I had a great conversation with a pre-school teacher last week. We discussed the importance of children’s emotional and social health. She was telling me that in a pre-school or even reception classroom, some of the three to five year old children are such fun – they smile, laugh, and giggle during free play; are really interested about what happens next during story time; ask lots of questions while doing crafts and activities; and use words (and expressions of course) to express feelings and needs.
She told me that she went into the area where they have all the toys and one little boy – let’s call him Johnny was playing with his friend Dillon. She saw them both go to grab for a bright red toy car. She wondered what the outcome was going to be? Would they both go to grab it?
Johnny says, “Can I please have it first, then you have it after me?”
Dillon said: “You can have it for five minutes and then I’ll have it for five minutes.”
I know that we would all LOVE our children to behave like this but how do they learn this kind of social awareness and kindness? Children who are emotionally and socially healthy tend to display and continue to develop, several different behaviours:
1) They listen and follow directions
2) They have close relationships with their teachers and friends
3) They care about friends and teachers
4) They can manage their own emotions
5) They usually show empathy for others
6) They are able to compromise and play well with others
Children’s social and emotional health affects their psychological development. It has been proved that children who are mentally and emotionally healthy, tend to be happier, show an eagerness to learn, they have a much more positive attitude toward school, more participating in class, and show higher academic performance than less mentally healthy children. Children who show social and emotional difficulties usually tend to have difficulty following directions and participating in group activities.
As a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in children’s emotional problems, I can usually tell within the first 30 minutes or so whether or not a child has been taught social and emotional skills at home and at school. Children’s social and emotional health is just as important as their physical health, and affects their ability to develop and therefore the chance of them leading a really good, fulfilling life.
Young children learn and develop from building relationships. It’s really important for the child to have a good trusting relationship with his/her teacher. Those who do have good rapport with their teacher, are normally more willing to ask questions, try new tasks, and express their thinking than their peers who don’t have such a good relationship with the teacher.
Showing empathy towards another child is also a good sign that the child is socially healthy. Perhaps if little Johnny falls over and cuts his knee – Dillon might say “ Don’t cry Johnny, I’ll go and get the teacher, here – take my teddy to hold!” Affection and warmth towards children are so important, even on bad days and when children are misbehaving!
But How Can I Help my Child at Home?
Many parents ask me this. Here are a few things I would suggest:
- Actively LISTEN to your child. When you are spending time at home with him or her, put your phone away! Listen to what he is telling you that happened at school. Repeat back to him what he says i.e Johnny says: “Mummy, Mrs Smith was very pleased with me today. She said my writing is so much better now and she gave me a star!” so, you repeat back “Wow! Mrs Smith gave you a star for having great hand-writing? That is so good – I am SO proud of you sweetheart!”
- Spend quality one to one time with your child, doing something he or she wants to do. This is SO important and it doesn’t have to take up the whole day/afternoon! You can spend half an hour with your child, reading, watching, something or making something and that will really make a difference to his self-worth.
- Give effective praise! It’s so important to praise a child when they have done something well (even if they haven’t done it that well!) Giving praise will boost a child’s confidence and certainly help him to grow a healthy growth mindset!
- Read with your child: ask meaningful questions such as:: “What do you think the characters are feeling?,” “How would you sort the problem out?,” “Can you use words from the story to explain how you feel when you do that . . .?,” “What could we do differently if this happens with us at home?” These questions help children to talk about their own experiences and helps them practice social and emotional skills.
- If your child is fighting with a sibling over a toy – for example ; Dillon grabs a car from Johnny – Johnny cries and has a tantrum, if you come down to the child’s level and say calmly “ Johnny was still playing with that car Dillon and when you snatched it away from him like that he got really upset, what do you think you could have done differently? Hopefully Dillon will say that he should have ASKED if he could share the car instead of snatching it! However, if he doesn’t, you could try: “Perhaps you could say you are sorry now, but next time maybe you could ask if you could share the toy? “ By teaching your child these behaviours with their siblings at home you will find that they will behave nicely in school as well.
- Getting children to model good behaviour! Children learn by observing. In fact, we all do! If your child sees mum and dad behaving badly – naturally he is going to copy. Not only is this really embarrassing for you as a parent but its really not helping your child grown into a happy, well behaved child with an emotionally healthy mindset!
Carers and parents who prioritize developing children’s social and emotional health are rewarded with happy, socially acceptable children who learn to avoid and resolve conflicts, share and take turns, and express their emotions in such a way that they don’t hurt or offend others. Social and emotional health in your child is SO important – make a point of teaching him/her every day!
At my two clinics I run therapy programmes for children to learn social and emotional skills. If the parents are also teaching the child at the same time its even better as the child thinks “Oh – it’s not just mum and dad that are telling me these things, its others as well so it must be right! (That’s what one boy said to me anyway! Lol!)