- Define social-emotional development and discuss its importance in our lives.
- Discuss the core components of social-emotional development.
- Describe misconceptions associated with social-emotional development.
What Is Social-Emotional Development and Why Is It Important?
"Friendship is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything." – Muhammad Ali
Think about someone you enjoy spending time with, admire, or look up to. What characteristics stand out to you about this person? Is the person a good listener? Does the person reach out to others? Does the person have a great sense of humor? Does the person seem to always know the right things to say, or do they say what needs to be said when no one else will? Does the person admit when she’s wrong and try to take on the other person’s perspective? Does the person use their voice to stand up for what’s right? Does the person stay calm in tense situations? Whether you are picturing a family member, friend, or a staff member in your program, that person is likely socially aware, empathetic, and self-motivated. This person has trusting relationships, manages emotions, makes responsible social decisions, and gets along with others.
There is growing evidence that the path to emotional well-being in adulthood starts at the very beginning of life. As you read in the Cognitive course, infants, toddlers, and young children are actively building the architecture of their brains. Children’s brains develop largely through responsive interactions with people and environments. This means social relationships are key. Children of all ages thrive when they have trusting relationships, safe environments to explore, and opportunities to experience and examine their feelings. The effects of such experiences stretch into adulthood: healthy social-emotional development is associated with better educational outcomes, more stable employment, and less contact with the justice system. The work you and staff members do every day to build relationships
Social-emotional development (also called social-emotional learning or SEL) is a central part of human development. Throughout our lifetimes, we are each working to develop a healthy sense of our personal and cultural identities, build caring relationships with others, set meaningful goals, make healthy decisions, and express and manage the range of our emotions. Each of these parts of social-emotional development rely on development in other areas like language and cognition. As you work with staff to support child and youth development, you will likely see the many ways that social-emotional development connects to all aspects of a child’s experiences in a program. Challenging behavior is one of the most frequent concerns staff may bring to you, and this is deeply connected to the social and emotional environments children are in. Consider these examples:
We see …
What it tells us about social-emotional development & the social environment
Bobby throws a tantrum when an adult says it’s time to clean up.
Bobby is still learning how to manage his emotions in different settings. He knows ways to communicate his frustration, but he does not always do so in a way that brings positive responses from adults.
Briley pounds on the table and storms away from the games table after losing to another youth.
Briley is expressing emotions but is responding in a way that may damage relationships with peers.
Claire hides in the classroom and avoids other children and adults.
Claire is expressing uncertainty and fear in a way that works for her right now. However, she may be missing opportunities to build relationships.
Madeline had a disagreement with her coworker and instead of asking for help or talking it out, Madeline calls in sick the rest of the week.
Madeline is making decisions that could jeopardize her employment and relationships. She is perhaps avoiding conflict and opportunities for growth.
Like the people in the examples above, we can all sometimes find ourselves in the middle of an unpleasant situation with emotional impulses, rather than rational thoughts, controlling the situation. Learning how to recognize, express, and regulate emotions is an important skill for everyone, regardless of age or ability level. An individual who is motivated to learn, able to relate to others, capable of calming him or herself, or be calmed by others, will be ready to learn and experience success in school and in life (Yates et. al, 2008).
Watch this video for an introduction to your role in supporting social-emotional development.
As you reflect on social-emotional development, also remember that social-emotional development is cultural. It may seem that big feelings like anger and sadness are viewed the same all around the world, but that’s not true. Where and how you grow up shapes how you understand and express emotions. As you learn about social-emotional development, consider these questions about your own upbringing:
- How do you feel when you experience or observe conflict?
- What does “happiness” mean to you? Is it about excitement and energy? Is it about contentment and peace?
- How does an experience like “shame” affect you? Does it make you want to hide away from others, or does it make you want to repair the relationship?
- What makes someone seem “likeable” or “friendly” to you? Do you look for a big smile, an outgoing greeting? Do you look for respect and deferral to others?
How you perceive others has everything to do with your own upbringing. When groups of people from a wide range of cultures come together (such as in child and youth programs), misunderstandings can happen. As a trainer or coach, you can first learn to recognize your own social-emotional perspectives and then begin to recognize when they differ from others. Work with managers to build a culture in your program where everyone asks questions, seeks to understand different perspectives, and learns from mistakes.
Components of Social-Emotional Development?
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional development (also called social-emotional learning) consists of the following five core components:
Self-awareness is the ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
Self-management is the ability to effectively regulate one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and creating and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school and community resources and supports.
Relationship skills are the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
Responsible decision-making is the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.
Stress and Social-Emotional Development
While children are enrolled in your program, families may experience a range of stressful events, such as separation of parents, deployment, death of a grandparent, illness of another child, etc. These events can affect a child’s social-emotional development. You must work with program staff to carefully observe, listen to, and support children who may react to family stress in a variety of ways, such as increased tantrums, refusal to play, and lack of focus during group activities or games. Caring and trusted adults can make a difference in children’s social-emotional outcomes and may be a stabilizing factor in successful lifelong development and learning.
Likewise, adverse experiences such as child abuse or neglect, household instability, or witnessing violence can negatively impact a child’s social-emotional development. Children may learn to be fearful, protective or controlling of their belongings or loved ones, withdraw, or act out. Patience and a team approach from adults can continue helping all children develop the skills and attitudes they need to thrive.
What Are Common Misconceptions About Social-Emotional Development?
There may be members of your staff who think it is not their job to promote social-emotional development. Here are some common concerns you might hear:
- “Kids have all the social skills they need by the time they get to our program. It’s too late to help kids learn more.” You are most likely to hear this misconception in school-age programs, but the sentiment might also exist in early-childhood settings. Some people mistakenly believe that social-emotional development can only occur during a critical window in early childhood, but this is not true. While social-emotional development does occur with amazing speed during the early years, we never stop developing new skills and strategies. Staff members can help toddlers learn to play together, help preschoolers learn to solve problems, and help school-agers learn to resolve conflicts. Adults are also constantly learning. You might have an opportunity to help staff members learn to assert themselves in teams or help them learn to listen to others’ concerns.
- “Social skills are something children should learn at home.” Families play a critical role in promoting social-emotional development. That does not mean that all learning takes place in the home. When children enter your program, they may be entering group care for the first time. This demands social-emotional skills they may have never needed before. Your program will have an opportunity to help children be successful and resilient in new environments.
- “Social skills come naturally to children. Everyone knows how to play.” Although social skills might seem automatic for some children and adults, they are not necessarily natural for everyone. Some children do not know how to appropriately get a peer’s attention or how to join in play. Other children might not know how to ask for help or how to handle their anger. Social skills can be learned. It takes time and patience to help children learn and practice these critical skills. Your program provides a perfect context for this learning to occur.
What Does This Mean For You?
Staff members will enter your program with a range of skills and experiences related to promoting social-emotional development. Some staff members might believe the misconceptions above. Other staff members may struggle with their own social-emotional skills. As a trainer or coach, you are responsible for making sure staff members understand the range of social-emotional development. Then, you can help them develop programs that give children the opportunity to develop the confidence and competence they need. You must be attuned to the social and emotional needs of staff members. Be aware of staff members’ stress levels, friendships in the program, and social tensions. This will help you maintain a healthy workplace for yourself and your team.
Completing this Course
For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Training & Curriculum Specialist Social & Emotional Development Course Guide.
To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:
As a trainer or coach, you encounter situations on a daily basis that can lead to emotional distress. You also are a model for staff in how you cope with the daily stresses and unexpected events in your work life. It is important to reflect on your own coping strategies for regulating your emotions. Answer the questions in the How Do You Cope? activity and think about how you can incorporate the use of healthy coping strategies (e.g., deep breathing, walking, listening to music) to assist in dealing with difficult emotions.
A great deal of research suggests the importance of social-emotional learning for children’s development. Review the Social-Emotional Competence of Children from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP). Use this to learn more about the importance of social-emotional competence or to share with staff members and families.
Also consider sharing the SEL Framework with staff to review the core competence areas developed by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to help guide practices for supporting social-emotional development.
Social-Emotional Competence of Children
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