Children of preschool age are expected to not only learn to regulate their emotions and behaviours, they are also expected to form and sustain relationships with others, especially peers. This is one of the key reasons why it is important that children engage in as many social and emotional development activities in early childhood as possible.
Social and emotional competency can have both immediate and long-term consequences in the lives of children. With appropriate guidance from both parents and teachers, children can acquire skills that can not only navigate them successfully through school life, but also lead them across their entire adult life.
Social Skills Development
Note: The social milestones and activities are given separately for 3 – 4 year old, 4 – 5 year old, and 5-6 year old children.
Social Development Milestones for 3 Year Olds up to 4 Years
- They prefer to play alongside with very few other children, probably one or two.
- Their friendships are often short lived.
- They start learning how to share and take turns.
- May be able to voice their feelings using their language skills during conflicts.
- May sometimes resort to physical aggression, which is common during this stage.
Social Development Activities for 3 Year Olds up to 4 Years
- Plan various independent activities, the kind they can do alongside another activity.
- Organise dramatic play that requires cooperation, so that it necessitates and encourages interaction.
- Encourage friendships and read books to them that are about friendships.
- Encourage them to share their thoughts spontaneously. However, never compel them.
- Discourage physical aggression and model resolving conflicts by using language and negotiation skills.
Social Development Milestones for 4 Year Olds up to 5 Years
- They start showing interest in others and spend time watching them.
- Love to play together with two or three other children.
- Will need alone time now-and-then.
- The idea of friendship stems from their strong desire for playmates, and may evolve on an ongoing basis.
- May become jealous due to their friend’s/friends’ attention towards other children.
- May exclude other children into his/her own group to guard their ‘special’ friendships.
Social Development Activities for 4 Year Olds up to 5 Years
- Planning and facilitating various small child-directed group activities which lasts about 20 minutes.
- Providing time and space, and letting them know when and where they can go to be by themselves.
- Encouraging friendships by modelling and reading stories that feature good friendships.
- Intervene in case of behaviours related to jealousy or exclusion.
- Identify children who are neglected by their peers and pair them with other children’s play and activities.
Social Development Milestones for 5 Year Olds up to 6 Years
- They like cooperative play with one or two special friends.
- Love playing dramatic play with the others to act out new roles and show off in front of the new people.
- Able to develop and maintain friendships.
- Can understand the inconvenience and pain of exclusion and snubbing, and would therefore desire good friendship and respect from their peers.
Social Development Activities for 5 Year Olds up to 6 Years
- Organising classroom environment to facilitate cooperative play among the children.
- Providing time, space and props for a variety of play and games.
- Encouraging creative and dramatic play.
- Coaching, supervising and modelling pro-social behaviours among the children.
- Identifying children who lack play or social skills, and customise or adjust play activities to suit their needs.
- Acknowledge by using verbal encouragement to foster and recognise pro-social behaviour.
Note: By age 6, children will be able to socially mingle well with other children and demonstrate cooperation, understanding, taking turns and sharing behaviours.
Emotional Skills Development
Note: The emotional milestones and activities are given separately for 3 – 4 year old, 4 – 5 year old, and 5-6 year old children.
Emotional Development Milestones for 3 Year Olds up to 4 Years
- They gain to develop a sense of self concept.
- Are able to understand some of their own unique characteristics.
- Can describe key attributes about themselves.
- May tend to be more affectionate with the younger children.
- May continue to experience separation anxiety.
- Can express intense feelings such as fear and affection.
- May develop new fears during this stage.
Emotional Development Activities for 3 Year Olds up to 4 Years
- Encouraging and recognising their self-awareness and sense of self concept.
- Share their pride about who they are and respect them.
- Encouraging them to respect others, including peers.
- Helping them develop a firm sense of their language and culture.
- Encouraging them to verbalise their feelings by modelling a compassionate and caring behaviour.
- Respecting their feelings and comforting them with reassuring words whenever they are feeling low.
Emotional Development Milestones for 4 Year Olds up to 5 Years
- Are curious about differences and similarities in people and how they live.
- They are gradually but steadily developing empathy.
- Friendships are becoming longer lasting.
- They are becoming more capable of caring for themselves and taking responsibilities.
- Their ability to regulate their behaviour is also increasing day-by-day.
Emotional Development Activities for 4 Year Olds up to 5 Years
- Helping them understand similarities in people’s physical characteristics, family culture and traditions.
- Explain what differently-abled people means in an honest, subtle and tactful manner.
- Modelling respect and appreciation, so that differences or prejudice does not arise among the them.
- Displaying consideration and empathy with them.
- Appreciating when they demonstrate their understanding about how they feel when they are empathised.
- Allowing them to take up and handle responsibilities they are capable of.
- Encouraging them to regulate their own behaviour.
Emotional Development Milestones for 5 Year Olds up to 6 Years
- They discover differences and similarities between themselves and the others on an on-going basis.
- Same-sex friendships become stronger during this time, especially among boys.
- They may choose to participate in gentle stereotypical kind of activities.
- They continue to develop empathy.
- Start to take their responsibilities very seriously.
- Reliable, competent and independent to a certain extent.
- Quite capable of controlling and regulating their behaviour.
- Polite and well behaved with others.
- Still confused with fantasy and reality on certain occasions.
- May experience increased sense of intense feelings and fear due to enhanced imaginative skills.
Emotional Development Activities for 5 Year Olds up to 6 Years
- Providing information about different kinds of people and encouraging them to accept others’ differences.
- Planning a variety of activities that encourage play styles of both girls and boys.
- Facilitating them to accept and accommodate individual differences.
- Continue to model kindness and empathy.
- Discouraging them from excluding or snubbing others.
- If a child is snubbed, ask him/her to describe how it feels so that others understand what it means to be hurt.
- Design activities where they need to play the roles of helpers, assistants or any other role they like to perform.
- Reinforce their good behaviour by acknowledging and appreciating as and when they demonstrate.
- Listening to their concerns with attention and reassure them your support when they are afraid or scared.
- Limiting the exposure to media can benefit the child in more ways than one.
It becomes crucial that parents and teachers have a reasonably good understanding of these age-wise milestones, as only then can they appreciate the value of the social and emotional development activities in early childhood discussed above.
Most of all, they will be able to appreciate the long-term positive impact of these activities in the lives of children.
Once they have the long-term benefits, the necessary effort and action that need to go into planning, strategising and execution about how children need to be taught the socio-emotional skills will automatically fall in place.