As we reach a new stage of infectious disease, many families are seeing the light at the end of a very long tunnel. Masks have been removed, travel bans have been relaxed, and it is no longer customary to keep children in a safe distance. While this is exciting news, emerging research suggests that parents have experienced unprecedented levels of stress over the past few years and that there is an increase in challenging behaviors and developmental delays in children born during or before the epidemic (“COVID generation”). One area of particular concern is how years of limited social interaction – distance school, no birthday parties and playdates in zoom – have affected children’s social and emotional development.
As we continue to navigate and adapt to life beyond the epidemic, it is important to support children’s social and emotional awareness by building their language and communication skills.
At the outbreak of the epidemic, we shared some tips on Brookings Blog to help children understand their expressions when people cover their faces with masks. We are concerned about young children’s language development because they rely on caregivers’ facial expressions and tone of voice to control people and their response to new situations – call emotional communication development researchers Social reference. Now, as we approach the new phase of COVID-19, we want to help families and caregivers enhance their children’s social and emotional development after many years of limited interaction. This is the subject of our new book An emotionally intelligent child.
Helping children build “feeling” language skills
One of the best ways to build children’s social and emotional skills is to enhance their language and communication. Research supports that talking to children about emotions is one of the most important predictors of emotional competence – children learn how to express and control their emotions and recognize emotions in others. Language is the bridge between self and others and there are many ways to support the language of children growing up in the field of social and emotional awareness. Here are some strategies we suggest:
- Talk to your child about emotions in different settings. For example, if you and your child are in the park and another child is afraid to slide, use what you witness to talk about emotions. Ask your child if they can name the emotion the child on the slide is experiencing. Then, try to listen to your child Why They feel that the other child may be experiencing this and encourage them to notice the face expression, body language and tone of voice of the scared child. This will help your child adapt to the verbal cues to identify the feelings of others.
- When you talk about your feelings with your child, wait for your child to share first and then share your thoughts. This gives your child the opportunity to form their own understanding of emotions and use the vocabulary they know.
- Read stories to your child to build emotional vocabulary. Look for books with pictures that show relationships and convey emotions, and use language to describe how characters feel. Although the story does not specifically address emotions, you can ask your child questions about how the characters’ emotions and characters interact with each other. For example, “How do you think this character feels now?” You may ask. And “What would you say to the character (s) to help the situation?”
- Let your child know that everyone has a private, mental world. In early grade school years, children find that emotions can be masked, noting that how one looks from the outside is not compatible with what one is experiencing internally. Share your mental world so they can share it with you.
- Help your child understand that emotions are always changing. Play with your child: Set a timer to turn off every five minutes for 20 minutes, then continue with your business. When the timer is off, share your feelings (record them on a piece of paper). At the end of 20 minutes, stock up on how many different emotions are experienced.
Language is a powerful tool that allows us to bond with others and understand ourselves. As we continue to navigate and adapt to life beyond the epidemic, it is important to support children’s social and emotional awareness by building their language and communication skills. We outline in our book “Parents with Patience” and many other tools to nurture children’s growth by gaining social awareness and emotional balance.