What Is Social and Emotional Development in Preschoolers?

Reviewed on 6/29/2021

social and emotional development in your preschooler
Fostering the social and emotional development in your preschooler is crucial to their mental well-being

During the first few years of a child’s life, the brain develops at a rapid pace. As a child grows from toddler to preschooler, their social and emotional development grows as well. Social and emotional development includes a child’s experiences, expression, management of emotions, and ability to establish positive relationships with people around them.

Preschoolers can be divided into two brackets based on age:

A 3- to 4-year-old preschooler will probably:

  • Use words to express when they feel sad, happy, excited, or angry
  • Realize that they should apologize when they have done wrong
  • Feel like sharing things with people around them, although not all the time

A 4- to 5-year-old preschooler will probably:

  • Use words to express complex feelings such as frustration, annoyance, embarrassment, guilt, and jealousy
  • Not tell the truth when they feel embarrassed or scared
  • Be better in managing strong emotions such as anger and have fewer tantrums
  • Be kind to friends and family and want to help them more
  • Try hard to follow their parents’ instructions

How can parents foster healthy social and emotional development in young children?

Teach self-regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to manage behavior and reactions to feelings and situations. Learning self-regulation is critical for children to be able to handle their emotions or impulses in socially appropriate ways. Self-regulation means your child is able to:

  • Focus on a task
  • Refocus attention on a new task
  • Control impulses
  • Learn how to display empathy and sympathy to get along with other people
  • Regulate reactions to emotions such as frustration or excitement
  • Calm down after something exciting or upsetting happens

Here are tips for helping your child learn self-regulation:

  • Help your child understand rules and expectations of a given situation. Explain that not all impulses are bad, but that there is a right place and time to give into those impulses.
  • Teach your child tools to manage their emotions:
  • Help your child to learn how to take deep breaths to calm themselves down.
  • Help your child learn how to vent their emotions in a healthy way.
  • Set clear expectations for behavior. For example, you can remind them that you expect them to use their words to express their feelings instead of screaming or stomping.
  • Praise your child when they show self-control and self-regulate.

Encourage social skills

Making friends at this age is an important part of a child’s social development. As children make friends and play games with them, they learn things such as waiting for their turn, as well as sharing and cooperating with others.

Teach your child how to be a good friend by talking to them about who they play with and how they play with them. Use family mealtimes to model skills such as listening and asking questions, and give your child opportunities to practice them.  

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References
Social and emotional development for preschoolers. https://www.education.vic.gov.au/parents/child-development/Pages/preschoolers-social-emotional.aspx

Social-Emotional Development Domain. https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/itf09socemodev.asp

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