Here are some ways you can support your child’s social-emotional development.
- Develop responsive and consistent care-giving routines. Infants and young children benefit greatly when they feel that their needs are being met in a consistent, respectful, and responsive manner. Figuring out what they need is often a complicated process. It’s one that requires you to observe and make sense of the signals your child is giving you through his behaviors. Sit and watch your child to learn what makes him excited or engaged and what soothes him. Then, you’ll be able to make more educated guesses about how to respond to him in his moments of need. This sensitive attunement to his needs contributes to his feeling understood and valued. This, in turn, promotes self-esteem and trust in his caregivers.
- Provide a nurturing and affectionate environment. Providing children with love and affection conveys to them that they are important and special individuals. Holding your children provides a physical “holding environment” in which they feel safe and contained. Comforting, singing, and talking to your children also provide an important emotional holding environment. This is where their feelings are talked about and managed with the help of their trusted caregiver. It promotes a feeling of safety and security within your young child. As children receive love and affection from their parents and caregivers, they are also learning important aspects of how they can express their love and affection to others.
- Provide safety and security while encouraging exploration. As young children begin the important work of exploring their world, they often feel uncertain and, at times, fearful of new situations. By helping your young child feel assured of the support and availability of his caregiver, you are helping to increase his confidence. This makes it easier for him to explore new experiences and environments. That’s because he knows he can rely on you when he needs to return to a secure base. Encouraging the young child’s drive for exploration and independence while continuing to be a responsive and consistent presence provides the child with a sense of safety and trust – in himself and in others.
- Encourage and support your child’s emerging skills. Young children are continually learning and developing new skills. “Look what I can do!” is a phrase we often hear from our toddlers and preschoolers as they express their newfound excitement and pride in their accomplishments. Nurture children’s learning by showing interest in their activities. Provide opportunities for them to do things on their own, helping when needed. As children master new abilities, they feel competent and self-assured.
- Promote expression of feelings in age-appropriate ways. Young children often struggle with how to express their intense emotions. They need help knowing how to appropriately manage their feelings. Using language to identify, label, and respect a young child’s feelings helps. It not only allows her to feel respected and understood, but it also can help her to calm down and better manage her emotions. Over time, children are better able to identify and label their own feelings as their language skills develop.
It can also be helpful to tell and show young children other ways to manage their feelings. For example, it might help them to pound clay when angry or draw a picture and tell a story about how they are feeling. Helping your child to find appropriate ways to express his emotions will promote self-confidence and self-control. This will also help him to better manage conflicts with peers and to have empathy for his friends and others.
- Encourage respect and appreciation for differences. All children are born into families with certain beliefs, values, and expectations. These are often largely influenced by the culture of the family and their larger community. Culture plays a big role in our lives. It influences every aspect of parenting: feeding, sleeping, and toileting routines; discipline; ideas about schooling, development, communication, and disabilities; and how parents and children are expected to relate to one another. When you display an appreciation and respect for your own culture as well as the cultures of others, you are teaching your child acceptance of differences and an appreciation of the qualities in each of us that makes us unique.
- Nurture your own social and emotional wellness. To provide optimal care for our children, we must also attend to our own needs. We need to ensure that we are nurturing and respecting ourselves. Parenting can be incredibly rewarding, yet it can also be continually exhausting and demanding. Did you grow up in a family where, for various reasons, your own needs for safety, security, affection, and respect were not well provided for? If so, it might be challenging to think about how to provide those experiences for your own children, despite your intense desire to do so.
Finding support through friends, family, or professionals can provide the comfort, encouragement, and reassurance that you need so you can be more available to your children. Seeking out this support also helps to teach your child that he lives within a loving community where individuals take care of one another.
Social-Emotional Development » Links & ResourcesReferences:
James Hymes’ Understanding Your Child by Kadija Johnston, LCSW
Lerner, C. & Dombro, A.L. (2000). Learning & Growing Together: Understanding Your Child’s Development. Washington, D.C.: ZERO TO THREE
Nelson, J., Erwin, C. & Duffy, R. (2007). Positive Discipline: The First Three Years. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.