Although a lot of emphasis is placed on children’s academic and intellectual progress once they begin formal schooling, their social-emotional development remains equally important. Children’s social-emotional skills represent a key aspect of their becoming well-rounded human beings, capable of thriving in our social world. In order to learn well, succeed in school and career, as well as establish healthy relationships, children need strong social-emotional skills.

What to Expect

Here are some of the major social-emotional skills your child will be acquiring during the elementary-school years:

  • Learning to follow rules and take turns
  • Playing with friends (gradually more time with friends than parents)
  • Understanding the feelings of others; showing signs of empathy
  • Understand social norms for behavior
  • Increasing control or management of their emotions (like anger, sadness, frustration) but still have times of emotional upheaval
  • Enjoy group activities
  • Learning to be more patient, but still impatient at times

In general, this phase of development is a time in which children are gradually becoming part of social life. They move from complete reliance on parents to being more comfortable interacting with peers and others outside of the home environment. Although parents continue to be a crucial attachment figure for children, they begin to feel more confident exploring other relationships and understanding others’ feelings.

Social Development

Tips to Foster Social-emotional Development:

  • Discuss Emotions: Help children learn to understand emotions by being open to discussing them. When your child is experiencing a strong emotion (even the difficult ones), try to remain open and empathetic rather than judgmental or condemning. Bring up discussions of other people’s emotions as well. If a child’s friend or sibling is upset, discuss why the person might be feeling as they do. These discussions help build emotional awareness and empathy.
  • Model Emotional Regulation: Especially when it comes to emotions, children learn many of their emotional lessons by observing us. Try to model healthy emotional regulation when angry or upset. Model coping strategies like deep breathing, exercising, or taking a break from the situation instead of lashing out.
  • Encourage Friendships: Foster your child’s emerging friendships by asking them about their peers and offering opportunities for them to play together. Discuss with your child the qualities of a good friend and how to be a good friend to others. 
  • Discipline Behavior, Not Emotions: One key distinction in discipline that can help foster emotional skills is the concept of setting limits on behavior, not emotions. Children need to feel free to express all emotions (even difficult or negative ones), but, of course, there is often a need for limits on certain behavior. Consider the example of a child becoming mad at a sibling and hitting them. This behavior (hitting) is, of course, inappropriate, and a clear limit would be set regarding hitting. However, the emotion of anger, in itself, is neither good nor bad; it’s just an emotion. Making this distinction for children during disciplinary action can help them understand that it is okay to feel angry but not acceptable to hit others.

As children progress through the elementary school years, a whole new social world is opening up for them. You can support their social-emotional development through modeling emotional skills and, most importantly, by continuing to offer your presence. By offering a listening ear and an understanding heart, you can help them learn to be a good friend as well as how to understand and manage big emotions. 

Preview Blurb: As your child begins elementary school, a social world outside the home opens up to them. With this transition can come new social interactions and new social and emotional changes. Be prepared for this phase of your child’s social-emotional development by understanding what to expect and how to support their growth.

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.

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