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    • State why social and emotional competence is a protective factor that prevents abuse and neglect.
    • Identify strategies to promote social and emotional competence in school-age children.
    • Use strategies that promote social and emotional competence in all school-age children.




    As a school-age staff member, supporting social and emotional competence is a major part of your job. Appropriately, we spend the bulk of our time with children promoting positive interactions, helping solve problems, and responding to intense emotions. We are promoting positive social and emotional skills in every interaction we have with a child. Recent reviews of research suggest that focusing on social and emotional competence in school-age programs (i.e., out-of-school time) increases children’s self-perceptions, positive social behaviors, and academic achievement. It also results in a significant reduction in problem behavior. Researchers at the Center for the Study of Social Policy found an additional benefit of such an emphasis on social and emotional competence: It decreased the amount of child abuse and neglect in families. Parents with children in exemplary programs reported that the skills their children learned related to anger management and violence prevention directly affected the way parents and children interacted. When children expressed their emotions appropriately, parents began to see their children differently.

    What is Social and Emotional Competence?

    Social and emotional competence is the ability to interact with others, regulate one’s own emotions and behavior, solve problems, and communicate effectively. Children who are socially and emotionally competent have (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2013):

    • Healthy self-esteem
    • Self-confidence
    • Self-efficacy
    • Self-control
    • Personal agency
    • Patience
    • Persistence
    • Conflict resolution skills
    • Communication skills
    • Empathy
    • Social skills
    • Morality

    Children who have these characteristics are not just successful in classrooms. They are successful in life. There is strong research evidence that social and emotional development contributes to development across domains: cognitive, physical, communication. In many ways, social and emotional development opens the door to richer and deeper learning. Furthermore, supportive relationships are the foundation of positive youth development. These relationships influence how children and youth engage with you and with the program, so they have a direct effect on your program’s impact. Helping children develop the skills necessary to form these types of relationships makes sense.

    What does this have to do with preventing child abuse and neglect in center settings? The answer is simple: when you see each interaction as an opportunity to build a positive relationship, you are more likely to view children positively. You are more likely to see behaviors as communication:

    • The 6 year old who is “tattling” on another child is saying, “We need your help.”
    • The 9 year old who tells you long stories about his favorite video game is saying, “Please pay attention to me.”
    • The 11 year old who throws a soccer ball over the fence after missing a goal is saying, “I’m frustrated.”

    This makes you less likely to become frustrated or overwhelmed. You are more likely to make good decisions about responding to behaviors that challenge you. These decisions help strengthen your relationships with children, and these relationships prevent child abuse and neglect in your program.

    There are three main ways school-age programs promote social and emotional competence (Crosson-Tower, 2003):

    • Teaching to recognize and deal with emotions
    • Teaching to recognize and solve social problems
    • Supporting children as they make and keep friends

    You can learn a great deal about these concepts by exploring the links in the References and Resources section. You will also learn more in the Guidance and Social courses. Below is a brief introduction to these three concepts.

    Emotional Literacy

    Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize emotions in yourself and others. It’s also the ability to express and regulate emotions. Programs that promote emotional literacy use natural opportunities to talk about emotions throughout the program day, every day. Adults label their own emotions and children’s emotions. They help children recognize emotions in themselves and others. Adults also provide concrete strategies to help children address and express their emotions appropriately. For example, programs may teach children to “stop and think” when they get angry instead of lashing out.

    Read the following statements from staff members that help build emotional literacy:

    • “Clarence, I can tell you are really frustrated that all of the computers are taken. What could you do until one is available?”
    • “I wonder how it would feel if someone said that to you….”
    • “I’m really excited about going bowling with you guys tomorrow.”
    • “When I get angry, I step away and take some deep breaths.”

    It is also important to help school-age children continue developing empathy. Empathy is the ability to take on another person’s perspective. You can do this by describing your own and other children’s emotions. You can also ask school-age children to think about how they would feel in certain situations. Encourage reflection, critical thinking, and compassion. Teaching empathy is a powerful way to prevent violence. People who understand the emotions of others are less likely to commit violence. This means that teaching children empathy can help prevent violence between children. Teaching empathy also refreshes your own mental and emotional health, which can prevent child abuse and neglect in school-age programs.

    Problem-Solving and Conflict Mediation

    All of us experience problems. Our success lies in how we deal with those problems. The skill of successfully navigating complex social situations does not necessarily come naturally. In programs that foster social and emotional competence, children are taught specific strategies for solving social problems. They may learn to recognize they have a problem, think of solutions, think about what would happen, and give it a try. Adults may also help children generate solutions to try. In many programs, problem-solving steps are posted on the walls so children can refer to them. The four steps often include:

    1. Define the problem (What is my problem?)
    2. Generate alternative solutions (What could I try?)
    3. Choose the best solution, make a plan, and execute it (What will I do? Is it fair? Does it solve the problem?)
    4. Evaluate the outcome (Is my problem solved?)

    Helping school-age children learn to solve problems is a critical skill for life. It helps build resilience and mental flexibility. Make sure you model these skills yourself during your daily interactions with co-workers and families.

    Supporting Friendship Skills

    Learning how to make and keep friends is a lifelong skill. By the school-age years, most children have several close friends, and their social networks can be quite sophisticated. This does not mean that our work is done, though. During the school-age years, we can continue promoting friendships by:

    • Creating positive social norms: Social norms are the habits or ways of interacting that develop amongst a group of people. You can create positive social norms through your mission statement, expectations, and reactions to everyday events.
    • Ensuring children have opportunities to belong: This means school-age children feel respected. They have opportunities for leadership roles and have a voice in the program. They are able to continue developing their own identity in the program.
    • Providing supportive relationships: School-age children need to feel a connection with staff members and with their peers.

    In programs that foster social and emotional competence, staff members look for opportunities to promote friendship skills. They encourage and model friendly behavior. Successful school-age programs also actively prevent bullying. From, successful programs:

    • Talk about bullying. They define what it is and what to do if you see it.
    • Model how to interact with respect and kindness. Children do what they see adults do.
    • Encourage children to do what they love. Children feel reassured that they can explore their interests without fear of being bullied. If children love art, drama, music, building, or any other hobby, they are free to explore it safely.
    • Talk to children about their day: Who did you sit with on the bus? What was lunch like? What are you good at? Opening up lines of communication can help children feel safe.
    • Set clear policies and rules. Programs make sure there is a clear code of conduct and that all children and youth have the right to be safe and treated with respect. There are clear policies about what adults should do if bullying is suspected.

    Responding when Children Struggle

    What do you think happens when children do not have the skills described above? If you’re not sure, imagine a child who does not know how to handle anger. What does that child do instead? If you guessed act out, you are probably correct. That child might yell at others, destroy property, or become aggressive. Alternatively, a child who does not know how to handle anger might become withdrawn. This means he might become quiet or keep his anger inside. This can cause a great deal of tension and stress for the child. The next lesson focuses on responding to behavior that challenges, but for now know that you will need to help develop individualized supports for children who need them. Your MILTraining and Curriculum Specialist PUBLICsupervisor and program team will help you (a) know who these children are and (b) how to support them. Here are a few strategies you might use in these situations:

    • Social Skills Groups: You might work with a small group of children who have difficulties handling anger, for example. You might teach these children specific strategies to calm down, express their feelings appropriately, and think of next steps. These groups can be developed around a variety of social skills. For example, you might have a group that is working on positive ways to solve conflicts with peers or appropriate ways to get peers’ attention.
    • Check-In /Check-Out Procedures: You might have a child check-in and out with you each day. Typically, the child has a list of the program’s expectations (e.g., Be Respectful, finish your homework , etc.). An adult reviews these expectations with the child and monitors whether the expectations have been met each day. This is intended to be a positive interaction between a child and an adult.
    • Book Clubs: You might have children in the program who are interested in forming a book club that incorporates social-emotional issues. Most pre-teen literature involves social problems and emotional scenarios. You can help facilitate conversations about the plot and whether the characters used appropriate social and emotional skills.

    You will learn more in the Social and Guidance courses.


    What do programs that promote social and emotional competence look like? Watch this video to find out.

    Facilitating Social Development for School-Age Children

    Learn about the importance of social development


    To foster emotional literacy you can:

    • Encourage and reinforce children for talking about their feelings.
    • Notice children’s feelings and provide an opportunity for children to describe how they are feeling.
    • Label your own feelings.
    • Promote empathy by helping children notice each other’s feelings.

    To promote problem-solving you can:

    • Specifically teach the steps to solving problems.
    • Engage children in generating solutions to common challenges.
    • Post visual reminders about problem-solving.
    • Recognize and give specific feedback to children who have solved problems.
    • Help children reflect on their own problem-solving skills.
    • Change your approach to meet individual children’s needs.

    To promote friendships you can:

    • Provide a program in which school-age children have many opportunities to make choices about what they do and who they interact with.
    • Develop clear rules and expectations for interpersonal behavior. Emphasize respect and safety.
    • Talk about bullying. Help children understand why it happens and what they can do to stop it.
    • Respond consistently when issues arise between children.
    • Develop systems for introducing new children to the program and to their peers.
    • Be thoughtful about competitive sports and games. Provide many opportunities for cooperative sports and games, as well.
    • Build a strong relationship with each child.



    In the next lesson, you will learn about responding to challenging behavior. In this activity, you will begin thinking about challenging behavior in terms of social and emotional competence. Challenging behaviors are often signs that a child could use support around social and emotional competence. View and complete the What Do I Say Now activity. As you read the scenarios, think about how you could encourage the child to use social skills instead. When you are finished, share your answers with your trainer, supervisor, or coach. Then compare your answers to the suggested responses.



    There are a variety of tools available to help you apply what you have learned. View and complete the Social Teaching Checklist. Use it to make sure you are doing all you can to promote social and emotional competence in your classroom or program.


    Communication skillsThe ability to share information with others and receive information from others
    Conflict resolution skillsThe ability to settle disputes peacefully
    EmpathyThe ability to understand and share the feelings of others
    Healthy self-esteemA feeling of pride in yourself
    MoralityThe ability to distinguish between right and wrong
    PatienceThe ability to accept or tolerate delay or trouble without getting upset
    PersistenceContinuing in a course of action despite difficulty
    Personal agencyThe extent to which individuals believe they can control the events that affect them
    Self-confidenceBelief in yourself and your abilities
    Self-controlRegulating your own emotions, desires, or actions
    Self-efficacyBelief in your ability to succeed or perform appropriately
    Social skillsThe skills that make it easier to interact and communicate with others




    Carly is crying and sitting alone. Which of the following responses from a staff member best promotes social and emotional competence?


    Malone and Jacob both want to work on the same model airplane, but it is designed to be used alone. Which of the following responses from their teacher best promotes social and emotional competence?


    Why is social and emotional competence important? Choose the best answer.


    True or false? School-age children already know all the social skills they need.


    Where can you learn more about promoting children’s social and emotional development? Choose the best answer.

    References & Resources

    Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2018). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. Retrieved from 

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (n.d.). Retrieved from 

    Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Materials available from

    Crosson-Tower, C. (2003). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau.

    Durlak, J. P., Weissberg, R. P., & Pachan, M. (2010). A Meta-Analysis of After-School Programs that Seek to Promote Personal and Social Skills in Children and Adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 294-309.

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Stop Bullying. Retrieved from