As stated in Part 1 of this series on Early Childhood Education there are several core elements of development during these crucial years of a child’s life. One of those core elements is learning social skills, or in more modern academic verbiage, Social and Emotional Learning. This refers to the development of the ability to a) engage in relationships that are meaningful with both peers and adults, b) to identify, articulate, and monitor one’s own range of emotions as well as the emotions of others, c) learn and cultivate social skills as well as an understanding of their environment.
It is crucial that during this period of rapid growth and development, the child have access to a space that offers safe and enriching opportunities of exposure to this type of learning, as this will form the foundation of their social and emotional lives on which their future relationships and emotional well-being will be built. So then the question is how is that foundation built? It is built by the interactions that they have with their environment, which includes but is not limited to, parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, childcare providers, and peers. It is because of how quickly the brain develops during this phase of their life that each interaction the child has is so impactful upon the way that child will perceive and interact with their social environment as well as their own emotional landscape for the rest of their lives.
Indications of positive social and emotional early childhood development include learning to develop close relationships with parents or guardians, to calm themselves during times of heightened emotion, to play with and share with peers, and to follow and listen to directions. Children who are exposed to risk factors in either their environment or in their relationships, have their social and emotional development disrupted. The more prolonged or severe the disruption to their development the greater the risk of permanent damage to the psychological as well as physiological development of the child. It is important to highlight here that this invaluable time in a child’s life is not the sole responsibility of the parent. The phrase ‘it takes a village’ is common because it is true. The construction of relationship norms, social norms, language, expectations, values, beliefs and attitudes are all influenced by the family, the community and the culture. All of these important factors are required in order to encourage the healthy maturation of social and emotional development.
There are specific long term benefits to emphasizing healthy development in social and emotional learning. Along with physical and mental health, the ability to forge relationships with others, to learn, to memorize and to focus attention, all stem from our emotions and our ability to employ them in the manner in which we act and in the way that we think. All of this is even more important in the mind of the developing child. Studies show that children with stronger emotional intelligence foundations tend to perform better in school, govern their own behavior better, are better at displaying empathy, more easily create positive relationships, engage in school more meaningfully, and are more able to focus their attention. There are five essential skills that can be taught in order to foster emotional intelligence, some of which have been talked about above, but I want to name them explicitly. 1) Identifying the emotions of oneself as well as others. 2) Connecting the source of an emotion with the consequence of that emotion. 3) Correctly naming emotions. 4) The expression of emotions in the proper time, place, and culture. 5) Governing emotions. Using these five skills to model emotional intelligence and teach children the skill of emotional intelligence will be the topic of Part 3 of this ongoing series next week.