Teaching children skills, such as how to play with other children, recognize and express feelings, be friendly and talk to peers, exercise self-control, and negotiate conflict situations, may result in fewer aggressive responses, more positive friendships, and increased likelihood of success in school.
Teachers take numerous steps to prevent challenging behavior. These preventative measures include structuring the physical environment and planning a daily schedule that balances child and teacher directed activities, as well as small and large group instruction. Teachers devote time to teaching the classroom routine and rules, while offering guidance as students form new friendships and begin to develop social emotional competence. Teacher frustration often emerges when these practices do not meet the needs of all students and one or two children begin to exhibit persistent challenging behavior. These students may require planned instruction on specific social emotional skills (Fox & Lentini, 2006).
Early experiences and relationships at home and school set the stage for how a child learns self-regulation skills, as well as the ability to manage emotions, take the perspective of others, and develop close relationships (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). Teaching children skills, such as how to play with other children, recognize and express feelings, be friendly and talk to peers, exercise self-control, and negotiate conflict situations, may result in fewer aggressive responses, more positive friendships, and increased likelihood of success in school. Children with a more difficult temperament and children from disadvantaged families may have particular difficulty with conflict management, social skills, emotional regulation, and making friends. These children may require more intensive and explicit training to learn the skills needed to be successful in their peer group (Joseph & Strain, 2003).
- Use children’s literature to teach friendship skills, feelings words, and problem solving. Pause while reading a book and ask students how a character in the story feels or have them suggest ideas for solving the character’s problem. (See Learning Opportunity below!)
- Model healthy emotional expression by sharing your own feelings. For example, a teacher who knocked over all the glitter can say, “Oh boy, is that frustrating. Oh well, I’d better take a deep breath and figure out how to clean it up.” Or call attention to targeted skills as you model them, “Look, I am sharing my blocks with my friend.”
- In the mornings, have children “check in” by selecting a feeling face that best represents their morning mood. At the end of the day, have children select again, and then talk about why their feeling changed or stayed the same.
- Gain interest and attention by using puppets to model appropriate social skills. A puppet can explain to the teacher and the class how she became angry and hit her brother to get a toy. You can ask the puppet to consider other solutions and solicit input from the class (Fox & Lentini, 2006).
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is focused on promoting the social emotional development and school readiness of young children. Check out the “What Works” briefs and browse through topics like Using Classroom Activities and Routines as Opportunities to Support Peer Interaction to learn about more practical strategies. Finally, download easy-to-use guides, called Book Nooks, designed around popular children’s books to embed social skill instruction into literacy activities. Several Book Nooks and the accompanying children’s book are available for check out from the T–TAC ODU Library: Hands Are Not For Hitting; Mouse Was Mad; No Biting!; Abiyoyo, Sometimes I’m Bombaloo; On Monday When It Rained; and Glad Monster, Sad Monster.
Fox, L., & Lentini, R. (2006, November). “You Got It!” Teaching social and emotional skills. Beyond the Journal. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/yc/pastissues/2006/november
Joseph, G., & Strain, P. (2003). Comprehensive evidence-based social-emotional curricula for young children: An analysis of efficacious adoption potential. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education,23(2), 65-76. Retrieved from http://tec.sagepub.com
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.