During pre-school and kindergarten classes, children learn their ABCs and how to count, but it also is an important time in a child’s social and emotional development. Children must begin to learn to listen quietly, focus, cooperate, respect others and manage difficult emotions like anger or disappointment.
Not only do children need to acquire these abilities to succeed in school but also in life, says Clinical Psychologist Janice Englander Katz, the founder and president of The Child Care Consortium that operates Imagination Station Child Development Center in Michigan City.
Dr. Katz has spent the last 28 years working to improve the lives of children and families, and her new book, Guiding Children’s Social and Emotional Development: A Reflective Approach, is a textbook geared toward students studying early education but also can benefit current teachers and parents.
The book teaches readers to understand children’s developing emotions and behaviors, and to use self-reflection when working with children. “The book really encourages the adult to examine characteristics of him or herself and reflect upon these factors so they can be more effective with children,” Katz said.
According to Katz, three factors must be considered when guiding a child’s social and emotional development—the adult’s own biology, temperament and personality; messages internalized from past relationships, including expectations and beliefs about children’s behavior and emotions; and the social and emotional strengths and weaknesses of the professional or parent.
Katz says she chose the word self-reflection intentionally. “The metaphor that I use is to imagine you have this magical magnifying mirror,” Katz explained. “When you look in this mirror you can see all of the things I just described to you and really know yourself. Then angle that mirror so you can see the child according to some of those same variables.”
Katz recommends teaching emotional and social skills in the same way you may teach a child to catch a ball, by taking it step by step. “If your child were having trouble catching a ball, you’d break down the process into really small bites,” Katz remarked. “You’d get real close and show them how to hold the ball. You’d want to give them a lot of practice and opportunities.”
When teaching a child to manage anger, for example, Katz recommends first considering how you address your own anger, and then teach the child how to deal specifically with the anger, such as how to take deep breathes, count to ten, or clench and unclench their fists. “Sometimes we have to teach them directly how to do what we want them to do,” Katz explained.
Just like learning to catch a ball, learning social and emotional skills takes time, says Katz. “There’s a development progression in which children learn these skills too,” Katz said.