Children begin developing social-emotional skills at birth. Infants begin turning their heads toward their caregivers’ voices, looking toward their caregivers and cooing, and crying to let their caregivers know they need something. Their emotional signals, such as smiling, crying, or demonstrating interest and attention, strongly influence the behaviors of others. Similarly, the emotional reactions of others affect children’s social behaviors. As children mature and develop, their social-emotional skills become less centered on having their own needs met by their caregivers and more centered on participating in routines and enjoying experiences with friends and caregivers.
The early childhood years are a critical time for the formation of positive feelings toward oneself, others, and the larger world. When children are encouraged, nurtured and accepted by adults and peers, they are more likely to be well adjusted. On the contrary, children who are neglected, rejected or abused are at risk for social and mental health challenges.
Children develop social-emotional skills in the context of their relationships with their primary caregivers and within their families and cultures. Consider how diverse our society is. You can imagine that this diversity is also expressed in the ways families from different cultures teach children to manage emotions, socialize and engage with others. For example, in some cultures, children are taught to avoid eye contact. For other cultures, eye contact is an essential component of social interaction. Culture also affects parenting practices and how individuals are taught to deal with emotions, including handling stress and coping with adversity.
Family priorities affect social-emotional competence. For example, some families might place a high value on talking about emotions and expressing them as they occur, whereas other families may value doing the opposite. As an early childhood teacher, you must be sensitive and respectful of individual differences in social-emotional development when engaging with children in your care and their families.
Culture and Self-concept
Having a strong cultural identity enhances children’s self-concept and promotes a sense of connectedness and belonging. Children’s cultural identity is nurtured when they learn about their own cultural traditions and when those around them show respect for their cultural values. Teaching children to respect and appreciate variations and differences between cultures is therefore very important for all children’s social development.
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