By Jenna M. Weglarz-Ward
With such a focus on academic achievement in the media and schools, social and emotional skills are sometimes overlooked. However, social and emotional development lays a solid foundation for lifelong growth and learning.
Social skills include developing relationships with others; turn-taking in play, conversation, and daily routines; and learning to be part of a group. Emotional skills include recognizing their own and others’ feelings, learning to control and express their feelings, and seeking comfort when upset as well as sharing successes and celebrations. These skills begin to develop at birth and continue throughout a person’s life.
Let’s see how social and emotional skills build into lifelong skills.
Developing Rewarding Relationships
Relationships between children and caregivers are the first and most important partnerships of life. These relationships are transactional in nature. This means that not only does the parent respond to the child’s cues, actions, and efforts, but the child responds to the parent’s. They develop a relationship together, responding, reacting, and reciprocating to each other. Children who develop in responsive and secure relationships with caregivers demonstrate greater development in other areas such as thinking, attention, and play. These relationships also show children that relationships with others are beneficial and rewarding. This encourages children to seek out relationships with other people, including siblings, peers, teachers, and eventually their own children.
Understanding and Controlling Emotions
We all have had a time when we need to control our emotions to make it through a situation, such as when your boss asks you to do just one more thing when your list is already full. You need to be able recognize that you are over-whelmed and understand how to cope with this emotion to complete the task. Children are no different. Children need to identify and express a range of feelings as well as appropriate ways to deal with each feeling. Building these skills while children are infants and toddlers is important for school readiness. Regulating emotions allows children to focus on school tasks such as sitting, paying attention to teachers and other students, and completing tasks.
Taking Risks and Gaining Rewards
Creating reliable and responsive relationships with adults allows children to take calculated risks in their experiences. The knowledge that someone is available to help them as needed provides a safe and secure environment to explore and learn.
Think of a newly crawling baby. He toddles away from his caregiver, going farther and farther each time, often taking a look back to make sure his caregiver is ready to help when needed. This child not only increases his locomotion skills but also learns more about the objects he encounters (that speck of dust on the carpet) and problem solves around obstacles he encounters (that pillow in the way of his favorite toy).
Later in life, when a child is learning to read, it is necessary to take the risk to try to read a new word even if she has never seen it before. A child has to be able to go for it and try that word out. It may be wrong the first time or two, but that child knows that if at fi rst you don’t
succeed, try and try again, just as he learned when he was crawling.
Getting Along With Others—Job Security!
Being able to get along with others is vital to success in the world. The most common reason for losing a job is not lack of skills but trouble working with others, inconsistency, dishonesty, and inflated egos. Building skills to work with others begins with father and baby responding to each other during a feeding to sharing a favorite toy at child care or from waiting for a turn to talk at the dinner table to understanding when Mom’s tired and needs a quiet moment. These are all important to navigating life’s ups and downs.
It might sound crazy that the cuddling you are doing with your baby right now will impact his high school test scores or that game of catch with your toddler will impact her career path. However, these foundational social and emotional skills are really lifelong skills needed to develop physical, language, and thinking skills as well as finding a place within the many groups of people we encounter throughout our lives.
Jenna Weglarz-Ward, Ed.M., is a mother of four children ranging in age from 4 to 18 years old. She is completing her doctoral degree in early childhood special education at the University of Illinois.