In a toddler or preschooler’s holistic development, most of the developmental domains focus on the academic aspect as we prepare preschoolers for schooling years. The next focus may then be on the physical development aspect as it is most obvious to the eye. Of the 6 domains in the early childhood curriculum, there is one that focuses on the inner world of the child - the social and emotional development. In Gardner’s multiple of intelligence, it is split into the intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. As they all form part and parcel of a toddler or preschooler’s growth and development, it is vital that an equal amount of emphasis is placed on all the domains. Therefore, in this article, we will share more information about this domain and how adults help to develop the socio-emotional development of preschoolers.
When children attend childcare, they have the chance to interact with others around their age. Through this interaction, they learn more about interpersonal skills (how to relate to others, follow rules and routines, express their feelings in an appropriate manner). Socio-emotional development enables children to communicate with others. It is linked to their cognitive domain as they require understanding and language to help them communicate. Apart from language, emotions also help them to interact with others. They will then develop their sense of personal identity, and learn more about conventional behaviour and about the customs of the community and society. Therefore the development of their interpersonal skills also helps to develop their intrapersonal skills (a sense of self).
According to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, the second stage “Autonomy vs shame and doubt” occurs at the age between 18 months and 2 to 3 years old. As the title of the stage suggests, during this stage, it is important to allow them to have autonomy or freedom of choice. During this period, adults can start with giving them more freedom on what they want to wear, what they would like to play as they start to develop their likes and dislikes. They are able to have better control of their body and so they will start to want to complete some things on their own and become less dependent on others. This could come in the form of trying to dress themselves and wearing their own shoes. They may still require some assistance, such as for buttons or tying of shoelaces, as their fine motor skills are not so well developed at this point of time, but it is good to let them try what they are able to do on their own. Empathy is also another key aspect in terms of interpersonal skills. By learning to understand how others feel through their expressions and actions, they can then develop a sense of compassion for others. Infants already start to show some form of empathy when they cry along after hearing other infants cry. At two to three years of age, they may already know how to offer and share things with other people, based on what they observe they may like. However, as with everything we learn, there still needs to be practice and we can practise empathy by constantly observing people around us and also communicating feelings.
In terms of interpersonal relations, play is the basis of which children form friendships and bonds with others. According to Parten’s stages of play, in this age group, they are transiting through parallel play where toddlers may be sitting beside each other playing with the same or similar toys but are not interacting with each other to onlooker play, where the toddler or nursery child may be watching other children play but does not want to participate in it. Therefore, it is fine that during this stage, their form of play is still pretty solitary even if they may be found playing with the same materials within a group setting. Friendships start to take form more often after they are past three years of age.
The next stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, “Initiative vs guilt”, covers the nursery to preschool age of 3 to 6 years old. You can expect that during this age group, nursery and preschoolers will take more action and be more vocal in their expression. They are also very willing to try new things or come up with new things using their imagination. Here, encouraging them to try new things, being open and accepting to their ideas while steering them to make the appropriate choices are the role of the adults. It is a time where they will face conflicts and setbacks as they may insist on their own choices instead of listening to the adults. Therefore modelling and being consistent will help them through this period. They will also want to achieve more than what they are asked or expected to do. Therefore it is a good time to present them with some responsibilities or errands so that they get the chance to accomplish these tasks independently which in turn develop their self-confidence.
At three years old, they start to engage in associative play, according to Parten’s stages of play, where they will interact with others during their play, initiating sharing or borrowing with others. This is where they will start to form relationships with their peers and build friendships as they desire for companionship during their play time. From the age of four, they will engage in cooperative play. In this form of play, there is a higher level of interaction between the preschoolers. They will learn to take turns and collaborate, for example, in a pretend play situation. At this stage, they start to develop their sense of morality from family values. Their understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong is based on what they can see within their family. In the toddler age group, they may not understand what is right and wrong but determine if actions can be done by the praise or punishment by others.
Socio-emotional development may not be as straightforward as learning 1, 2, 3 as human beings are complex creatures, but there are still things adults can do in helping our preschoolers grow in this aspect of development.