Building social-emotional skills in children

Building social-emotional skills

The most important skills we teach in the early years are social-emotional ones – like kindness, sharing, and self-regulation.

Children who are socially and emotionally healthy tend to demonstrate, and continue to develop, several important behaviours and skills. They are more likely to form good relationships, care about others, recognise and manage their own emotions, understand others’ emotions, and show empathy.

According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child, “When children are interconnected, in tune with others, and have the capacity to be reflective, it increases empathy and understanding for the self and others. The ability to be reflective and to understand the self and others is what builds resiliency.”

Progression through the early years

At around 3-4 years of age, a child is likely to:

  • feel generous and show an understanding of sharing, but might not share all the time
use words to describe basic feelings like sad, happy, angry and excited
understand if they have done something ‘wrong’ and feel sorry

At 4-5 years of age, child is likely to:

use words to describe more complex feelings like frustration, annoyance and embarrassment
  • hide the truth about something if they feel frightened, embarrassed or guilty
be better at managing strong emotions like anger, frustration and disappointment

By the age of 5, a child is likely to:

use words to describe complex feelings like guilt and jealousy
  • be more aware of their feelings towards others and act on them with kindness and empathy
try hard to follow the rules to avoid getting in trouble


To boost social-emotional skills in children there are lots of activities you can do with them, such as:

  • Reading books – hearing stories about characters can help children empathise and relate (here’s a list of our recommendations)
  • Starting each day with a check-in helps them identify their emotions
  • Listening games like “Simon Says” allow children to practice listening carefully
  • Simple yoga poses help them learn how to control their bodies when emotions are running high
  • Create a special share box that children can decorate, for items that can be shared like instruments, toys and games.


We can also help by:

  • Showing respect and care to each other and ourselves
  • Giving effective praise and modeling appropriate behaviour
  • Listening with full attention to what children are saying and taking the time to answer fully
  • Showing warmth and affection.

Teaching social-emotional skills is clearly an investment of time for parents and caregivers, and something we focus on heavily at Wild.Kind.

Efforts are richly rewarded with engaged, happy, empathetic and kind children who express their emotions in productive ways.

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