April 2024 Preschool project help
Missions Discipleship

Supporting Preschoolers’ Social and Emotional Health

Preschoolers are learning to navigate the world around them. Relationships make up most of their world. Learning to function relationally is a key to their success.

How preschoolers learn to relate, communicate, and function with others determines who they are becoming and how they see and understand the world. Their social and emotional development is what drives this process.

Studies have shown that “children who are emotionally healthy are better able to establish and maintain positive relationships with adults and peers.”¹ Therefore, we need to offer emotional supports to preschoolers to prepare them for further development.

Social-emotional development involves “expressing emotion. … taking turns, becoming independent in following routines, interacting more with peers, engaging in meaningful relationships with others, controlling emotions, and developing a positive self-image. … Social-emotional milestones focus on children’s developing abilities to regulate their attention, emotions, and behavior, and to form positive relationships with adults and peers.”²

What Social and Emotional Support for Preschoolers Looks Like

First, providing social and emotional support includes a basic understanding of key social-emotional developmental milestones.

There are many sources for developmental information. A generally accepted source is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones, you can find developmental charts for ages 2 months to 5 years.

Remember, these are general time frames and skill groups. Each child develops at their own pace based on many factors. These charts are to be used as general guidelines to help you identify needs and plan accordingly, not used as strict measurement tools.

Review the information for the age of preschoolers you are serving and build a solid knowledge base of what to realistically expect. Remember that your focus is on helping each child grow to be all God created them to be.

Second, once you understand the developmental milestones of preschoolers, you can prepare to be an engaging teacher. A teacher who knows his or her preschoolers understands where they are developmentally, where they need to grow, and is willing to do what it takes to get them there.

As such, you base your session planning and time spent with preschoolers on your goal of building a social-emotionally healthy child. Thus, you:

    • Participate with them in interesting activities and/or exciting materials — sharing a common experience that lends itself to teaching and modeling opportunities. For example, sit with preschoolers to build with blocks, letting the child take the lead.
    • Intentionally design impactful opportunities for preschoolers to develop and exercise social skills. You might sing a welcome song with preschoolers or plan an art activity for preschoolers to do together.
    • Choose to actively engage with preschoolers through play, conversation, and doing routine tasks so that you can help them work through social and emotional situations. You could get down on preschoolers’ eye level and participate in dramatic play with them in the Homeliving interest area.
    • Learn preschooler’s interests and enable their learning by following their lead. Do you notice your preschoolers gravitating toward an interest area of the classroom? Plan activities for that area and ask questions that will help them learn.
    • Provide social-emotional support by regularly sharing positive feedback. Tell preschoolers “Way to go!” or “You did it!”

Jesus understood the workings of a child. He chose to be with them. His requirements were not that they be “little adults,” but that they be who they were — precious growing beings who were capable of great things (Mark 10:13–16). He went as far as to challenge the adults around them to be more like them — accepting God’s kingdom as a child would.

So, follow Jesus’ lead. Take the time to get to know your preschoolers and invest in their growth and development. Chances are you will learn as much from them as they do from you.

by Gina Smith

  1. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective, 6th ed. (Pearson, 2013), paraphrased in “Social-Emotional Development: Preschool Children,” Virtual Lab School, accessed March 19, 2024, https://www.virtuallabschool.org/preschool/social-and-emotional-development/lesson-2.
  2. “Social-Emotional Development: Preschool Children,” Virtual Lab School, accessed March 19, 2024, https://www.virtuallabschool.org/preschool/social-and-emotional-development/lesson-2.

Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.