Social – Emotional Development

little girl holding a dollSocial, emotional development begins with attachment.

An infant develops trust when he experiences his needs being met in a consistent, nurturing relationship with a primary caregiver. In a secure relationship, an infant can form attachments.

Studies of children who were not able to form secure attachments found that some children withdrew, became apathetic or depressed or, in some cases just gave up and didn’t survive. Others however were quite the opposite. Instead of withdrawing, they acted out, seeking sensations in aggressive and sometimes harmful ways.

Most children, even if they have developed healthy attachments, experience separation anxiety, or fear of being separated from their primary caregiver or attachment person, and stranger anxiety. We can help children cope by responding sensitively, maintaining a predictable schedule, ritualizing the parent’s departure,
offering transitional items, and allowing the child time
to become familiar with new people.

There are certain essential skills, or mastery, a young child needs to achieve. These essential skills include

    • 1. Social attachment and the ability to cope with stress
    • 2. Regulation and control of emotions
    • 3. Vision and auditory acuity
    • 4. Motor development and coordination
    • 5. Vocabulary and language development
    • 6. Cognitive development.These experiences happen during the formation of a secure attachment to a nurturing and supportive caregiver. Attachment can soften the effects of stress and trauma later on. A secure attachment also fosters learning, memory, expression and control of emotions and the development of interactive and social behaviors.

      Toddlers strive to be autonomous. By planning ahead so the toddler has time to practice skills without being rushed we are helping him to master skills, which promotes independence and fosters self esteem.

      Self soothing behaviors help toddlers cope with emotions and, to eventually self regulate their emotions. Once they don’t need to anymore, most children will cease their self soothing behaviors, though it is possible that they may reappear at times of high stress later in life. Young children should be allowed to sooth themselves with behaviors that work best for the individual child. For some, that may be thumb sucking, for some rocking, and for others twirling their hair or masturbating. It is important that we don’t interfere with these behaviors or punish or ridicule the child.

      When a child is experiencing overwhelming stress he is not able to store information, and cognitive learning is not likely to occur because of downshifting. Downshifting is the brain’s response to high levels of stress that prevents the brain from functioning at higher levels where creative thinking and problem solving occur. Instead, the brain goes back down into “fight or flight”, or reactionary mode.

      If a child has not had experiences that allowed him to form attachments and self regulate emotions or impulsivity, we cannot expect them to do so in the classroom. Punishing or humiliating children who are unable to sit still or who exhibit challenging behaviors in the classroom only strengthens those behaviors. But, we can help children to self regulate by providing effective skill building activities and nurturing interactions. In “Fear Changes the Way We Think”, Dr. Bruce Perry emphasizes the importance of exposing children who have experienced trauma or neglect to predictable, nurturing relationships and developmentally appropriate experiences. He says that in doing so, it is possible to reverse some of the negative effects of stress.

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