Social and Emotional Competence

Definition: the ability to experience and regulate emotions, form relationships, and explore and learn

  • Children who have these skills are likely to grow up to have healthier behaviors, better peer relationships, and respond to stress better. 
  • Every child is different and will react to situations differently, but if they are socially and emotionally healthy they will be able to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, engage in problem solving and conflict resolution.

Most of this time, these skills are developed naturally, however there are some activities you can do with your children to help.

  • Create a nurturing positive relationship and a supportive environment for your child
  • Examples of phrases that help children feel supported and encouraged:
    • “That’s a cool way to…”
    • “I’m so appreciative that you…”
    • “It really pleases me when you…”
    • “You’ve really grown up because you…”
    • “You are a real problem solver for…”
  • Help your child to build an emotional vocabulary
    • Emotional vocabulary is the ability to recognize, label, and understand feelings in one’s self and others. It is the foundation for children’s ability to control their emotions, develop relationships, interact with others, and become effective problem solvers. 
  • Children with a strong emotional vocabulary:
    • Tolerate frustration better
    • Get into fewer fights
    • Engage in less destructive behavior
    • Are healthier
    • Are less lonely
    • Are less impulsive
    • Are more focused
    • Have greater academic achievement
  • Talk about your emotions and the emotions of others, read books and tell stories about characters dealing with strong feelings
    • This helps them to learn strategies to manage their emotions in appropriate ways


Make-Believe Play

Why is it so important?

  • Make-believe play fosters self- regulation: this means more mindful decision making
  • Children are more creative during make believe play, than when they are being entertained (i.e. the TV and video games)
  • They engage in higher thinking which helps to develop the minds. Research has shown that this leads to higher achievement in math and literacy
  • In years past, make-believe play was not something we had to think about for children, they were doing it on their own,  but now children are constantly in front a screen and spend more time there than active play
  • Parents can help children engage in make-believe play by setting up an environment so that children can play

When your child is 1-3 years old

They are at the age where they are unsure of how to play unless someone shows them. They are just beginning to learn to play with objects in a pretend way.

  • Make sure all distractions (electronic devices) are turned off
  • Leave play things out so that they are easily accessible, then they can replay what they remember
  • Have children pretend to do everyday actions that you are already doing. Say ‘Let’s pretend to make dinner’ you pretend to make your dinner and then tell them ‘Now make your dinner’
  • Make up a role. It is important to play being someone. Pretend that you are someone in your family (other than yourself) doing an activity.
  • Model what people say. When children play maturely, they act and sound like the person they are playing.
  • Choose toys that are easy for children to manipulate. Tiny figurines should be saved for when they are older. Huge dolls and stuffed animals don’t work either. Baby dolls that a child can dress and undress, hold in their arms and bathe are perfect.
  • Avoid toys that “do the thinking” for the child. Dolls that talk and dance encourage children to play in a very specific way. Try to buy toys that children can use to create many different scenarios, like plastic animal figures or a simple baby doll.
  • Have props that help a child carry out a scenario, like old clothes, purse, doctor kit, carpenter kit, kitchen set, etc.
  • Include blocks and household objects like cups and spoons that can be turned into other things with some imagination. 
  • Look for opportunities for your child to play with mixed age groups of children.


When your child is 3-5 years old

At this age, children have the idea of how to pretend but need ideas of what to pretend.

  • Use everyday chores, situations or errands as an opportunity. Point out ‘roles’ they can pretend.
  • Let ‘props’ be creative. Instead of giving them a play stethoscope for playing doctor, let them create their own stethoscope.
  • Play with your children. Be a secondary role and ask questions to prompt the playing “What’s going to happen next?”
  • Help your child expand the roles and add to the script.
  • Read a story together and let it be the basis of play. Use story that your child likes and has heard many times; act it out
  • By the age of 4, children should be able to begin playing with fewer props, they can invent their own props!
  • Introduce simple board games like Chutes and Ladders and Candyland


When your child is 5 years old and older

5 year old children should be able to create and act out elaborate make-believe scenarios on their own or with other children. Don’t feel discouraged if your child isn’t at this stage, just use some of the suggestions for younger children. Practice makes perfect!

  • Have materials around and accessible for children to make their own props for playing. 
  • Children will begin to play more with little dolls and action figures instead of dressing up and playing the roles themselves. They may engage in “directors play” in which they talk and act for the figures, playing several roles and changing their voices for each of the actors.  Lego toy sets and dollhouses encourage this kind of play.
  • Use stories and literature as a basis for play. Encourage children to make their own versions of familiar stories or make completely new stories, and then act them out.
  • Play games with rules. Board games and simple card games (Go Fish) are good


  • Encourage kids to play together and to play with kids of different ages
  • Host play groups
  • Give children enough time to play. Often times we over schedule children or we think they are bored and interrupt them with an adult-directed activity
  • Play that promotes self-regulation is play in which children pretend to be someone and become so immersed in that character that they act and talk like that person