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Social and emotional development in early childhood can help enrich children’s lives in several ways. A young child who develops socially and emotionally in a healthy manner can form strong relationships with others and get more out of school through increased participation, among other benefits. Children do not develop these skills on their own. When they are in early toddler, preschool or kindergarten, they can build these skills with help from their teachers.

Early childhood educators play an essential role in helping children to develop socially and emotionally. If you are interested in being part of this process, learning more about the impact of early childhood educators on a child’s social development can help you understand this role. Find out more about social and emotional development in early childhood education.

Why Is Socialization Important in Early Childhood?

Socialization in early childhood can have a lasting impact on children’s mental health and well-being. The skills they learn early on can help them interact with others in positive, healthy ways, making it easier for them to form friendships. Socialization during the early years can also boost their emotional and mental well-being, resulting in happier children. Those who are socialized and able to develop emotionally and socially as young children tend to have a better attitude toward learning and schoolwork. These children also typically participate more often in class and can easily follow instructions.

Children who are not socialized tend to have more difficulty making friends, following instructions in school, and overall performing well academically. They can also develop low self-esteem, experience behavioral issues, and face other struggles in school and at home.

How Does Early Childhood Education Support Social and Emotional Development?

Early childhood education is an important part of social and emotional development in children. This type of development includes children’s ability to form healthy relationships with others and manage their emotions appropriately. Social and emotional development also includes children’s ability to express emotions and show an interest in learning and exploring their environment.

Some of this development takes place in the home and other environments outside of school. For example, infants begin to develop socially and emotionally when caregivers nurture them. Preschool and kindergarten students continue this development during early childhood education.

What Is a Teacher’s Role in Social Development?

Teachers provide many opportunities for young children to develop socially and emotionally. Daily interactions with students, activities that help children build these skills, and lessons on identifying and expressing emotions are just a few of the ways that teachers help with social and emotional development. Teachers in early childhood education can also identify possible barriers that make it difficult for children to develop emotional and social skills, such as mental health issues. They can help parents find sources of support to help their children improve their mental and emotional well-being.

Early Childhood Social Development by Age

Social development in early childhood is marked by achieving certain milestones. These milestones vary by age, although it is important to remember that children develop at their own pace. Some children might take longer to reach certain milestones, while others might reach them earlier than expected. Early childhood educators can bring up any concerns they have about a child’s social development with parents. They can also help parents access resources to address these concerns and ensure that their child gets the help they need to develop social and emotional skills.

Infants, or children younger than one, display certain behaviors that indicate healthy emotional and social growth, including actively trying to interact with adults, mimicking others’ actions, and being able to interpret emotional expressions that their parents or caretakers display. At this age, infants also typically show signs of separation anxiety when they are apart from their mother or other familiar caretakers. They also tend to be soothed by being held and gently rocked.

Toddlers, or children between one and three, begin to demonstrate independence. Toddler social skills often include showing affection, participating in basic group activities, asking for something they want, and seeking comfort from their parents or other caregivers. Toddlers might also laugh while interacting with others, imitate others, engage in symbolic play, and form emotional attachments to certain toys or other items. At this age, toddlers might also show anger when they are interrupted from an activity they are doing and throw tantrums at times.

Preschool children (three to five years of age) typically start to understand what is appropriate or inappropriate. These children also typically can learn to share with others and wait their turn during activities. Other preschool social skills they tend to develop include being able to engage in cooperative play, indulging in make-believe, and interpreting emotions based on tone of voice and facial expression. Preschool children also tend to show concern for others and are able to tolerate frustration better than younger children. Some children might begin to criticize others, act bossy, or display more aggressive behavior at this age.

Early elementary children between six and eight years of age typically achieve several milestones during this period, including being able to lead and follow others, choosing their own friends, and playing well with other children. They might also start to develop a sense of humor and tell jokes, become more self-critical, and learn from their mistakes. Other milestones children this age might reach include showing more concern for others, being uncomfortable when singled out, and being able to care for themselves and their belongings. This age group might also develop a positive self-concept, desire to do their best, and change friends frequently.

Ways Early Childhood Educators Contribute to Social Development

Early childhood educators, such as kindergarten teachers or preschool instructors, can make a significant difference in children’s lives when it comes to social and emotional development. These educators have the training and expertise needed to help children develop social and emotional skills, from identifying emotions to learning to interact with others in healthy ways. The classroom setting or other learning environments provide educators with the opportunity to contribute to social development daily. The following are some of the ways in which early childhood educators can help young children build social and emotional skills.

1.      Consistent Expression of Warmth and Affection

Being treated in a positive manner on a regular basis can help children develop healthy relationships with adults and other children. Early childhood educators can help this happen when they consistently display affection and warmth toward children, as it can help boost children’s emotional well-being while also showing them how to treat others kindly. Showing warmth and affection can include speaking to children in encouraging tones, making eye contact while talking to them, and making positive comments, such as praising their efforts on an activity. Educators can also greet children with a smile as they enter the classroom in the morning.

2.     Respecting Each Child and Their Differences

Children develop at their own pace and have their own personalities. This means children might react to a certain situation in diverse ways or have several ways of expressing emotions or talking about their feelings. Early childhood educators can help children develop emotionally and socially by treating them respectfully. This includes showing respect for every child and their differences, accepting their feelings, spending one-on-one time with each child, and listening attentively when they talk. Showing respect helps teach children to treat others with respect.

3.     Modeling Desired Behavior

Children learn by watching others, so modeling desired behaviors is important. Early childhood educators can show children how to act in different situations through their own actions, such as the previous example of treating others with kindness and respect or saying please and thank you to others by hearing their teachers do so. They can also learn how to act in situations that are challenging, such as during conflicts with others. Watching educators model the desired behaviors in these situations is a highly effective way for children to learn and develop emotional and social skills.

4.     Providing Praise or Behavior Cues in Real-Time

Early childhood educators can help young children develop emotionally and socially through praise and behavior cues. For example, they might praise children for an assignment or a work of art they made. Using specific details while praising children is more effective than offering general praise. Specific praise shows that educators are acknowledging children’s efforts. They can also give praise when children exhibit desired behaviors. Educators can use behavior cues, such as verbal or visual cues, to help children behave appropriately. For example, they might use puppets to show children how to act in a certain situation.

5.     Recognizing and Discussing Emotions as They Occur

Learning about emotions is a big part of a child’s social development. Early childhood educators can help children identify emotions and build a vocabulary that includes these words. Children can then use these words to describe the emotions they are feeling at any given time. For example, teachers might help children identify frustration or sadness and discuss these kinds of emotions. Children can learn why they experience these emotions and how to manage them in a healthy manner, such as learning to be patient when they become frustrated.

6.     Making Space and Time for Play

Classrooms are mainly for learning, and play is an important part of learning and developing emotionally and socially. Children need play in their lives to build emotional and social skills, such as being able to take turns during games or play well with others. Early childhood educators can give children these opportunities through playtime. This involves creating a place for children to play and setting aside time for it. For example, teachers might set up a play area filled with toys, puzzles, and other fun items in one part of their classroom. They can let children play in this area for a certain amount of time each day as a break from academic learning.

7.     Reading Books and Discussing the Story

Children’s books provide great opportunities for children to build social and emotional skills. Different stories can help children learn various kinds of skills for social and emotional development, such as sharing with others or handling conflict with other children. Early childhood educators can choose books based on which skills they want children to learn, read these books aloud, and discuss them. They might ask children questions about the way certain characters behave or the kinds of emotions characters experience. These discussions can help children apply what they learn in their own lives.

If you are interested in making a difference in children’s lives, please contact Post University. We offer an Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education that includes classes on child development and early learning. These classes provide an opportunity to develop skills that are important for supporting healthy social and emotional development in children.

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