7 Strategies for Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in Preschool-Aged Children

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process by which people develop social and emotional competencies. These include such qualities as self-awareness, self-management, as well as social awareness, and relationship skills. SEL is critical for helping individuals develop responsible, prosocial decision-making skills that, in turn, can help them lead more fulfilled and productive lives. 

For all these social and emotional skills to be fully developed, SEL has to start in early childhood, when learners are more receptive. Children’s preschool years are particularly critical since this is when they begin to interact with large numbers of peers. 

This is particularly true in post-industrial societies like Singapore and other developed countries, where families have few children and are less likely to live in extended family homes, limiting children’s ability to practice social skills with siblings and cousins of a similar age. In these countries, schools have a greater responsibility for early SEL, given that children in these societies have fewer opportunities for interaction with peers at home. 

With SEL, a core part of early childhood education in Singapore, parents and educators are employing several different strategies to ensure that young children develop into well-adjusted individuals. Here are several strategies adults can use for promoting social and emotional learning in preschool-aged children:

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1) Create a Positive Learning Environment

Unfortunately, many traditional environments try to motivate children through fear-based learning. While children may learn a few things this way, the learning in these environments is rarely substantial and often comes at a cost to children’s social and emotional skills, as violence and coercion may become normalised and form part of children’s core values.

Today, it’s recognized that a positive learning environment is crucial to promoting not just better academic outcomes but also social and emotional learning. A safe, and nurturing classroom environment that encourages preschoolers to explore, take risks, and interact with each other tends to be better at inculcating SEL than one where children are punished for falling out of line.

To facilitate a positive learning environment, teachers should set clear expectations and consistently model positive behavior. Doing so can help ensure that children develop positive qualities such as kindness, empathy, and respect for all people.

2) Use Play-Based Learning Activities


Most children have an inclination to be playful. Educators can therefore use games and activities that involve turn-taking, cooperation, and problem-solving to encourage children to be prosocial. Likewise, activities that encourage children to identify and express their feelings, such as role-playing and storytelling, can be used to help children better regulate their emotions in different situations.

3) Explore Opportunities to Teach Social and Emotional Skills Directly

While play-based learning is an effective way to promote social and emotional learning, educators and parents should also teach these relevant SEL skills directly. Teachers and parents can use age-appropriate books, videos, and other resources to teach children critical lessons about emotions, empathy, and problem-solving. Using simple, easy-to-understand language to explain complex emotions, teachers and parents also have the opportunity to make it easier for children to understand different social situations and emotions, thus giving them the means to manage different situations more effectively.

4) Encourage Reflection and Self-Evaluation

Reflection and self-evaluation are essential components of SEL. Parents and teachers have to encourage preschoolers to reflect on their experiences—both negative and positive—and identify what they learned from them. This makes it possible for children to evaluate their own behavior, allowing them to better identify areas for growth and improvement. This, in turn, can help children practice empathy and prosocial behavior.

5) Foster Positive Relationships with Adults and Peers

Framing relationships in a positive rather than fear-based, confrontational way is important for helping children grow up to be well-adjusted adults. Teachers and parents should create opportunities for children to interact with one another and use any negative experiences as opportunities for teaching them self-reflection and empathy. With time, this could help children approach social interactions with a less fearful and more prosocial attitude.

6) Model Positive Social and Emotional Behaviors

Preschool-aged children learn a lot by observing the behaviour of the adults around them. Therefore, teachers and parents need to model positive social and emotional behaviours in front of children. Adults who have children in their care must model behaviours like kindness, patience, empathy, and respect so that the children will understand that these are desirable behaviours that have to be emulated.

Child Painting

7) Incorporate Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Modern societies are far more stimulating than most people realize. In younger children, overstimulation can make it difficult for them to concentrate on learning and it may make it challenging for them to easily identify their emotions or the feelings of other people. 

In some preschools, mindfulness and relaxation techniques are being used to promote SEL in preschoolers by giving them the time to think and reflect deeply. Teachers and parents can incorporate popular techniques like deep breathing exercises, yoga poses, or guided meditations into their daily routines, giving children the opportunity to slow down and process their experiences more deliberately.

Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool-aged children requires a multifaceted approach that involves the efforts of parents and educators alike. Adults can use a combination of diverse strategies including behavior modeling, mindfulness and relaxation techniques, guided playtimes, and even direct instruction to help children better understand different emotions and social contexts. By using these strategies, adults can give children develop the social and emotional competencies they need to become successful, self-actualized individuals.

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