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Life Skills

Back to School: Fostering Social & Emotional Development

Connection is an important part of childhood, and adults play a crucial role in nurturing a child’s social and emotional development. As children head back to school, here are a few suggestions for helping foster that development:

1. Help Build Peer Relationships

Talk to children about how to:

  • Be a good friend
  • Cooperate and work together
  • Take turns
  • Listen and communicate clearly
  • Help others

Role play how to talk to friends in different situations. For example, teach children to say, “May I please have a turn with that toy?” or “It’s time to clean up. Would you help me put away these blocks?

Read books* that focus on these themes, model kindness, empathy, compassion, and helpfulness at home, and take time to recognize and point out children’s good behavior. Positive reinforcement boosts children’s self-confidence and will encourage them to repeat these behaviors.

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2. Choose Kindness

Simple acts of kindness can be life changing—and we all have the power to make that kind of difference. Instilling the value of kindness in children and teaching them friendly habits from a young age will go a long way towards making the world a better place.

Download our Choose Kindness printable and discuss each of the actions shown on the cut outs. Ask children, “Is this action kind or is it unkind?” Then help them sort the scenarios into the correct column. 

Probe a little more by asking, “What makes this action kind or unkind?” If it’s unkind, “What do you think they could’ve done differently? What would you have done in this situation?” Try role playing some of the scenarios or continue the discussion by coming up with other things to add to the chart. 

3. Teach Conflict Resolution

Just as learning how to develop and maintain healthy peer relationships is an important skill to teach young children, so is teaching them how to manage conflict when it arises … because it will! 

  • Role play a tricky situation. Give children a chance to do it all over again but in a different way. Ask questions like, “What would you do next time? Why don’t we practice that? How did it feel this time?”
  • Discuss self-regulation strategies. Offer children the tools they need to calm their minds and bodies. We specifically love: breathing techniques, finding a quiet place to reflect, drawing in a notebook, reading a book, or going for a walk. Encourage children to talk to a trusted adult if they are upset and need support.
  • Normalize conflict. Remind children that conflict is a normal part of life, at any age! When conflict occurs, and children problem solve on their own, be sure to praise them and give lots of positive reinforcement. 

Laying a foundation of social and emotional development is perhaps the most important role we have as parents and educators. 

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Playful Learning Field Guides

Grab these handy field guides on your way to park or walk around the block. Add a basket for collecting and a magnifying glass for observing you are set for a memorable outdoor adventure