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While preschoolers have much more advanced motor skills and cognitive abilities than toddlers, they are still acquiring important social and emotional skills. Preschoolers most important relationships are with their parents and other family members, but they are beginning to form friendships with peers and those outside of their families. Support and guidance from adults will help preschool children navigate these early interpersonal relationships. All preschoolers develop on their own schedule. As always, discuss any development concerns with the child's family. The following can be used as a guide to early social and emotional development. Preschool teachers should observe students for signs of these milestones on several different occasions.
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Many preschoolers have difficulty negotiating conflict situations, and will often resort to aggressive behaviors. Preschoolers as old as five years of age still have a tough time with self-control and conflict resolution. Developing these skills depends largely on intervention by an adult who is willing and able to teach appropriate behaviors. One of the best ways to discourage inappropriate aggression is to model prosocial behavior. Helping, sharing, comforting, and cooperating with other children and adults will all show the children in your care appropriate interpersonal skills. Punishment of antisocial behavior is not an effective way to teach effective interpersonal relationship skills. When a conflict arises between two children, it is sometimes necessary for a teacher to physically place herself between the two children and provide the appropriate words to work through the conflict. Over time and with plenty of adult direction, these words and behaviors will become more automatic for children.
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Not as easily observable as cognitive and motor skills, is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the milestones of emotional development. Preschool teachers should take as much time as possible to observe children's interactions with each other. Some milestones to watch for when evaluating emotional development of a preschooler include, but are not limited to:
- Shows ability to separate from family
- Adjusts to new situations
- Expresses own feelings appropriately
- Follows class routines and rules
- Respects and takes care of environment and materials
- Plays well with others
- Is able to make friends
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Fostering Social-Emotional Development in the Preschool Classroom
There are several ways preschool teachers can structure their classroom environment to provide opportunities for children to practice social skills. Teachers can provide ample opportunities for children to work together in twos and small groups. With a teacher available for help if necessary, children should be given the chance to work cooperatively in all learning centers. While it is sometimes necessary for an adult to step in and coach a child through appropriate prosocial behaviors, the teacher should give the child the chance to work things out on his or her own before interfering. Children learn appropriate prosocial behaviors mostly through observational learning, which is why it is always important that teachers model positive prosocial skills with the children as well as the adults you interact with.
Fostering Children's Social Competence: The Teacher's Role; Lilian G. Katz and Diane E. McClellan; 1997
Understanding Children; Judith A. Schickendanz; 1993