Supporting Social Emotional Development in Young Children

By Marcela Amador, Director of Tamalpais Preschool

When talking about a young child’s social emotional skills, we often think of sharing, taking turns, and teaching children how to use their words instead of their hands when communicating. While social skills incorporate all of the above, they also focus on helping children learn how to manage their feelings, make positive choices, and find solutions to their worries instead of concentrating on problems.

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There’s a lot going on in a young child’s world. They have many new experiences that can bring up all kinds of emotions and create frustrations, which often come out as outbursts. We want to help children learn and grow socially, but also support their emotional development from a young age.

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As kids grow, with guidance they begin to recognize, name, and talk about their feelings. Young children can start to tell the difference between sadness, anger, fear, or excitement. Sometimes these feelings can get bottled up and come out as crying, screaming, or refusing to follow directions. At school and at home we can help children learn about their feelings and teach them how to manage their emotions. Here are some tips and tools you can try at home to support your child’s social emotional development:

  • Help children describe emotions and name their feelings, not just when they are mad or frustrated, but when they are happy or excited. Recognizing their emotions will help children understand and find appropriate ways to manage them.
  • Kids pay attention to everything we do, so practice calming techniques in front of your child. You can start by doing “dragon breath”, a deep breath and deep exhale. They can do this when feeling frustrated or upset to release those feelings. It can be accompanied by a roar when appropriate. This will help children calm down, so they can start to talk about what happened, and start to problem solve.
  • Create a “calm area” at home. A calm area is a comfortable corner or space where children can go take a break or calm down while they are feeling sad or frustrated. It will usually have a soft pillow, a blanket, and some sensory items to hold and squeeze. It could also include a couple of dolls your child can hold or use to role play about what happened. Think about what your child needs as each child calms down in different ways. Create a space or activity that works for your child. As grownups, we learn to find a calm place where we can relax or recharge, similarly, we can help children find that space or the tools they need to help ease their frustration.
  • When a relaxing space is not available, you can create a “calm down kit” to have handy when needed. A “calm down kit” can be a small box with sensory items we can hand a child who needs support to calm down. It can include items like a rubbery ball, a soft sensory body brush, or small soft towel they can use to rub on their hands or legs to soothe their senses, some playdough, and small little toys they can use to role play. A calm down kit can help children soothe and relax when out and about away from their calm area.
  • Check in with your children about their day and listen to what they have to say. Giving children time to express their feelings and needs daily will help release worries or tensions before they get overwhelming. Walk them through their daily experiences and talk about how things went well, as well as what they can do next time they run into difficulties. Talking to children when they are calm and ready to listen can really help them process and problem solve better. At school, we talk about scenarios during circle time. We talk about what it means to be a super friend and how to support each other in the classroom. We use books to help children talk about friendship scenarios, like Franklin's books about friendships by Paulette Bourgeois.
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By giving children skills they can use to develop their social emotional growth and problem-solve, we can support them at home and at school. Working together, we can provide them with skills to help them for life.

At Tamalpais and Strawberry Preschools, we prioritize social emotional development and work closely with parents to ensure synergies at school and at home. Our play-based program is filled with opportunities to build social emotional, communication and problem-solving skills. Visit our website to learn more and schedule a tour. We are currently enrolling for Fall 2023.


About the author, Marcela Amador, Director of Tamalpais Preschool 

Marcela has been at Tamalpais Preschool, in Mill Valley, for 18 years and became Director in 2009. She loves teaching and learning from preschoolers! She received a BA in Humanities, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts, from Dominican University. She also obtained a Program Director Child Development Permit from the State of California and belongs to several organizations promoting the education of young children. You can contact her at (415) 388-4286 or

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