Social-Emotional Skills in the ECE Classroom

by Lynsey Kemplin

As a teacher, dealing with challenging behavior is likely one of the biggest stressors in your classroom.  Young children are still learning to navigate the complex world of social interaction and often have conflicts with peers.  Children experiencing trauma may have even more conflicts than others.  Consider why – children look to the adults in their lives as models, especially to see how to interact with other people.  But if these little ones are seeing violence and abuse, their minds think this is the way that people interact, and replicate that behavior in the classroom.  Or maybe they are in survival mode and so afraid that they view everyone else as a threat and act out aggressively to protect themselves.  All children need to feel safe in the classroom environment and in relationships with caregivers, but these children especially need that safety.

Before you start, know that teaching social/emotional skills takes TIME.  It can take two to three times longer to talk children through an interpersonal conflict rather than just giving them a solution.  Be prepared and COMMIT yourself to helping your kids develop these skills.  Once they know how to do it on their own, it will take less of your time and you’ll be able to spend time on other things.

Good social skills start with making your classroom into a community.  Celebrate friendship.  Talk about what friends do, how they act, and recognize it when these things happen in your classroom.  Give children frequent opportunities to work together and explicitly teach the skills they need to be successful.  Doing role play activities during large or small group can give children a chance to practice new skills and help them feel more confident.

Teach problem solving skills to use in conflict.  Brainstorm how to solve different problems as a class, and pair it with role playing.  Use some sort of visual reminder in the classroom to remind kids in the moment what they could do next.  (You can create your own, or look on the internet for what others have done.)  Children’s books can also be a source of rich discussion material for problem solving and other social skills.  Allow children to apply their problem solving techniques to the story and ask what the characters might do next.

Most importantly, be a good role model.  Your actions and the way you treat others (kids, coworkers, families) should be the same as you teach the children.  Remember they watch EVERYTHING you do.

While teaching social skills will not remove all challenging behavior in your classroom, it will help your kids be more successful and likely reduce the problem behaviors.  Make sure you are fully committed to the extra time it could take.  Celebrate your classroom community and work together to solve problems.  Continually model the social behavior and show respect to others.  While it may be hard at first, you will see benefits in the long run.

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