Walk, Talk, Learn and Love

As part of Michigan’s Month of the Young Child, each week of April highlights an area of early childhood development. The second and third week focus on social and emotional development.

As parents, we all want our children to form friendships and be able to share and manage their emotions. These expectations are at the heart of a child’s social-emotional wellness. What children are feeling, what they should expect to receive from others and developing empathy provides the foundation for self confidence and healthy relationships.

This area of development can also greatly affect cognitive, physical and language development. When children lack social emotional skills, it interferes with their ability to explore, adjust to situations and express themselves.

Watching children interact with their environment can provide insight to their social and emotional skills. Children can have many different types of temperament. However, children with developed social skills are more able to express their feelings, manage their frustration, seek comfort and try new things.

From infancy, the greatest factor in children’s social-emotional development is the quality of the relationships that they develop with their parent or primary caregiver. Repeated responses from the parent or caregiver help achieve physical and emotional closeness and make a lasting impact on how they feel about themselves and how they interact with others.

The good news, according to the Michigan Great Start System Team Guide to Social and Emotional Health, is there are things parents can do every day to help their child learn these skills. Some of their suggestions include:

* Gently hold and cuddle your child often: Physical touch can also generate brain connections that will help them walk, talk, learn and love.

* Take time to follow your child’s lead: Join them in one-on-one play and talk about their activities. Really listening to your child makes them feel they are important to you.

* Be sure your expectations match what your child is socially and emotionally ready to do.

For example, if a parent asks a two year old to share, the child may refuse. With repeated requests, the child may feel bad about themselves and the parent may be angry. Being informed about social development at every age is important for parents to know.

*Take care of your own social-emotional health.

All parents can feel stressed out at times. If you are going through a difficult situation, it is important to seek the support you need. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your kids.

Ultimately, helping our young children develop and live happy, healthy lives filled with good relationships is a great way to get them ready to navigate their social world and to give them a hand up for success in school and in life.

Patti Borucki is the Co-Coordinator for the Wexford-Missaukee-Manistee Great Start Collaborative which is made up of parents, professionals, local agencies, and schools who are working together to promote and improve our local system of resources and supports for families with children ages birth to 8 years old.

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