Emotional wellness, social skills, and life skills are important tools for children to develop. Learning what a positive relationship is — including supportive and nurturing interactions with parents, caregivers, teachers, and peers — starts at infancy. How to integrate feelings and deal with difficult situations will form an essential part of your child’s overall emotional development. Self-control is another vital skill for your child to learn, in order to appropriately express, communicate, and manage emotions and behaviors.

Social Skills Training for Children

Evidence-based programs are effective at increasing performance of specific skills. Social skills training is a component of multi-modal interventions to address emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders. (Source: Spence, S.H., Social Skills Training with Children and Young People, 2003)

Articles on Social Skills and Children's Development

  • Caution…Children at Play (2012)
    Pediatricians agree that playtime is a very important part of a child’s social development. But hectic family schedules are making finding time for playtime more challenging than ever. The Nemours Foundation suggests 30 minutes of adult-led physical activity and 60 minutes of unstructured play each day.
  • Intellectual, Behavioral, and Social Outcomes of Accidental Traumatic Brain Injury in Early Childhood (2012)
    The intellectual, behavioral, and social functions of children who sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI) before 3 years of age were compared with a group of uninjured children. The role of injury and environmental factors in recovery were also examined.
  • Social Skills and Academic Achievement (2008)
    This publication clarifies what social skills are and explores their impact on behavior and academics. Research on social skills interventions and programs for children with disabilities is also reviewed. Examples of interventions that can be applied in both classroom and home settings are given as well.

Positive Relationships

Developing positive relationships with family, peers, teachers, and other adults is critical for a child’s optimal emotional growth. Nemours Health and Prevention Services (NHPS) provides a conceptual framework for understanding the development of children’s emotional health.

A positive relationship can be defined as a personal connection with another that consists of mutual understanding, emotional support, and shared activities. A positive relationship should also possess characteristics such as open communication, forgiveness, and effective conflict-resolution skills.

(Source: Kyriakidou and Ozbilgin, 2006).

10 Characteristics of a Positive Relationship

  1. collaboration
  2. communication and reasoning
  3. cooperation
  4. healthy attachment
  5. impulse control
  6. negotiation
  7. respect
  8. self-confidence
  9. trust
  10. value

(Source: U.S. National Research Council, 2000)

Further Reading

Promoting Children’s Emotional and Behavioral Health (2010)
The social and emotional health of children and adolescents — how they experience and express feelings, interact with others, build and sustain positive relationships and manage challenging situations — is an intrinsic part of their overall health and well-being. Children who are emotionally healthy are more likely to enter school ready to learn, succeed in school, be physically healthy and lead productive lives.

Understanding the Emotional Health of Children

Emotional competence is a set of affect-oriented behavioral, cognitive, and regulatory skills that emerge over time as a person develops in a social context and are used to navigate challenging interpersonal situations.

The three key components of emotional development are:
  1. emotion knowledge (awareness of one’s own and others’ emotions)
  2. emotion expression (verbal and non-verbal communication of
    one’s emotions)
  3. emotion regulation (healthy strategies to manage one’s
    emotional experience)

Elements of Emotional Competence

  • awareness of one’s own emotions
  • understanding others’ emotions
  • vocabulary for expressing emotions
  • empathy and sympathy for others
  • understanding that internal emotional state and external emotion expression do not always match
  • ability to cope with distressing emotions
  • awareness of the role of emotional closeness in different relationships
  • capacity for emotional self-efficacy, meaning that the individual views her- or himself as feeling, overall, the way he or she wants to feel

School-Based Preventative Programs Teach Children Emotional Competence

Nearly one in 10, or as many as 6 million children and adolescents, suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder that severely disrupts their daily functioning at home, in school, or in the community. Even greater proportions of children struggle with their emotions, or getting along with others, although these struggles may not develop into a diagnosable mental disorder. Fortunately, evidence-based interventions which prevent, diminish, and treat mental health problems in children are readily available.

Training in emotional competence is a central objective of many prevention programs for young children. One type of intervention is a school-based preventative program that provides educators with the tools to teach and support children in practicing self-control, positive peer relations, and interpersonal problem-solving skills. The school-based model can be very effective, as demonstrated in the 1995 study “Promoting Emotional Competence in School-Aged Children” (Greenberg, Kusche & Cook).

The study conducted a field trial of the effectiveness of the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum, a school-based preventive intervention model designed to improve children's ability to discuss and understand emotions and concepts. Trained teachers provided PATHS lessons during most of one school year. Results indicated that the intervention was effective for both low- and high-risk (special needs) children. The training improved their range of vocabulary and fluency in discussing emotional experiences, their beliefs regarding the management of emotions, and their developmental understanding of aspects of emotions.

Additional Reading

Promoting Children’s Emotional and Behavioral Health (2010)
The social and emotional health of children and adolescents — how they experience and express feelings, interact with others, build and sustain positive relationships and manage challenging situations — is an intrinsic part of their overall health and well-being. Children who are emotionally healthy are more likely to enter school ready to learn, succeed in school, be physically healthy and lead productive lives.

Learning Self-Control

Self-control or self-regulation in children is their ability to monitor and modulate cognition, emotion, and behavior to accomplish their goals, and/or to adapt to the cognitive and social demands of specific situations. Emotional self-regulation in children is fundamentally related to several other targeted health behaviors, including:

  • social skills
  • emotional competence
  • positive relationships
Self-regulation in children encompasses skills such as:
  • paying attention
  • inhibiting reflexive actions
  • delaying gratification

Studies have shown that there is a link between parental styles, emotional self-regulation in children, and competence in school. (Source: Grolnick W and Ryan R, 1989)

Parental support was definitely connected to children's self-regulation, teacher-rated capabilities, and the students’ school grades and accomplishments. Maternal participation was associated to success, teacher-rated abilities, and some features of behavioral alterations, but no major associations were found in connection with just fathers’ support.

Health Literacy & Life Skills

Nemours Health and Prevention Services (NHPS) believes that health literacy
and advocacy are necessary life skills, especially for young adults. Health literacy is the ability to understand and use information to make appropriate health decisions.

Improving health literacy is critical to help people gain access to health information and be able to use it effectively. Low health literacy can affect people’s wellness by limiting their health knowledge as well as personal, social, and cultural development. Health literacy is itself dependent upon more general levels of literacy.

Improving Health Literacy in Child Preventive Visits

The widening gap between low health literacy skills and increasingly complex health information may be responsible for preventable disparities in child health. Controlling for income, gender, and age, several studies have suggested that children of parents with limited literacy skills are less likely to receive some of benefits of basic preventive care.

When the third edition of Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents was published by the AAP in 2007, the authors recognized that the complexity and volume of health-promotion information exceeded the time available for information exchange at each pediatric office visit.

In an attempt to address this conundrum, the AAP identified five anticipatory guidance priorities for each visit and provided an extensive toolkit that includes parent/adolescent questionnaires and health-information handouts that summarize the anticipatory guidance information for that visit. These national guidelines acknowledge the challenges of imparting information to individuals with low health literacy, yet the mechanisms for doing so are left up to the clinician or health care delivery system to develop.

Resources to Help Improve Health Literacy

Handouts & Resources

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