Social and Emotional Development in Children.  Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.
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Social and Emotional Development in Children
Recognition of early social and emotional problems in toddlers and preschool children is necessary in achieving the best
developmental outcomes. Social and emotional difficulties persist over time and are very resistant to change. If left
untreated, early-onset conduct problems (aggression, rebellion, oppositional behaviors and emotional disturbances)
place children at high risk for frequent social and emotional difficulties, under achievement, school drop out, finally
delinquency, and later criminal offenses.

These children need help with academic skills, confidence, and social/emotional skills to succeed in school. They must
be able to understand the feelings of others, control their own feelings and behaviors, and get along with their peers and
teachers. Children need to be able to cooperate, follow directions, show self-control, and able to “pay attention.” During
brain development, early relationships and experiences can positively affect healthy development of future behaviors and
thought process.

Early detection and intervention of social and emotional problems can have a long-term impact on the developing child
in major areas. The development of emotional self-control and social ability in the early years plays a significant role in
determining the way children think, learn, react to obstacles, and develop relationships throughout their lives. When
children are young, the adults around them (parents, other adult caregivers, preschool teachers) are the most important
influences on their social and emotional development.

Problems with Social and Emotional Development

Your child will communicate with you in a variety of ways: talking, hugging, kissing, hitting, screaming, and crying.  
Each emotional expression tells you more about your child than the simple words he or she is speaking (or yelling).
Look for clues as to how your child is feeling, by paying attention to his or her expressions. Children who show a lot of
affection often feel that their needs are met and that you care for them.  On the other hand, a child that hits or bites, for
example, is having a difficult time expressing how he or she feels and should be given a chance to cope with his or her

Emotional behaviors begin with the relationships children build with the people around them, including parents,
caregivers, and peers. Persistent physical aggression, high-school dropout rates, adolescent delinquency, and antisocial
behavior have all been associated with early childhood conduct problems. The preschool years are a susceptible age for
learning to control anger. Children who display high levels of physical aggression in elementary school are at the highest
risk of engaging in violent behavior as adolescents.

One of the most important skills that children develop is self-control the ability to manage one’s behavior such as resist
impulses, maintain focus, and make positive decisions even if there are other more tempting options available. Self-
control motivates the ability to take on every task, so that it has a linking for not just how children get along with one
another but also to be attentive and learn in the classroom. Social and emotional development is important because it
contributes to cognitive development.

School Readiness in Children with Emotional/Social Behaviors

Preschool education can promote early development with lasting social and emotional benefits. Children with emotional
and social problems enter kindergarten unable to learn because they cannot pay attention, remember cause and effect,
or interact socially in a school setting. As a result there are a number of children who are hard to manage in the
classroom. These children cannot get along with others, follow directions, and are impulsive. They show hostility and
aggression in the classroom and on the playground. The problems begin before kindergarten in studies as many as 32
percent of preschoolers in Head Start programs have behavioral problems.

Children struggling with social and emotional skills means that teachers spend too much of their time trying to manage
unruly children and spend too little time teaching. Early childhood teachers report that they are extremely concerned
about growing classroom management problems, and that they are unprepared to handle them. Kindergarten teacher’s
report that more than half of their students come to school unequipped for learning academic subjects.

Furthermore, children may use problem behavior to get their needs met for a variety of reasons. For example, the child
may have language development problems, social/emotional delays, difficulties with peer interactions, or developmental
disabilities. If these problems are not addressed, the result can be increasing aggression, and behavioral problems.

Most children do not suffer from mental health problems. Their development from birth through adolescence is healthy.
As they grow and develop, children typically become flexible in dealing with multiple challenges. However, for some
children and adolescents, mental illnesses are very real. A combination of biological, behavioral, and environmental
factors place certain children and youth at greater risk than others for emotional and behavioral disorders that can range
from mild to severe, some long lasting. Incidence studies results that almost 21% of children, ages 9 to 17, meet the
criteria for a mental health diagnosis.

Social Rejection from Society

Social, emotional and behavioral health is an important part of a child’s health, well-being, and learning. For young
children, early childhood mental health is healthy social and emotional development. Researchers believe that children
with troublesome, disorderly behavior (poor social and emotional skills) are at risk for these potential problems for at
least three reasons:

•        Teachers find it harder to teach them, seeing them as less socially and academically capable, and therefore
provide them with less positive feedback.

•        Peers reject them, which cuts off an important opportunity for learning and emotional support.

•        Children faced with this rejection from peers and teachers tend to dislike school and learning, which leads to
lower school attendance and poorer outcomes.

Since difficult behavior shows itself early, before children begin kindergarten, the cycle of rejection and negative
experiences begins early, too. The early experience of rejection can have lasting emotional and behavioral impressions
beyond elementary school, creating a descending spiral that becomes difficult to reverse.

Schools play an essential role in promoting children’s social and emotional development because most children ages 5-
18 attend school, and because social and emotional well-being is essential to children’s ability to learn and succeed in
school. By integrating an emphasis on social-emotional learning in schools, students are better able to resolve social
interaction problems and prevent antisocial behavior, as well as to achieve positive academic outcomes.

Parents and Families Influence Social/Emotional Behavior

Parents and families play an influential role in a child’s social and emotional development. Early relationships with
parents are the basis on which social ability and peer relationships are built. Parents who support positive emotional
development interact with their children affectionately; show consideration for their feelings, desires and needs; express
interest in their daily activities; respect their opinions; express pride in their achievements; and provide encouragement
and guidance during times of stress. This support significantly increases the likelihood that children will develop early
emotional confidence, will be better prepared to enter school, and less likely to display behavior problems at home and
at school. This is why many preschool programs focus on parent involvement and parenting education.

Goals for improving social-emotional skills

•        Understand and talk about the child’s feelings.
•        Make the child aware of the views of others and realize that the other person’s feelings may be different from
his/her own feelings.
•        Teach the child to establish relationships with adults and maintain an ongoing friendship with at least one other
•        Allow the child to enter a group successfully such as soft-ball team, soccer game, etc.
•        Instruct the child to maintain an activity for a reasonable period of time with minimum adult supervision.

Emotional problems include a wide variety of conditions such as fears, social or school phobia, separation anxiety, and
depression. Young children may not recognize these feelings or be able to talk about them with others. Consequently
their anxieties may be expressed in a variety of symptoms including crying, clinging behavior, stomachaches,
headaches, irritability, and withdrawal. Depressed children may misbehave or even express their sadness in the form of
aggression and rage in their interactions with others. The goal of the treatment is help the parents understand how they
can help their children control their distress by teaching them social skills, problem solving and emotional terms so that
their children can identify and successfully manage their uncomfortable feelings.
Social and Emotional Development in Children