Help your child to develop positive relationships.

How to Increase the Social & Emotional Development of Kids

by Erica Loop

Social and emotional development, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, are both necessary for kids to succeed in the educational environment. The ability to interact with friends and classmates in positive ways -- such as sharing -- as well understanding how to express feelings and read emotions can all contribute to a child's ability to get along with others. The institute says kindergarten teachers report that 20 percent of children enter grade school without these abilities. If your child needs help in these areas, you can help to increase her social and emotional development with a few activities and life lessons.

Cultivate your own positive relationship with your child. It's likely you are the first social relationship your child has. Instead of expecting her to practice social skills with other people -- such as friends or her teacher -- start at home. Begin early in infancy, smiling at your child and talking to her well before she can answer back to you. As she ages, interact in an affectionate manner with her, show interest in what she is doing at play or in school and demonstrate that you are taking her views into mind.

Give your young child words to describe her feelings. Toddlers and preschoolers may have difficulty controlling and expressing their emotions in socially acceptable ways, explains the national nonprofit center Zero to Three. Instead of reprimanding your tiny tyke for having a tantrum when she feels frustrated, help her find the right words to communicate her emotions, such as, "I know that not having a cookie before dinner makes you feel mad" or "I can see that you are sad because Sarah took the toy train from you."

Use pretend play situations, toys or puppets to act out scenes that feature powerful emotions. Help your child to better understand how emotions and interpersonal relationships can work together by creating your own imaginative dramatic scenario or using a puppet play. For example, your bee puppet can get mad at your child's bear puppet because she took a pot of honey. Play out the scene, using words instead of aggression to solve the problem.

Invite friends or classmates over for supervised play dates. Provide her with a variety of social situations, beyond interacting with you or her siblings, to practice her new-found skills. Plan an array of play-date activities that are easy for young kids who aren't exactly used to sharing or cooperating can try, such as a finger painting craft. Keep close by and head off any conflicts by stepping in and asking the children to sue their words to talk about what they are feeling.

Praise your child often when it comes to her social skills and emotional regulation. For example, if she eagerly shares a toy with her playmate, tell her, "I am so proud of what a good job you did sharing your doll with Jenny."

Act as a role model. Demonstrate positive social and emotional behaviors. Take the opportunity to turn everyday moments into teaching times. If someone cuts you off while in traffic, don't yell obscenities at them out the window. Instead, calm yourself down and calmly express out loud -- so that your child can hear you -- that you are feeling frustrated because the other person didn't act in a "nice" way.


  • Reward your child's triumphs with a sticker chart or a similar system. Give her a star every time she shares her toys with her little sister or uses her feelings words.


  • Don't expect your child to go well above and beyond her developmental level. It's not uncommon for young children to have trouble controlling their emotions. If your toddler or preschooler forgets to use her words and starts screaming, don't get discouraged.
  • Avoid acting as a negative model for your child. Your bad behaviors may just make their way into her actions.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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