Social emotional competence: an important protective factor – Part 6

Caregivers who assist children in understanding and communicating their emotions can nurture an important protective factor.

Parenting young children is not an easy task. It can be an experience full of opportunity and excitement, interrupted by days of uncertainty and difficult choices. The Center for the Study of Social Policy has identified protective factors that can assist families in achieving healthy outcomes as they grow and develop resilience. These protective factors include social connections, nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting and child development, parental resilience and concrete supports.

The sixth protective factor, social and emotional competence, is the one protective factor that concentrates on the characteristics of the child. Social and emotional competence is a child’s ability to interact in a positive way with others, communicate feelings positively and regulate behavior. Skills needed for healthy social and emotional development can include: self- esteem, self-confidence, friend-making skills, self-control, persistence, problem solving, self-sufficiency, focus, patience, good communication skills, empathy, and knowing right from wrong. All of these skills play a critical role in a child’s overall wellbeing.

There will be times when children have difficulty expressing their feelings because they don’t understand them. This can be very frustrating to a child and even more frustrating for a parent or caregiver who wants to help the child deal with his feelings. However, developing these social and emotional skills depend largely on the quality of relationships that a child has with their primary caregivers. When children have nurturing relationships with caring adults who provide consistent care, they build skills that promote social and emotional competence. These relationships should include the provision of a safe environment where children feel secure in expressing their emotions, clear expectations, encouragement and the modeling of healthy social-emotional behaviors.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes everyday interactions, such as the following, can assist in building the protective factor of social and emotional competence:

  • Role modeling. Children will mimic behavior of adults in their lives. Show children appropriate ways to express emotions by using words and actions that are constructive and respectful. Surround your children with positive role models.
  • Safe environments. Children need to know it is OK to be mad, sad or disappointed. Provide an environment where children are able to express their feelings though language and play. Be responsive to all feelings and let your child know you understand.
  • Guidelines. Children need to have clear and reasonable expectations for their behavior. When the rules change, children can get confused and may act out. Clearly communicate rules and consequences to children.
  • Calm and steady actions and reactions. Pay attention to good behavior and react calmly to difficult situations. Children are counting on you for stability and structure. Plan ahead. Think through your daily schedule and anticipate changes that might affect a child; extra clothes, snacks or toys for any situation.
  • Self-care. Adults who care for themselves and handle stressors in healthy, appropriate ways have the energy they need to care for the children in their lives. RELAX by learning ways to handle your own stress and anger.
  • Know where to go! Explore the many resources to assist with caregiving needs. Utilize the expertise of teachers, childcare providers, counselors, medical care providers, clergy and local human service agencies to guide you when you need additional assistance. Explore resources from The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning to assist with teaching social emotional health skills.

MSU Extension also recommends exploring programs in your community that can assist with strengthening the overall protective factors for your family. Caring for children takes time and patience. As children grow and develop, changes will inevitably occur, and parents and caregivers can’t possibly have all the answers. As children grow, so will their communication and skills for coping. Strong families look for, ask for and follow through with finding resources and people who can help to support social and emotional competencies and make them even stronger!

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