By supporting your children's personal, social and emotional development you will be giving them the essential support they need to be successful in life and in learning. Research shows that the strong bonds that you as parents form with your child, from the moment he or she is born, will provide the foundation for future health and happiness.
For young children, personal development is all about how they begin to understand who they are and what they can do. Social development is about how they understand themselves in relation to other people, how they make friends, behave towards other people and begin to understand the rules of society. Emotional development is about how children begin to appreciate their own feelings and the feelings of others. By being able to look at things from another person's point of view, young children develop a sense of empathy which is essential for building and sustaining relationships and friendships.
From the moment they are born babies are tuned in to building relationships with the adults around them. They look for eye contact and make gestures, movements and sounds to try to engage with the adults around them. The interactions which young babies have with other people and with their environment has an important influence on their developing brains. When babies learn that they can depend on and trust an adult who always respond to their needs in a sensitive and loving way, they develop what is known as a secure attachment. A secure attachment will support the baby's emotional, social and intellectual development, helping him or her to grow into a strong, confident toddler and pre-school child.
As children model their behaviour on what they see other people do it is important to think about how you react in different situations and reflect on the messages which your child will pick up from this. Are you good at demonstrating the value of teamwork? Do you keep trying until you master something, or do you give up easily? It is also important to make time to listen to your child and take note of what he or she has to say as by doing this you will be building his or her self-esteem and sense of self-worth, as well as encouraging language development.
In an early years setting, key person working recognises the importance of making sure your child feels emotionally secure while away from his or her family. The key person is there to ‘look out for your child' and provide a consistent, friendly face that a child can turn to whenever he or she feels in need of some extra reassurance or help. The key person is also there to provide a firm link between the your child's family and the early years setting, providing information and acting as a listening ear when needed.
Ideas to use with children of different ages
Supporting young children's personal, social and emotional development often involves just capitalising on simple everyday opportunities as they arise.
Ideas for the under-twos
- Take time to have conversations with your child, even before he or she can talk. Make eye contact, smile and remember that a conversation is a two-way process so you need to leave plenty of time for your child to respond.
By paying attention to your child's attempts to communicate you will be building his or her self-esteem by showing that you feel that what they think or say is important.
- When introducing solid food, let your child have a spoon of their own so they can begin to master the skill of eating. Provide a range of finger foods that your baby can select from and eat independently.
Encouraging independence and providing lots of opportunities to master self-care skills will build your child's confidence and feelings of self-worth.
- As babies get older and become more mobile, look for ways to help them understand how to keep themselves safe and avoid danger. Talk to them and point out what the consequences of what their actions might be rather than simply saying ‘no'.
Encouraging children to take responsibility for their own safety can start at an early age and is an important part of building self-awareness and self-esteem.
Ideas for two- to three-year-olds
- Try to plan opportunities for your child to spend time in the company of other adults and young children - at a parent and toddler group of ‘drop-in' session, for example.
Learning how to relate to other people - adults and children - is an essential social skill.
- Encourage your child to make choices - over clothes, food or the activities they are involved in. Although this is not always possible, try to do this whenever you can.
By making their own choices young children will be developing their sense of identity and will also learn that we have to take responsibility for the consequences of our choices.
- Talk to your child about feelings and how we are affected by the behaviour of other people. Help them to talk about what makes them happy, sad, angry or upset.
Talking about feelings give children the language to express themselves and to begin to manage their own behaviour.
Ideas for four- and five-year-olds
- Encourage your child to take responsibility for doing some simple household chores such as cleaning up their bedroom or helping to put the washing away.
Playing one's part and contributing to the success of a larger project develops an understanding of value of teamwork.
- Play games that involve turn-taking and following simple rules. These could be traditional games or ones you have made up yourselves. Encourage your child to make up some rules for a game that everyone (including them) has to stick to.
Developing self-management skills and learning how to participate in a larger group activity are very useful skills for life.
- Encourage your child to learn new skills - using scissors or tying laces, for example. Avoid the temptation to do things for them all the time, even though it may be quicker.
Being able to do things independently develops self-esteem and builds a feeling of confidence about how to handle the world.
- When children are trying something out for the first time be encouraging and help them to keep on trying until they master the skills they need.
Resilience, the ability to keep on trying until you are successful, is an essential skill for life - for everyone!