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Teaching social emotional skills during daily routines

This article is Part 2 of a Parenting Now’s two-part series on social emotional development. Read Part 1 at registerguard.com/topics/parenting-now

Parents of young children are all-too familiar with tantrums and meltdowns. These generally occur when a toddler doesn’t have the language or problem-solving skills to articulate their needs and work through them.

Challenging behavior such as yelling, running away, throwing objects, hitting and kicking are ways that some young children may react to problems when they lack the skills to handle them in any other way. These challenging behaviors often begin in the toddler and preschool years. They can persist into the elementary years and beyond if children do not have supportive relationships or receive instruction and practice to learn the skills they need to effectively cope with the stresses of life.

But when a young child learns to name their strong emotions, they are using vocabulary to regulate a feeling — and this can prevent it from getting bigger. And when a child knows that there can be many solutions to solve problems, they are developing problem-solving skills that help them to approach challenges with more flexibility.

Parents, teachers and other caregivers can teach and support a child’s social skills during routine activities at home and at school:

  • Use words to describe your own feelings and the feelings of your child: “I see you feel frustrated when your blocks keep falling down.”
  • Talk out loud about how to solve a problem: “I’m going to put on my gloves to keep my hands warm when I rake the leaves” or “I’m going to call a friend to help me.”
  • Use safe strategies to cope with frustrations: “I need to take a few deep breaths to calm my body first” or “I need to take a break.”

Creating predictable home routines and expectations

Children benefit from caregivers who set up their homes by planning a daily schedule of routines and activities that are developmentally appropriate and by teaching rules/expectations that are important to their family. Young children, just like most adults, benefit from having a daily schedule that is predictable. When children know what to expect, they are more secure and less likely to use behaviors that are challenging. The daily schedule may need to be adjusted for times when new events or changes occur.

Often, when caregivers use pictures to show children their daily schedule, children track and follow the routine with more independence and will reference it across the day.

Identify and teach the age-appropriate rules you expect your child to follow at home, school and community activities. Effective rules are ones that are kept to a minimum (three to five rules per setting) and only cover primary concerns such as:

  • “We put toys away when finished playing with them.”
  • “We use an inside voice in the house.”
  • “We have fun.”

The rules should be worded positively and have a picture to represent them.

Pre-teaching rules prepares children to follow and understand them. Other tip for rules/expectations include:

  • Have your child help come up with the rules.
  • Avoid talking about rules only when they’ve been broken.
  • Praise your child when they follow the rules.
  • Post rules at your child’s eye level.
  • Inform relatives, family friends, and other caregivers of your rules.

While all children can benefit from these steps, some children will do better with a little extra support if they have a developmental delay, disability, medical condition and/or family and home variables.

As professionals working with young children with challenging behaviors, we see the strength and resilience that families demonstrate day after day. There are many community programs in Lane County that can assist children and families: Early Childhood CARES, Parenting Now, Bridgeway House, Relief Nursery, Oregon Family Support Network, the ARC, and Connect the Dots. Parents can find ideas for more developmentally appropriate activities at asqoregon.com

Natalya McComas, MS, is a behavior consultant and Jeanie Smith, Ph.D, is a school psychologist at Early Childhood CARES.

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