Social and Emotional Development and School Support Structures

One of kindergarten's challenges is that it is often the first time a child must interact with unfamiliar adults and groups of similarly aged children. These two groups, teachers and fellow students, provide important social supports for educational success.1 The key to fostering these relationships is ensuring a child's social and emotional well being. If a child's social or emotional skills are underdeveloped, then the child's ability to cultivate relationships or properly interpret social scenarios in the classroom can be hindered.

Children begin to learn about acceptable classroom behaviors long before they reach the classroom. Without the proper social cues, children may become embarrassed, alienated, or labeled a behavior problem. Parents can help! Even by the time they reach age three children with higher self-esteem and the ability to self-regulate, and better able to develop healthy relationships with peers.2 High quality pre-school can help to build these skills too. On the other hand, children who never learn to work and play well with others are at greater risk for a wide range of negative outcomes including peer rejection and school failure.3,4

The benefits of early social and emotional development don't stop there. Children with these skills help their classmates who come from at-risk families. As Pianta argues, nurturing and supportive educational environments can be especially important for children living in high-risk circumstances.5 For these children, school friends and teachers can form a foundation of social and emotional support. These relationships create community within a classroom, and children who perceive a strong sense of community and self-worth within their schools and classrooms are more likely to like school, trust and respect their teachers, enjoy challenging activities, be concerned about helping others, and resolve conflicts fairly and without force. That's a set of outcomes that we can all get behind!

  1. Weissberg, R. P., Durlak, J. A., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B., et al. (2008). The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eighth-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
  2. Mackrain, M., Van Wheelden, K., & Marciniak, D. (2009).  Early Childhood Investment Corporation and Michigan’s Great Start Collaboration: Lansing, MI. Available here.
  3. Parker, J., & Asher, S. (1987). Peer relations and later personal adjustment: Are low accepted children at risk?. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 357–389.
  4. Walker, H. M., Stiller, B., Golly, A., Kavanaugh, K., Severson, H. H., & Feil, E. (1997). First step to success: An early intervention program for anti-social kindergartners. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
  5. Pianta, R., Cox, M., Taylor, L., & Early, D. (1999). Kindergarten teachers’ practices related to the transition to school: Results of a national survey. Elementary School Journal, 100, 71–86.