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May 8, 2014

Being Socially and Emotionally in Tune with Your Children

Teacher’s Blog Week of May 5th, 2014

Contributed by Lindsay Leusch, Education Outreach Director

If you remember to do nothing else, “focus primarily on your children throughout your day. Your positive attention is the single most important factor in letting children know they are out of value.” (Epstein, 2009, p. 29) As adults, our minds run a million miles a minute about every little task to be completed, but at the end of the day, the most important thing we can and should do is focus on our children and let them know they are loved. By giving them your time and attention, you are building the foundation for greater social emotional development. The following also outlines ways in which social emotional skills can be fostered in your classroom every single day. Take a moment to make a moment.

To better understand the complexity of social emotional development and learning, one must know what they mean. Emotional learning is the knowledge of skills needed to recognize and self-regulate feelings. Social learning is comprised of the values and strategies for interacting successfully with others. These are two separate skills which often overlap and conjointly effect children’s success in life. As children grow, it is essential that they make the successful transition from the “me”of toddlerhood, to the “us” of preschool, but this takes nurturing on our end as teachers.PS- Taking Time to Cuddle When Needed

What does this look like? And how do you execute it on a daily basis?

Building a Foundation

Teaching Practices Necessary in Social Emotional Development

  • Arranging your classroom to facilitate greater social play: While setting up your room each day, ask yourself, “Does this provide children with many natural and play-based social experiences?”
  • Implementing a predictable schedule and routine: Children need predictability and routine in their day – even if we as adults prefer change. Please check out Jennifer Horner’s recent blog on routines for further insight into this topic.
  • Plan Transitions: Transitions are a time of stress for many children. We as adults naturally handle multiple transitions in short periods of time without giving it much thought, however this is a major stressor for children. Re-evaulate your current schedule and the number of transitions children experience. Please also check out the recent Read, Review, and Reflect blog on Transitions for advice on how to do so.
  • Create opportunities for sociodramatic play: Set up opportunities in your room for children to act out and learn about different emotions. Children experience different emotional and social occurrences daily, but do not always have the knowledge base to understand them or how to act on them.

Classroom Practices Necessary in Social Emotional Development

  • Modeling: Every single interaction with both your children and peers should be a model for how you want your children to act. Little eyes are always watching and little ears are always listening.
  • Coaching: Listen and observe your children, specifically in situations which may be a challenge for them to handle themselves. Do not solve the problem for them, but support them by providing them with the language needed to be successful and work together to find a solution when needed.
  • Providing Opportunities to Practice: Social emotional skills need to be practices daily. This can happen in a variety of ways. Whether it be during a large or small group activity, or even individually, children need different opportunities to practice. Practice makes perfect!

Social Emotional Skill Levels

At every age level, children become more capable of certain social and emotional skills (Epstein, 2009, p. 13).


  • Learn to regulate behaviors (crying, moving, focusing)
  • Create bonds with primary caregivers and form a sense of trust from nurturing attachments


  • Identify and gain control of their feelings
  • Test their skills and begin to see themselves as capable
  • Increasingly differentiate themselves from others and venture into the world of social interaction


  • Develop understanding of their own and others’ feelings
  • See themselves as doers, based on their ability to achieve self-initiated goals
  • Widen their social network, developing preference and forming relationships, and associate with new communities at home and school

Setting Up Your Children for Social Emotional Success

Encouraging Empathy

Empathy should be encouraged naturally as children learn to transfer feelings and shift perspectives, but not forced. If a child hits another, they should not be forced or urged to give a hug if they are not empathetically capable. Instead, acknowledge both children’s feelings which they just experienced, sot hey begin to develop understanding of them for future use. You can offer the option for your children to give a hug if they feel sorry for their actions, but do not force it. By forcing it, it holds no value; it just creates frustration.

Building Self Competence

Self-competence is another skill which evolves through support. This is fostered through a mixture of acceptance by adults, fair limits and expectations about children’s behaviors, and it recognized levels of effort, building healthy self-esteem. It is necessary that children’s self-help skills are encouraged consistently with their ability and developmental levels. Resist the temptation to carry out any tasks asked of your children, faster or better than them and do not dictate how they are performed (with reasonable boundaries). Expectations for compliance should not be held to adult standards. Refer to your ELG, provided in your Curriculum Implementation Manual, for further insight on these capability levels.

While children put effort into a variety of activities throughout the day, be sure to provide encouragement regularly, not just praise. Take the time to:

  • Watch and listen to your children.
  • Imitate actions while playing with them, not words (a non-verbal “this is really great!”).
  • Comment on what they are doing.
  • Show children’s work to others, peers, and parents.

Encouraging Cooperative Play

Cooperative play is a skill which develops over an extended period of time for children. To encourage this skill, adults need to spend time coaching them. Meaning, you observe from a far, and then provide any needed guidance both verbally or physically, while not doing it for them. For example, if a child enters play with their peers rather aggressively and a dispute occurs, validate that child’s feelings (that they desired to join that play) and discuss with them how they can go back and approach the situation differently (provided needed suggestions based on their skill level).

Playing as a partner is also essential in encouraging cooperative play. We cannot expect it of them, if we don’t show them how. Be sure to get down at their level, imitate their use of materials, and follow their ideas. Take part, without taking the lead. During this time, it is important to take time commenting on what they are doing, describing their actions, and talking about what they are saying or doing – without an overload of questions.

Helping Children Resolve Conflicts

When conflicts arise between children, both they and adults reach a heightened state of emotion. The three most common, but ineffective, adult responses are as follows:

  • Pleading – begging to take turns or telling children to “play nice”
  • Directing – telling children not to take toys away or “use your words”
  • Punishing – “time outs” or loss of privileges

Though common, these only produce short-term or even momentary solutions. They do not bring about any social problem solving skills whatsoever. Utilize these conflicts are learning opportunities, by guiding your children through the process with modeling and support. Research has shown that young children can master the steps in conflict resolution, and when they do so there is a 40% decrease in challenging behaviors experienced in a classroom (Lamm et.al., 2006). To support them in attaining these skills for conflict resolution, teachers need to facilitate a multi-step approach.

  1. Approach the situation calmly, stopping any immediately hurtful actions.
  2. Acknowledge the children’s feelings.
  3. Gather information.
  4. Restate the problem to the child(ren).
  5. Ask for ideas for solutions and choose one together (or provide some guidance on choosing one if needed).
  6. Be prepared to give follow up support over a period of time.

At the end of the day, remember that social emotional support comes down to building a trusting relationship with your children, classroom preparedness, understanding the social and emotional skill levels of the children you work with, giving children your time, and being a good example and supporter of their developing skills. This is not something they will learn overnight, however they will learn it overtime. Stay aware and stay in tune every day.


Epstein, A. (2009). Me, you, us, social emotional learning in preschool, Ypsilanri: High Scope Press.

Lamm, S., Groulx, J.G., Hansen, C., Patton, M. M., & Slaton, A.J. (2006, November). Creating environments for peaceful problem solving. Young Children, 61(6), 22-28.