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If you’ve clicked on this blog post, you’ve been thinking about how to teach social emotional skills to preschoolers in your care. I’m so happy you are here! Social-emotional skills, such as self-regulation, empathy, communication, friendship skills, conflict resolution and problem solving, play such an important role in a preschooler’s overall development. As educators, carers and parents, we know that social emotional learning needs to be at the heart of all we do with our preschoolers. However, sometimes it’s tough to figure out how to effectively teach those skills to our young learners.

Research shows that these skills are fundamental for building positive relationships, managing emotions, making responsible decisions, and succeeding academically and in all other areas of life. 

Blog title image for how to teach social emotional skills to preschoolers
Discover the importance of nurturing social-emotional skills in preschoolers and explore fun and effective strategies and activities to support their growth.

In this blog post, I will delve into the importance of nurturing social-emotional skills in your preschoolers and provide practical strategies and activities for educators, parents and caregivers to support their growth. 

Before I jump into how we can effectively teach social emotional skills to preschoolers, I wanted to share with you my latest free resource I’m so excited about … click on the image below to download this free Size of the Problem vs Reaction Game, that reinforces the concept of Size of the Problem. Help your students practice recognizing that not all problems are the same and that our reactions will differ accordingly. 

Why are Social Emotional Skills Important?

Early childhood is a critical period for the development of social-emotional skills in children. During the preschool years, children are actively learning how to interact with others, express their emotions, and regulate their behavior. 

Nurturing these skills at this stage sets the stage for future social competence and emotional well-being. Children who possess strong social-emotional skills are better equipped to handle challenges, form positive relationships, and thrive in various social settings.

Preschoolers who lack adequate social-emotional skills may struggle with understanding and managing their own emotions, conflict resolution, empathy, and understanding others’ perspectives. By focusing on fostering these skills early on, we can help children build a strong foundation for healthy social interactions, emotional resilience, and overall well-being. Research indicates that social-emotional competence in early childhood is linked to positive outcomes in adolescence and adulthood, including better academic performance, improved mental health, and stronger relationships.

Investing in the social-emotional development of preschoolers not only benefits the individual child but also contributes to creating a more compassionate and empathetic society. It is so important that we prioritize these skills in early education, so that we can nurture our children’s innate capacity for empathy, cooperation, and emotional intelligence.

Key Social Emotional Skills to Develop in Preschoolers

Here’s a bit more detail about the key social-emotional skills which are crucial for healthy overall development of our preschoolers. 

  1. Self-regulation, the ability to identify and manage emotions and behavior in different situations, is essential for navigating social interactions and learning experiences. 
  2. Empathy, the capacity to understand and share others’ feelings, fosters positive relationships and conflict resolution skills. 
  3. Effective communication enables children to express themselves clearly and listen to others, promoting effective social interactions.
  4. Problem-solving skills empower preschoolers to think critically, make decisions, and resolve conflicts independently. 
  5. Responsible decision making which helps children look at a situation, analyze what is happening with a curious and open-mind then identify possible solutions for these problems.
Infographic for 5 key social emotional skills to develop in preschoolers

By honing these foundational social-emotional skills, children not only enhance their interpersonal relationships but also improve their academic performance and overall well-being. Encouraging the development of these skills through intentional activities and positive role modeling sets children up for success in school and beyond.

As educators, parents, and caregivers, it is essential to provide opportunities for preschoolers to practice and refine these social-emotional skills in various contexts. 

By incorporating activities that promote self-awareness, emotional regulation, empathy, and effective communication into daily routines, we can help children build a strong social-emotional foundation that will serve them throughout their lives.

How to teach social emotional skills to preschoolers in fun and effective ways

As educators, we play a vital role in supporting the social-emotional development of our preschoolers. Creating a safe and nurturing environment where children feel valued and respected is the first step in promoting these skills.

Establishing clear expectations for behavior, explicitly teaching social emotional skills, and modeling positive social interactions are effective ways to cultivate social-emotional competence in our young learners.

In addition to that, here are some fun and effective ways to teach these vital social emotional skills to our young learners:

  1. Role-play

a. Role-play common scenarios or problems they may encounter.  Unleash the power of social scenarios in your classroom using scenarios like conflict resolution scenarios, fairness scenarios, kindness scenarios or big problem little problem scenarios to promote discussions focused on specific social skills you want to target. Here is my Kindness Scenarios FREEBIE if you want to add them to your unit on Kindness.

b. Have a dramatic play area in your classroom. Acting allows our preschoolers to try and make sense of real-life situations. They can explore, investigate and experiment from a safe distance. Students will need to collaborate with their peers and learn to empathize and understand other perspectives. Every preschool classroom NEEDS to have a dramatic play area for their students. So much learning and processing happens in that area!

c. Role-play a problem and your students have to tell you the Size of the Problem. This could be extended by discussing possible solutions for the problem as well.  Another variation on this is a fun freebie game I have called Size of the Problem vs Reaction. Pick a problem card then pick a reaction card, then act it out, no matter if the reaction doesn’t seem to match the problem. This will lead to some giggles, however at the same time, leads to memorable discussions around our reactions to problems. For example, you break a pencil and throw yourself on the floor acting very upset! If this sounds like something you’d like to try, download it here.

Image of doll house
Example of tabletop or small world dramatic play

d. Tabletop/ Small World Dramatic Play – Create tabletop role-play opportunities for your students to move characters around while interacting with each other. So many beautiful opportunities to play out different real life situations your students may be encountering. I have been witness to scenarios exploring death, family breakdowns, new babies coming into families, conflict resolutions and marriages. 

2. Create opportunities for collaboration:

a. Cooperative drawing – this could be organized in a few different ways where you have one large drawing sheet at the easel where two children are encouraged to work on together or you could pass a large sheet of paper around the circle and each child adds to it until it makes it’s way around the whole group.

b. Cooperative challenges – pose a problem or challenge where students have to work together to figure it out. For my young students, cooperative block building is the way to go. Have children work in pairs or groups of 3 to build a luxury home for a basket of animals you provide them.

Image for collaborative play

c. Cooperative physical games – Play the game ‘Islands’ which you will need one hula hoop for every 3 children. You then spread the hoops around and play some music. When the music stops, every child must step in a hoop and each hoop must contain at least 3 children. They will need to cooperate and hold onto each other to fit inside a hoop. So much fun!

3. Reading & responding to picture books – If you are a regular to my blog, you will know how much I love picture books! Picture books are such a valuable tool in helping children explore different social emotional learning concepts.  They are my first port of call when I am thinking about how to introduce a concept and to generate a discussion. Story books offer a safe space for children to explore their emotions and fears, providing them with relatable characters and empowering storylines. I have an extensive list in this blog post if you are looking for ideas …  50 Social Emotional Development Picture Books

4. Participate in community events – Through participating in community events where your students can help others or be of service to the community, you will be able to reinforce empathy and perspective taking within your classroom. There are celebrations such as kindness week, random acts of kindness week, International Friendship Day, Earth Day or Be Kind to Animals Week that would really get your students involved in helping others. If you are looking for more ideas, check out this blog post that includes 11 fun kindness holidays to help promote kindness in your classroom. 

5. Play games – Preschoolers love it when we make learning fun. Through games we can easily teach and reinforce so many social skills. 

a. Turn Taking – Sit and play a simple board game or card game with your students. 

b. Managing impulses – Play games such as Simon says or Red Light Green Light.

This Would You Rather Questions BUNDLE focuses on the SEASONS (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring) and will get your students thinking and talking about what they prefer.

c. Identifying how others might be feeling or reading facial expressions – Play emotions charades. One player acts out a certain emotion and the other players must guess which feeling is being portrayed. 

d. Accepting differences in others – Play would you rather. Give your students two options and they must choose one and give an explanation why if possible.This gives insight into individual preferences and values and allows your students to see that it’s ok to have or like different things. If you would like 100+ Would You Rather Questions for Preschoolers, I’ve got a blog post here.

e. Ice Breaker Games – Play ice breaker games to get your students connecting. A fun game to play is called A Great Wind Blows. Have your students sit in a circle and the “Caller” calls out, “A great wind blows for everyone who …” Fill in the blank with things like, “had cereal for breakfast or has a baby at home.” If this sounds like fun, I’ve got some fun ice-breaker games and getting to know you activities in my First Week of School Activities resource.     

 6. Photography or picture drawing exercise – To encourage your students to start seeing things from a different perspective, have them take photos from the perspective of someone or something else. For example, from the perspective of their baby sister, pet dog, their parents or grandparent. 

You could also invite your students to draw a picture from the point of view of a bird or an ant. 

They all Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel is an awesome book that shows us the many views of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see.

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel: Read aloud

The Role of Parents and Caregivers in Fostering Social Emotional Development

Parents and caregivers are essential partners in nurturing the social-emotional skills of preschoolers. The home environment plays a significant role in shaping children’s social interactions, emotional regulation, and communication patterns. By modeling positive behaviors, demonstrating empathy, and providing a supportive and loving atmosphere, parents can instil valuable social-emotional lessons in their children.

Engaging in open communication, active listening, and problem-solving discussions with preschoolers fosters their ability to express emotions, seek help when needed, and navigate conflicts constructively. Encouraging autonomy, independence, and self-reflection empowers children to develop self-regulation skills and take ownership of their emotions and behaviors. Establishing consistent routines, boundaries, and expectations helps create a sense of security and stability that is essential for social-emotional growth.

Collaborating with educators to reinforce social-emotional learning at home and school creates a cohesive approach to supporting children’s development. Sharing insights on children’s strengths, challenges, and progress allows parents and teachers to work together to provide a holistic and integrated support system for the child. By aligning efforts and resources, parents and educators can maximize the impact of social-emotional learning on the child’s overall well-being and success.

Assessing and Monitoring Social Emotional Skills in Preschoolers

Assessing and monitoring your students social-emotional skills is crucial for identifying areas of strength and areas needing improvement. Observing children’s interactions, emotional responses, and problem-solving abilities provides valuable insights into their social-emotional development and will give you all the information you need to plan appropriate SEL lessons.

Engaging in ongoing communication with parents, caregivers, and other professionals involved in your students’s care ensures a comprehensive understanding of the child’s social-emotional needs. Collaborating to develop individualized plans and strategies tailored to the child’s unique strengths and challenges promotes a holistic approach to supporting social-emotional growth. 

Creating a supportive and inclusive environment where children feel safe to express themselves, seek help, and engage in social interactions is essential for promoting healthy social-emotional development. By fostering a culture of empathy, acceptance, and respect, educators and caregivers lay the groundwork for children to thrive emotionally, socially, and academically.

Conclusion: Building a Strong Foundation in Social Emotional Learning

Investing in social-emotional learning in the early years is everything!! It sets our students up on a path to becoming socially competent, resilient, and compassionate individuals.

Through intentional strategies, activities, and resources, we can create an environment that promotes healthy social-emotional development and emotional well-being in our preschoolers. By collaborating and aligning efforts to support children’s social-emotional growth, we can lay a strong foundation for their future success and happiness.

With this blog post, you will never have to think, “How to teach social emotional skills to preschoolers?” again.

If you found this blog post helpful, please share this post with your teacher friends!

Want more ideas on how to teach social emotional skills in your classroom? These blog posts have lots of ideas:

Creating a positive learning environment: What does SEL look like in the classroom

How to Effectively Support Social Emotional Development in the Classroom

With 18 classroom resources to teach Friendship Skills to your preschoolers, you will have all you need to support your young learners as they develop those skills needed for healthy relationships!

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Hi! Welcome to Spark Interest with Sara!

I am a preschool teacher, a curriculum designer, a course creator and a mum to a gorgeous boy who keeps me on my toes! 

Creating and sharing inspiring educational resources and courses for teachers and parents is my passion! I wake up every day excited to be able to be part of nurturing young minds and hearts! 

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