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Promoting social and emotional development and preventing problems caused by maladaptive development
is clearly important to individuals and to society, but how do those socio-emotional skills develop?
They begin with the relationships children form with the people around them, including parents, caregivers,
and peers.
The Role of Parents
Parents and families play an enormous role in shaping a child’s social and emotional development. Early
relationships with parents lay the foundation on which social competency 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 viewpoints; express pride in their accomplishments; and provide encouragement and support during
times of stress.36 This support greatly increases the likelihood that children will develop early emotional
competence, will be better prepared to enter school, and less likely to display behavior problems at
home and at school.37 This is why many preschool programs include a focus on parent involvement and
parenting education.
The Role of Teachers/Early Childhood Educators
Most children spend many hours each week in the care of someone other than their parents. These caregivers
play the same role in promoting social and emotional development as do parents when children
are young. Just as parents who are warm and responsive are more likely to promote strong social and
emotional skills in their children, so too are early childhood educators and teachers, which means that
the classroom environment must enable teachers the time to focus on individual children. Just as it is
important for a consistent attachment to form between a parent and child, so too is such an attachment
important for caregiver and child. That means that staff turnover in preschool programs should be kept
to a minimum.38, 39
The Role of Peers
Emotionally healthy children engage in positive play behaviors, develop mutual friendships, and are more
likely to find acceptance from their peers. Through their play, they learn how to work in teams and cooperate
with others. Their behavior and interactions influence the way in which teachers perceive them and
the way they are treated by their peers. As early as preschool, the relationships children develop with one
another can have a lasting impact on academic achievement, because they can contribute to more positive
feelings about school and eagerness to engage in classroom activities, which can, in turn, lead to higher
levels of achievement.40 Conversely, early rejection by peers has been associated with persistent academic
and social difficulties in elementary school.41 That is why it is important to have skilled preschool teachers
who can intervene when they see children having difficulties with peers and help the children learn how
to resolve conflicts, regulate emotion, and respond to the emotions of others.


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