[Ad] With so many big changes afoot it would be understandable – expected, even – for our little ones to display some challenging behaviour. As it happens, my two have continued to adapt fantastically well so far…but I’m anticipating some difficulties to come, and so I’ve gathered some social emotional learning activities for preschoolers and early years ideas we can try at home – before the need arises.
What Is Social-Emotional Development?
Social-emotional development is the process of gaining the necessary skills to make and maintain good relationships, and function within and contribute to society. Some of these critical social skills include:
- Communication skills,
- Empathy and compassion,
- Recognising, identifying, and processing emotions,
- Impulse control.
Many of these vital skills are picked up from parents and caregivers and practiced through role play, but we can help our young children to establish and finesse these competencies with activities designed for their success.
What Does Normal Social-Emotional Development Look Like?
You’ll likely be glad to know that it’s different for all children! As with most conversations about ‘normal’, there’s a wide spectrum.
Some young children are shy, others are boisterous, and more still are a combination of both depending on the circumstances – all normal. In much the same way, social development occurs at different rates and it’s entirely expected to find some children progressing more quickly than others, without it being any cause for concern.
For the most part, toddlers tend to prefer playing alone, moving on to side-by-side play as they get older. Cooperative play comes around preschool age when they begin to develop negotiating skills; sharing before this time is not developmentally appropriate, and may take until seven or eight – also normal!
When it comes to social emotional development, your child’s natural temperament will lay the foundations: some
children people feel things very deeply, and being highly sensitive inevitably leads to big emotions, which in turn makes processing and managing them more difficult.
If you feel your child could benefit from additional support with managing their feelings, BetterHelp has therapists specialising in different areas, including parenting, and may be able to assist.
This is where social emotional activities for preschoolers and reception age children can be hugely beneficial.
Personal, Social, and Emotional Development Activities For Early Years
All children have to learn to regulate their behaviour appropriately; it’s possibly one of the toughest skills they’ll learn – but it’s also one of the most rewarding for their wellbeing.
Equipping children with the tools to manage their impulses and exhibit a degree of control when they may feel out of control is one of our hardest jobs as parents. When we’re in the midst of a difficult phase it can be a daunting task, but future success and happiness are dependent upon learning these critical skills and strategies.
Keep in mind that encouraging a child to bury their feelings is not helpful and is not the goal; it’s about helping them to express and channel those big uncomfortable feelings in safe, appropriate, positive ways.
One of the most important ways we can support children in this area of development is through helping them to identify and label their feelings – and modelling appropriate reactions to those big emotions.
Today I’m sharing seven social-emotional activities for preschoolers and reception age kids, to help support this critical developmental phase and increase resilience in your children.
9 Social Emotional Learning Activities for Preschoolers
1. Preschool Books About Feelings
Reading with our children is one of the absolute best things we can do for them, and The Great Big Book About Feelings is ideal as a reference point for discussions about feelings.
The first couple of pages of the book show faces with different expressions and encourage children to determine and label what each character may be experiencing.
2. Children’s Yoga
I mentioned recently that Pixie has been enjoying following yoga workouts on YouTube, and we continue to promote this as it’s a fantastic way to help her calm after a long day at school. Yoga is wonderful for emptying the mind of stress and worry, and refocusing attention on the body’s senses, which also feeds into mindfulness. If meditation is your thing then yoga is a lovely precursor which goes hand in hand.
3. A Diary or Journal
Regularly filling out a diary or journal can be a really powerful way to help your child recognise, identify, process, and regulate their feelings.
I’ve had some problems with my little girl over the last couple of years in this regard, and in response I created a journal to help her, incorporating the things I thought would benefit her. The journal primarily consists of gratitude pages, because practising gratitude is an excellent way to promote positivity and wellbeing (read more here).
But sometimes kids just want to switch off and be absorbed in a mindful task, which is equally vital to their emotional development. For that reason I also included colouring pages and dot to dots. Take a closer look here:
My First Happy Journal
4. Feelings Flashcards
These are great for encouraging children to identify and name feelings, forging a deeper understanding of the language of emotions, but also with regards to what those feelings look like.
5. Magnetic Emotions Game
What child doesn’t love magnetic games? This is perfect for little creatives and teaches children how to ‘read’ facial expressions to understand what others are feeling – great for promoting empathy.
6. Exploring Feeling Words and Language
This can be as simple or novel as you wish to make it. The idea is simply to broaden your child’s vocabulary and comprehension of a range of words related to emotions. You could:
- Draw faces and describe them using as many synonyms as possible;
- Create a list of feeling words and sort them into positive and negative emotions;
- Write feeling words in bubble writing and have your child colour them in happy/sad/angry colours;
- Match faces with feeling words;
- Group feeling words together with their antonyms.
7. Emotions Board
Make your own or buy one which can be reused. This helps your child to show you how they feel if/when they’re struggling for the words. You could also talk about how their friends have been feeling at school that day to promote empathy.
8. Grouping Emotions With Behaviours
Using written feeling words and behaviour words, have your child group together which emotions drive which actions. This is a fantastic activity for helping your child to understand why their peers may behave in a certain way they don’t like, encouraging empathy – and also a perfect opportunity to teach more appropriate responses to difficult feelings.
9. Role Play
As I mentioned earlier, role play is hugely powerful for children. It allows them to explore feelings, responses, actions, and consequences in a non-threatening, safe environment. And much of what they do will be based around and influenced by what they see and experience, which is why the way we model coping strategies is so vital.
I hope these social-emotional activities for preschoolers and young children will help you to support your child with their emotional development; do you have any suggestions I’ve not made here?