Transcript: Social and Emotional Wellbeing

Presented by Sarah Grubb

Parenting Together Pathway, Trying Together

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>> Hello, everybody. Welcome to this segment of the Parenting Together Pathway video series. This video is part of a series of sessions to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and our surrounding areas. So, thanks for being here. At Trying Together we support high-quality care and education for young children through advocacy, community resources, and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and the individuals who interact with them.

>> And together with the ELRC Region 5, we provide a single point of contact for Allegheny County families, early learning service providers, and communities to gain information and access services that support high-quality child care and early learning programs. And you can stay up-to-date with us through signing up for our newsletter and by following us on social media. 

>> Here at Trying Together, we envision a future in which all caregivers feel valued. That is our goal. That is the heart of the work that we do, and we hope that this video series offers you some support and some ideas for your unique approach to caring for your child. 

>> I am Sarah Grubb, Everyday Interactions Design Strategist, and this video is entitled “Maintaining Connection: Supporting Social-emotional Wellbeing of Your Child.” We will be talking about what social-emotional wellness is in early childhood, why it’s important, and how you and your child can kind of work together to encourage your child’s social-emotional growth. 

>> So, when you look at the photographs of these young children and you think about their social-emotional wellbeing, I wonder what comes up for you. I wonder what you think of. What most contributes to these children’s social-emotional well being? Fred Rogers emphasized, in his work, the importance of relationships. He said it’s through relationships that we grow best and learn best. And when we talk about child development in any area, we know as caregivers, and research also tells us, that it’s through relating with each other that we’re able to learn best. And for your child, learning and growing in relationship with you is the most important element that contributes to your child’s healthy growth and development. 

>> Your presence is absolutely essential to your child’s social and emotional wellbeing. There are many different ways to look at social and emotional wellbeing, and here’s one way to break down what social-emotional development consists of. Social-emotional wellbeing often means that children can form close, secure, meaningful relationships. So, that can be with other children or other adults. 

>> And that can look like many different things. It can mean that a child is able to recognize non-verbal cues and to maintain eye contact. It can mean that they can respect other people’s feelings, ideas, and opinions. They can listen and they can pay attention to others. And they can learn to share with other children, which is difficult sometimes, but they can learn to share with others. And social-emotional development also can mean that children are able to experience, to regulate, and to express their emotions. 

>> And this means they could recognize and learn to name their own and other people’s emotions. They can show patience, self-control. They can learn to wait, and they can learn to express their needs and wants as well. 

>> And finally, children are able to be — to explore the environment. To learn new skills, so they can show confidence in themselves and  others through this. And in that confidence they can learn to work together with others in collaborative settings. And they can express their needs and their wants and ideas in those collaborative settings as well. 

>> So, this is really a rich and important area of growth for all of us as humans. And it’s also important to note that children — that each child will have their own trajectory of growth in these areas. But the bottom line is that children’s early experiences with their caregivers like you have a huge impact on what skills they develop. Social-emotional skills are the backbone of our relationships. 

>> And in turn, these responsive relationships that we build are the most important factor in a child’s healthy development. So, let’s think about ways that we can foster healthy social-emotional development for young children. One of the foundational elements of child development are serve and return interactions. 

>> Serve and return interactions are like a tennis match where one person serves the ball and the other returns it, and the game or the interaction goes back and forth, and each person involved is equally engaged in the interaction. And one of our jobs as adults is to notice when a child is serving us the ball, so to speak. So, noticing when they are inviting us to interact. 

>> And a serve from a child could look like a babble from an infant. It could look like eye contact. It could look like a toddler handing you a toy. So, these “serves” are a child’s way of inviting you to connect, inviting you to interact. And it’s our job as adults to return that serve when we can and to engage in this back-and-forth interaction with the child. 

>> These sorts of interactions are essential to a child’s learning and growing and they really form the basis of their social-emotional wellbeing as well. Some of the ways that we can support serve and return interactions are through sharing attention. 

>> So, in this photograph, a child is pointing at something, and the adult is following that serve. If a child points to a dog walking by, you might look and point as well. You are sharing your attention and you’re following a child’s lead and following their interest. And in this situation, you are noticing the serve. So, you’re noticing the invitation, which is to point to the object. That is their invitation that they’ve given you to interact. 

>> Another way of engaging in serve and return interactions is through supporting and encouraging. If you see a child, like the child in this picture, building with blocks — so let’s say they’re building a block tower and building it taller and taller and taller. You might say, “Wow! You’re building a really tall tower.” Just acknowledging that you are paying attention and noticing. 

>> Or if a child is painting with a paintbrush, you can say, “I see you’re using your paintbrush to make polka dots on your paper.” Just simply being there and encouraging and supporting through your validation. Or, “I appreciate you sharing your toy with me.” Something just as simple as noticing and giving your attention for their work and their efforts. 

>> Another way to return a child’s serve is through putting words to it. So, giving something a name, especially for infants and toddlers. So, if you imagine this child is in their seat eating avocado and they look up at you and giggle, the way that you can return that serve is to put words to it. And just talk with them about it. “You really like that green avocado, don’t you? How does it taste?” 

>> And that kind of leads us to taking turns and waiting. So, in our last examples of the child eating avocado I mentioned asking “How does it taste?” And sometimes children need a lot of time to organize around answering that question. Even if the answer is kicking their legs and shouting out our babbling back to you, giving a child time to engage with you in serve and return, back-and-forth interactions is important. 

>> And so is practicing beginnings and endings. Often, as you know, young children move from one activity to another pretty quickly, and you can help your child help notice when they are moving to a new experience by saying, “Do you want to go over to the swings? Or do you want to play with the blocks?” When you’re sharing the focus of your child, you’re able to notice when a child is ready to move on to a new activity, and you can support their exploration by following them and following their lead. 

>> And many of the strategies on this list are things that you already do naturally with your child. Just know that these ways of interacting and participating in serve and return interaction are hugely important for your child’s development. Research tells us that serve and return forms the foundation of brain architecture upon which all future development will be built. These sorts of interactions are so essential because they create the base for all future learning. 

>> So, think of what an impact that you are having on a child’s development in their social-emotional growth and the growth of all other areas by engaging with your child in these simple ways in your day-to-day life. Story time can be a great way to engage with your child using serve and return interactions. It’s a time when you can follow a child’s attention. You can see what they notice about the book. 

>> You can put words to what they’re noticing in the book’s illustrations, and you can take turns to interact verbally or to do things like taking turns flipping the book’s pages. Story time can also be a really great time to build language around feelings and to ask questions to help your child think about and empathize with the characters in the story. 

>> So, here are just some ideas for questions that you can ask. What do you think will happen next? How do you think this character is feeling? How can you tell? So, asking them what they notice about a character’s face. Is the character smiling? Or are their eyebrows scrunched together? And talking about these facial cues in detail can help a child notice the nuances of facial expression and understand how emotions are expressed as well. What did you notice about the character? 

>> Open-ended questions like this can help us see what your child is paying attention to. So, if you’ve asked this question before, you might’ve been surprised at what your child’s noticing, right? And when the question is open-ended we can really leave it to the child to fill in the answer however they’re feeling and whatever they are noticing. What would you do if you were in this situation? How do you think you might feel if you were in this situation? So, helping your child think about what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes. 

>> There are so many different books that help children to think about and learn about emotions, and at the end of this video I will show a resource list that includes a link to books centered on social-emotional awareness for young children that you can check out if you’re interested. Play is another huge part of a child’s healthy development. Play encourages children to consider others, to problem solve, to collaborate, to express themselves, to develop a sense of self. Play is really essential to social-emotional growth. 

>> So, even something just as simple as peekaboo, which is a great example of a serve and return interaction, is a wonderful way to help children cultivate skills of being in relationship with others, and also to explore the important relational idea that people can go away and come back. Using puppets in play can be a really great way to explore feelings, and sometimes, as we know, children’s feelings are so big that having another character who’s experiencing those feelings can be more accessible for the child to talk about. 

>> And sharing stories, as well, helps children build empathy and imagine what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes and to practice empathy. Also, creating spaces for artistic expression. This often means that we give children art materials and let them create. Let them decide how they would like to paint, what they would like to paint, and, you know, what shape of paper they would like to use. Giving them lots of choice. 

>> And when children are making art in this exploratory way, they’re really able to express feelings or share about experiences that they’ve had. You might say, another open-ended prompt, “Tell me about your artwork.” And this creates an open space for children to share whatever they might want to share about their work, whether it is a new technique that they’re using with their paintbrush or an idea or experience that they’re working out in their mind and in their emotions. 

>> Movement and dance also falls into the category of artistic expression. When a child can move freely to music, can express themselves with their bodies, this is a way for a child to develop an understanding of self and other and to engage in emotional expression through movement as well. Engaging in scientific inquiry is a wonderful way to explore the world around a child and to help them learn about themselves in relationship with their environment. 

>> They might want to experiment with things like seeing how long it takes for ice to melt on the sidewalk. Or they might want to see what happens when they put a leaf on the water. Does it float? Does it sink? They might want to explore what happens when they roll their toy car down an incline. And what happens when they roll their toy car down an even steeper incline? 

>> So, if adults are able to follow a child’s lead in these scientific explorations, we are building a child’s sense of self in the world and also showing them that it’s OK to explore and to wonder about the world around them. Within play is the category of dramatic play. And as you know, children engage in dramatic play in all sorts of ways. 

>> They pretend they are babies or puppies or construction workers, you name it. And within this play, they are practicing emotional regulation. If they are pretending to be a mom or a dad in play, they need to be able to control their emotions to do that. And in dramatic play, they are empathizing with the person or the animal that they are playing or that they are pretending to be. They are practicing a variety of different social interactions. 

>> And also, collaborating with others during play helps children to learn to express wants and needs, again, and to listen to the wants and needs of other people in this collaborative dramatic play. So, supporting children in these four areas can help to build their social-emotional skills and increase their capacity for building relationships. 

>> Another way to support a child’s social-emotional wellbeing is to support them in setting boundaries and to give them choices. It’s really important for us as adults to give children the chance to determine their own boundaries and comfort levels. We want them to be their own compass in terms of what’s comfortable for them and what is not comfortable for them. And this is part of social-emotional wellbeing. 

>> One child might really benefit from having a set space in your home where they can be alone or just take a break from interacting. Maybe a small corner of the room that has pillows or a few special things that your child likes. Practicing consent and boundaries with a child is important as well. So, teaching them it is OK to say no if they don’t want to be tickled or if they don’t feel comfortable hugging someone that they don’t know. 

>> And also to support children in these moments we can just simply ask them what they would like. We can ask them if they want to be tickled. We can ask them if they might want a moment to be alone in their quiet space. We can support children as well just by checking in with them about important things. Questions like, “Is it OK if I tell your teacher that your pet fish died?” Just checking in with a child and considering their boundaries and their needs. 

>> These sorts of practices let a child know that there is space for them to say yes or no to circumstances around and also to determine what their own comfort level is. One of my former colleagues would say — just when it comes to boundaries and consent — is treat a child like you would treat an adult. An adult probably wouldn’t go up to another adult and just tie their shoes for them without asking. So, with a child, you can ask, “Can I help you tie your shoes?” 

>> Even if they don’t have a verbal response yet, this kind of helps us just set the stage for supporting a child in actively engaging in their own sense of agency. And this is a big component of social-emotional wellbeing because it helps children know they can determine their own needs and wants, and they can begin to cultivate respect for their own bodies and other people’s as well. 

>> All of these elements of social-emotional wellness that we have spoken about lead to this one — a sense of belonging. When we engage with children in serve and return interactions, when we help them learn language to express their feelings, when we accept and discuss all of their feelings, when we spend time reading with them and paying attention to their cues, when we allow them to express themselves through art and through play, all of these practices create a sense that a child belongs. 

>> We want them to know — you belong here in our family. All of you. Every part of you. And as adults, we know how isolating that it can feel when we don’t feel that we belong. And we also know how exhilarating and how comforting it is when we feel that we do. So, focusing on social-emotional wellness with your child can leave your child with this feeling that they belong. Thanks so much for participating in this session. 

>> Please take note of some of the campaigns that we participate in, including Start Strong PA, Pre-K for PA, Childhood Begins at Home, and there’s a link as well to our public policy agenda. And we really want to welcome you in joining us to advocate for early childhood. There are a number of sessions available on the Parenting Together Pathway for you to view. And also we have a few resources that Trying Together provides to families as well. One is Allegheny Child Care. If you are a caregiver seeking child care for early learning, for after school, out of school, summer camp, and virtual programs, you can use this tool  to search all available spots in Allegheny County. 

>> And also Early Learning Resource Center Region 5, families can utilize the ELRC to gain information and services that support high-quality child care and early learning programs. The Homewood Early Learning Hub and Family Center is available for families in Homewood and the surrounding areas, and families can use the Hub and Family Center for activities for their children and individual and group support for parents. 

>> We also have the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting series. You can use the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting series on the Trying Together website to navigate a variety of topics related to early childhood, and we add new content to that throughout the year, so check it out. 

>> And as part of the DAP series, families can opt in to receive cards with helpful information mailed directly to them as they are developed. So, you can have these cards mailed to you. And to enroll in this program and provide feedback on the Parenting Together Pathway series you can visit the link on the screen. 

>> Thank you again so much for being part of this series. We’re so glad that you visited us. Here are some resources that you can access as well. Thank you again. Take care.

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Parenting Together Pathway

The Parenting Together Pathway is a video-based learning series to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas.

Learn more about the series.



Image: An early learning professional works with a young student to put together a puzzle of a young boy.
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