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Social-emotional development of a toddler is a gradual and integrative process. It refers to the process of inculcating self-awareness, social skills, and self-control to maintain healthy relationships (1). Through this process, a toddler learns how to express, experience, understand, and manage emotions. And it enables them to build meaningful and strong relationships with those around them.
Preschool social-emotional activities teach values such as cooperation, empathy, being helpful. Toddlers also acquire the concept of turn-taking more positively and learn how to be patient. These skills would carry throughout their life.
From the moment a baby is born, they begin learning social-emotional skills. Here’s how social-emotional development activities benefit preschoolers and toddlers (1):
- Children with stronger social-emotional skills cope better with daily tasks.
- They have a better grasp of various academic subjects.
- Their social approach and facial expressions are more appealing.
- A child with stronger social-emotional skills may be professionally more successful later in life.
- It has a long-lasting effect on problem-solving skills and self-discipline.
- The child can maintain healthy friendships (2).
- They can better manage stress and anxiety and adhere to social norms.
- These activities help in establishing positive relationships.
Here are some fun social-emotional activities that you can try with your toddlers and preschoolers (3):
1. Starfish and tornadoes
Draw a thermometer with a starfish at the bottom and a tornado at the top. Begin the activity by asking your child if they feel calm like the starfish or restless like the tornado. If they feel restless or over-energized, you may help them stay calm as the starfish by explaining its importance and how it helps. Dribbling a ball to release some energy might be helpful.
2. Turtle time
Take your child to the park and stroll around observing everything. In this activity, it is vital to move slowly like a turtle. Also, make the child observe how they should choose to behave in a social situation. For instance, if the swing is occupied, your child may choose to play on the see-saw first.
3. “Who am I right now?”
Draw an image of your child doing something nice, such as helping someone, on some cards. Now show it to your child and appreciate their good deeds. You may also tell them how you could fill more cards when the child would engage in doing something good. This would encourage them to be helpful and kind to others.
4. Let’s make a deal
Sometimes your toddler can be very fussy and disobey you. Try singing “The Old Man” song, which says “You want this. I want that. How can we both get what we want?” Now brainstorm ideas to resolve this situation calmly with the child.
5. Taking turns taking charge
Make a tradition in the family where once in a week, everyone gets to pick out their choice of either a movie, food, or game. The child would learn to appreciate others’ choices and also get an opportunity to do things of their interest along with the family.
6. Row row row your boat (4)
This activity helps in improving interaction with their fellow partners. Two children sit facing each other and hold hands. Now start singing the song “row row row your boat” and let the children rock back and forth together.
7. “Choo-choo” game
For this activity, children will form a line and put their hands on the shoulder of the one standing in front of them, pretending to be a train. Now they can start singing choo-choo songs and move around in the room.
8. Blocks or Lego
Give children a set of blocks to play with. They can come up with creative ideas and build something fun. When played in groups, this activity also teaches them to be patient and cooperative.
9. Doll-house set
Playing in the dollhouse with various toys such as furniture and utensils is very close to how a home functions. Children can share this space with their friends and make a big and interesting game out of it. This would also make them more aware of how things are done in others’ homes and encourage diversity.
10. Doctor play-set
Provide children with all the equipment in the form of toys used by a doctor, such as a stethoscope. Let them play doctor and patient, and take turns. As a result, they may learn how to understand problems and be more sensitive towards others.
11. Play kitchen
Instruct children to arrange the kitchen set and play with their peers. They can perform activities such as chopping vegetables, or cleaning utensils, and cooking food. Teach them to take turns every few minutes so that they all get to do each activity once.
12. Sand box
Make small groups of children play together in the sandbox. Tell them to build something together. This activity involves constant interaction and cooperation and would help the toddlers understand the importance of team work.
13. Symbolic play
In this game, children pretend to do the work they see adults do with the use of their toys, such as a toy laptop where they pretend to do their office work or a toy telephone where they make important calls or simply stirring a toy spoon in a bowl from their kitchen set pretending to cook something
14. Chair line-up
For this activity, you need small chairs arranged in the form of a train. Ask the children to grab a seat for themselves and give each of them a chance to be the train driver.
Ask the children to form a circle and tap on one of the children’s shoulders. This child has to either make a sound or perform an action that the rest have to imitate. Tap on another child’s shoulder now and continue till everyone gets a chance to perform.
16. Puppet show
Watching a puppet show helps children learn and identify different types of emotions being portrayed in front of them. Each emotion is shown with a unique expression and body language that can teach children to understand and label emotions.
17. Share the box
This activity involves all the children working in one space, for instance, painting a large box. Here, they have to share the space they want to paint and divide it equally amongst everyone.
18. Take care of animals
For this activity, you would need a few stuffed animals. First, tell the children how animals can get hurt and what first-aid can be given. Now, let them demonstrate it on the stuffed animal. This will not just bring more awareness in them but make them compassionate too.
19. Story hand
You can use this idea when your toddler succeeds in a task. For example, take the child’s first finger and say, “this little child was scared to swing,” then take the next finger and say, “but the child was brave and decided to get on to the swing” and so on.
20. Teach a nursery rhyme
Older siblings or friends who are a grade ahead of the toddler can teach fun rhymes. This offers an opportunity for some pleasant interaction and cracking up on jokes. As the rhyme is recited, make actions related to the lyrics and let the toddler mirror the person reciting it.
Social-emotional learning is of paramount importance to follow acceptable behavior, connect with people, and maintain healthy relationships. When we teach a child from an early age to be empathetic and considerate towards others’ feelings, we shape a better human being for the future.