Developing young children’s social and emotional skills

Developing emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence
is the buzzword in the modern workplace. But social and emotional skills are actually abilities which can be nurtured when children are young.

Success isn’t the only key ingredient for success. Knowing how to read, recognize, and respond to one’s own as well as other people’s emotions are key skills for the workplace. The ability to make friends and sustain social relationships are crucial to thriving at work and at school. Being able to manage our emotions including impulses and anger are important elements for success in life.

Parents play an important role in building empathy and resilience in their children. Here are some tips for developing emotional intelligence in young children:

Positive endings good, sad endings bad
Every story usually has a lesson to learn. The hare and the tortoise: Being persistent wins the race. The goose with the golden eggs: Don’t be greedy. The wolf in sheep’s clothing: Appearances can be deceiving. But it turns out that we learn best from stories which have a good ending. A 2014 study finds that children respond more positively to a moral story which promotes honesty than one which warns us about the consequences of dishonesty.

Encourage empathy with a habit of reading
Encourage your children to read fiction to gain an understanding about other people’s emotions and mental states. In a 2014 study of 1,000 adults, participants who read literary text extracts (e.g., Anton Chekov) were better at detecting emotions in others than control participants who were asked to read popular fiction or non-fiction. Another advantage of encouraging children to read is that those with more advanced reading skills are likely to do well in school. A recent twin study has established that reading ability at 7 years predicts how children perform in intelligence tests later in life.

Spare the rod, but don’t spoil the child
A new study provides evidence for this idea. In this 2014 study, occasions when parents spanked their children at home were captured on video-tape. Rather than using spanking as intentional discipline, parents in this study were observed to be often motivated by impulse or their emotions. Most spanking incidents were also in response to minor wrongs, and their children typically misbehaved within 10 minutes of the spanking. So, focus on being consistent and on providing opportunities to reward good behaviours. If helpful, encourage children to see things from the perspective of others.

Understand your child’s needs
Spending time with your infant or toddler is important. Babies have more opportunities to learn new words from their caregivers when their caregivers spend time talking to them. But time spent with young children doesn’t just benefit them cognitively.

A 2014 study shows that children with secure emotional bonds with their main caregiver (parents) have better social skills. Securely attached children tend to respond positively to other children on their first meeting. Such children also show an ability to adapt to their play peers: With play peers who show frustration and anger easily, securely attached children use appropriate strategies such as requests for toys rather than attempts to just grab toys.

Conversely, not having strong emotional bonds with caregivers increases the risk of problem behaviour at home and difficulties with academic subjects at school. Researchers of a recent UK study observe that children without a strong emotional bond to their parent(s) by the age of 3 years, are at risk for social and emotional problems (e.g., aggressive behaviours, deliquency, depression) later in life.

Encourage children to experience challenges early
Help your children explore the world for themselves. A new study found that teenagers who experienced challenges on a 10-day youth sailing “Outward Bound” experience were more resilient after the experience and more resilient than a control peer group studying an academic course. Telling your children to try harder also makes them willing to work harder, a new study suggests.

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