Developing Children’s Social and Emotional Skills (SEL) – Part 1

How an early education service and families can partner to support children’s wellbeing

Jumbo Early Education is excited to be taking part in the ‘Be You Program’ developed and delivered by Beyond Blue. The ‘Be You Program’ focusses on growing a mentally healthy generation.

The ‘Be You Program’ assists educators with the knowledge, resources, and strategies for helping children achieve their best possible mental health, in partnership with their families and the local community.

In this article, we want to share some of the most valuable information taken from the first ‘Be You Program’ in the areas of mental health, wellbeing, and resilience.

Children start social and emotional learning early in life

Children begin developing social and emotional (SEL) skills that influence their ongoing mental health and wellbeing from their early years. They need support and guidance that’s matched to their level of development in order to build these, and, importantly, they need opportunities to practice.

The core SEL skills are self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making. They develop these skills through the relationships with their families, educators, and peers; as well as their observations on the relationships between their family and educators.

Developing SEL skills through everyday interactions

Relationships at home and the early learning service offer children the opportunities they need to develop SEL skills through everyday interactions. Positive experiences in these exchanges help children develop their sense of self, confidence, and worth; emotional skills, such as learning how to experience and express a range of emotions, having empathy for others and coping with challenges; and, social skills, such as how to interact with others.

Seen another way, relationships offer repeated involvement in what is called ‘serve and return’ – a back and forth between the signals young children send and, in turn, the sensitive and responsive care they receive from family and educators. 

Warm, responsive, and trusting relationships built from many positive interactions, provide an environment rich in emotional exchanges, consisting of give and take, attention and non-attention, emotional engagement and negotiation. In this way, over time, children learn to trust that their needs will be heard and met in their primary relationships.

More practice means a better chance of mastering these important life skills, keeping in mind that SEL develops over time and will vary for different children. These social and emotional skills then support virtually every other aspect of a child’s development, such as learning, school readiness, and cognitive and language development.

Kickstarting SEL through Early Education at Jumbo

These are some of the strategies and actions we take at Jumbo as part of the Quality Educator Practice to help children improve and develop SEL skills:

  • Taking time

To know the children by playing with them, observing their patterns and preferences, and sharing everyday interactions and conversations. Encourage families to be involved. Being aware of each child’s needs, likes, and interests leads to more responsive care, and an appreciation for their special qualities. Taking time also applies to family-educator relationships – this allows you to share information and have an individualised approach to each child and family.

  • Tuning In

To understand the meaning behind a child’s behaviour helps families and educators respond appropriately with encouragement, comfort, and support. While it’s not possible to always understand children perfectly, make the most of the opportunities for connection. This provides the security and comfort important for a child’s mental health and wellbeing. Tuning in allows you opportunities to co-manage children’s emotions and repair relationships when things go wrong in day-to-day interactions.

  • Negotiating and Compromising 

Children build confidence and independence when they’re encouraged and supported to try new things without adults stepping in. Everyday conversations help build relationship skills, such as negotiation and compromise.

  • Shared experiences

When adults share their experiences, achievements, and joys, children feel special, and their confidence in forming other relationships grows. Families can also provide opportunities for teamwork, where each family member has a role and shares jobs or works in small groups to problem-solve. This helps children cooperate and develop a sense of independence.

  • Encouragement

Along with families, you can support children to learn how to get along with others. Experiences playing with other children build relationships skills. Share with families the friendships that emerge in children’s play, so there’s an opportunity to continue these at home.

Partnerships between parents and the service support SEL

Many factors influence children’s experiences of responsive relationships. Families may face chronic health problems, financial stressors, lack of social support, or may not feel confident in their parenting role. Thus families working in partnership with the educators and Jumbo strengthen the network of relationships essential for children’s mental health and SEL.