Early childhood is a period of both great opportunity and vulnerability. Early childhood experiences set the stage for later health, well-being, and learning. As I have mentioned in my earlier blog, we tend to focus a lot more on developing our child's intellectual competency and assume that social and emotional skills will develop naturally. In recent years, a growing body of research has demonstrated the strong link between young children's social-emotional competence and their development in other domains such as cognitive development, language skills, mental health and school success. Children who do not have a basic level of social and emotional competence by age 6 are likely to have trouble with relationships when they are adults (Blandon et al 2010; Ladd 2000; Parker and Asher 1987)
Social and emotional competence is the ability to interact with others, regulate one's own emotions and behavior, solve problems, and communicate effectively (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2013).
Based on the findings of the Harvard Preschool Project (1965), the best time for enhancing social and emotional competence is from 6 months to 2 years.Following are ways by which parents and caregivers can make young children competent to take on life's challenges:
- Encourage children to have close social relationships with a consistent, caring and attuned adults, especially from the first few months after their 1st (Keep this factor in mind when you are looking for a crèche or a babysitter.)
- Create an environment in which children feel safe to express their emotions - both positive and negative. When you respond to them separate emotions from actions (e.g., "It's okay to be angry, but we don't hit someone when we are angry.")
- Give children help when they need it rather than press it on them too soon, or ignore them, or see them as a burden to be dealt with quickly. Create opportunities for children to solve problems (e.g., "What do you think you should do if another child calls grabs your toy/pushes you?")
- Stay fairly close to young children but do not hover so much that you discourage them from developing attention-seeking skills.
- Speak with them. They will not pick up language from watching television/phone/computer or overhearing conversations. They need interaction with adults.
- Talk to children about whatever they are interested in at the moment and play with them on their level instead of trying to redirect their attention to something else.
- Create an environment that fosters learning. This includes books, interesting (not necessarily expensive)objects and a place to play. Give them the physical freedom to explore.
- Set clear expectations and limits (e.g., "People in our family don't hurt each other.") Use punishment sparingly. Instead use a timeout, withdrawing privileges, and find opportunities for positive feedback.
Children who have experienced such as these are able to recognize their and others emotions, they take the perspective of others and use their emerging cognitive skills to think about appropriate and inappropriate ways of acting. In today's world of growing uncertainty and violence fostering, such competencies are one way of equipping our children to face life's challenges.