How to Strengthen Social & Emotional Competence in Young Children

Social and emotional development during a child's early years set the stage for how he will express emotions and develop relationships for the rest of his life. While genetics predispose children to behave in certain ways, as noted in a June 2010 article, a child learns how to interact with others from the people in his environment 1. The way in which parents, caregivers and even older siblings model emotions and social behaviors has a direct impact on the level of social and emotional competence a child develops.

Show affection and love. Healthy parenting takes time and emotional strength. Bonding early with a child, according to the Head Start website, enables parents to better understand, communicate and respond in a nurturing way. Social and emotional competence begins in infancy as babies learn to trust those around them. Meeting your child's needs gently and patiently helps develop and strengthen the parent-child bond, forming an attachment that is necessary for healthy emotional development.

Model appropriate emotional responses. From birth, all areas of development, especially social and emotional growth, are affected by environmental influences. Children mimic and emulate the behavior of those around them. Expressing emotions constructively, according an article from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, is one way to model healthy expression of emotions. Reacting calmly and rationally, even in the most challenging of situations, not only diffuses negative emotions, but also teaches children to do the same.

Give your child the freedom to make mistakes in a safe environment. If your child responds inappropriately, such as by hitting a friend who tries to take a toy, use the difficult situation to help your child learn from his error. Once your child calms, privately talk to him about what he did and offer solutions to cope with conflict, like taking a deep breath or counting to 10, to give him some tools to develop social and emotional competence. Giving children the opportunity to talk through the emotional process, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, helps them identify the proper response.

Reinforce positive behaviors. Noticing when your child has good manners, handles a difficult situation appropriately, or shows care and concern for others are ways you can encourage positive emotional reactions. When parents recognize healthy expression of emotions, children learn the benefit of choosing proper responses -- and challenging times typically become fewer and more manageable.


Children with emotional or physical disabilities may not respond as quickly or appropriately to proactive parenting techniques. If your child is struggling in this area, open communication with his school counselor, or explore other community resources to get the assistance you need to foster healthy emotional growth.