Supporting children’s social–emotional development at an early age builds a solid foundation for their future, preparing children to successfully manage their emotions and behaviors, establish caring relationships with others, follow limits and expectations, and interact in groups. Studies show that children who learn social–emotional skills at school attain higher grades and do better on assessments than their peers who do not receive this support.
Teaching Strategies is committed to empowering and inspiring early childhood educators as they teach and care for our youngest learners. Each of these short videos highlights a different social–emotional skill-building strategy to implement in the classroom—from rules about safety and kindness to ways to build a positive classroom community.
Some children are able to express their wants and needs effectively during conflict; others need your help. To learn this skill, children must feel empowered to stand up for their rights, particularly when they feel threatened. With younger children, you can begin by teaching short, powerful words and phrases that they can use, such as “Stop!” or “I don’t like that.” Make sure you use a firm tone of voice to model it. Coupling the phrase with the physical motion of putting a hand up can help children remember the power words and gives them something respectfully physical to with their bodies in a conflict. Sometimes children resort to physical aggression as a protective, defensive strategy. Using that gesture feels protective without being hurtful to someone else.
All behavior has consequences. Using this concept to guide children’s behavior allows them to make connections between their actions and what happens in response. It’s important to relate the consequence to a child’s actions. For example, if a child dumps out a basket of crayons, it produces a related consequence: the child has to pick up the crayons and put them away. To limit power struggles, make sure to use a neutral tone of voice and keep the consequence directly related to the action.
Showing while telling involves talking with children about what they should do as you use gestures and other visual clues to show them. Make sure to stay focused on the positive—the “do” rather than the “don’t.” For example, you could touch the jackets as you say, “When we have finished putting our jackets on, then we can go outside.” You can also use this strategy to draw children’s attention to other people’s feelings. You could point to and look at Genessa’s face as you explain, “Look at Genessa’s face. Her frown tells you that she doesn’t like it when you push her.” Showing while telling is particularly helpful to children who need extra support to understand the meaning of your words.
All groups need a few basic rules to help create a safe and caring community. Every classroom should have three or four main rules. I call them the “big rules”:”be safe,” “be kind,” and “take care of property.” Young children need help to learn what those big concepts actually mean, and they most certainly will need reminders along the way to follow those classroom rules. So, when enforcing the rules, use the “big rule, little rule” strategy. Pair your big rule—”be kind,” for example—with a specific little rule you want them to know: “Be kind. Use a quiet voice in the Library area,” “Be safe. Walk inside,” or “Take care of our classroom. Put the puzzle back in the box when you are finished.” Make sure to keep the little rules framed in positive terms so children stay focused on what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.