your child, and others, display. “I saw you share your toy with your friend. She looked so happy!” Don’t praise positive behavior – you want to help your child notice it and identify it, not seek affirmation for it!
Bring attention to the needs of others. The ability to empathize is an important social skill. Regularly point out what you notice about people around you, even if it is a stranger at the park or someone you pass on the way into a shop.
- It looks like her hands are full. Let’s hold the door open for her!
- He looks sad. I wonder if he’s hurting? Do you think he could use a hug or a high five?
- Do you see that child sitting alone? Maybe he would like to make a friend.
- Dad is finishing a phone call right now, let’s wait until he’s finished and then we’ll ask him to play this game.
You can also bring attention to your own needs. “I’d love to play with you in fifteen minutes. Mommy needs to take a short rest because my body is tired.” “I noticed how patiently you waited for me to finish this email. I really appreciate that!
Role-play situations that require problem solving and conflict-resolution skills.
- Picture and story books that emphasize social skills are helpful!
- Talk about and identify emotions.
- Role-playing gives your child the tools they need to use when real-life conflict happens!
“Your friend has a toy you want to use. You can ask you friend, ‘Can I use the toy when you are done?’ and then find something else to do while you are waiting.”
Give them space to practice conflict resolution skills. Don’t jump in to solve and fix the situation. Observe first. If needed, offer your child support by asking them questions which encourage them to problem solve instead of telling them what to do. Encourage them to identify and respectfully communicate their feelings, while also encouraging them to empathize with the other person.
Give your child opportunities to try new things. Talk confidently to your child about new experiences. Children can quickly pick up any hesitance or doubt from their parents, which communicates to them that they are not capable. Self-confidence and the ability to take measured are both a critical part of the learning process and life in general!
Social and Emotional Competency at Sonnet Montessori
What we recommend for parents is what we offer in our classrooms! The Montessori philosophy is based on a profound respect for the child. Our teachers are attentive to their needs, offering them one-on-one attention, eye contact, and conversation at the child’s level. Attention is given to the tone of voice and mannerisms. They remain a calm presence when a child is going through big emotions, and rather than stifling emotions, help the child navigate them.
As children spend time in our classroom environment, they can practice social skills, problem solve and resolve conflict. Teachers are present to support and guide children, but also allow children to practice their skills and work out situations independently. Teachers provide grace and courtesy lessons and offer opportunities for children to role play situations. Children know that they are capable because their teachers give them space to develop their skills!
Children also benefit from the modeling provided by peers. In a mixed-age classroom, the younger children look up to older, more mature children, for guidance on social skills.
In addition, since most of the work done in a Montessori classroom is individual, and because there is usually only one of each work, children learn to communicate when they would like a turn and then respectfully wait.
If you think your child would benefit from developing social-emotional skills in our Montessori preschool classrooms, contact us today to set up a tour!