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The Best Social and Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

Come discover The Best Social and Emotional Activities for Preschoolers. Preschoolers are in an almost constant state of learning and discovery to make sense of their emotions and their social world.   Each day includes a plethora of new opportunities.  Spend some time with young children and you’ll soon be navigating squeals of delight at a garden worm in one moment, before then offering comforting words and touch to support them manage frustration with a toy or puzzle of some sort. 

Learning about emotions and how to manage big feelings is very much a social activity for children and draws upon the support and relationships with important people in a child’s life. In this article we look at some practical activities you can engage in together to support your child’s social and emotional development.   

mother and daughter baking a recipe, The Best Social and Emotional Activities for Preschoolers
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Building a Secure Attachment for Social and Emotional Security:

Before we look at some practical ideas, it’s worth spending time considering the importance of the relationship between yourself and the preschooler you’re considering supporting with social and emotional activities.  Strong, warm, and supportive relationships with important adults in their life are critical for children to learn how to understand their own feelings and begin to recognize that other people have emotions and feelings too.   

By establishing positive relationships with your preschooler, you’re creating space to explore their social and emotional world.   You can think of this relationship as being a secure base or safe haven for your preschooler to then use as a backdrop to their explorations.   The relationship is a container that supports both their venturing into the world and their return to you for comfort and protection.  

The ideas below for activities for developing social and emotional development in preschoolers are all situated within the setting of this strong, secure attachment relationship.  These activities work best when they’re joint activities for you and your child.  

Sharing Books Together:

Reading to your preschooler is a tried and tested activity.  It seems so simple, to sit and share a book together!  Yet, there is an awful lot happening at a social and emotional level when you share a book with a preschooler.  Let’s consider the different aspects:

  • When you offer your preschooler a choice of what book they’d like to share with you, you’re supporting   their decision making.  You’re also encouraging them to notice how they feel about the choices they have.  To avoid overwhelm, offer a small selection of two or three books to choose from.  
  • As you settle down to look at the book together, promote your child’s autonomy by asking them who they’d like to hold the book?  Who will turn each page? 
  • As you sit together, aim to give your child your attention and interest to make it clear to your preschooler that you support them and can share and delight in a shared experience.  
  • As you read through the book, you can ask your preschooler how they think different characters in the story might be feeling?  If the work is a non-fiction book, ask them for their thoughts and feelings about the book.  Do they like the pictures, for example?  Listen carefully with an openness to what your preschooler has to say.  This can help to build their confidence and develop language skills.  Ensure that you offer a welcome and an interest to all emotions your child may express, so that you avoid communicating that some emotions are “better” than others.   You can also share your feelings about the book to model reciprocal turn taking in conversation.  

Check out this Top 10 Book List to get your library started:

Developing a Sense of Self:

As children enter their 4th year, they are often increasingly interested in similarity and difference, including the ways that they’re both alike and different to others.  This emerging and growing sense of self is an important developmental milestone for preschoolers. 

A simple and creative way to approach chatting about similarities and differences between yourself and your child is to draw round each other’s hands to create a hand shaped image on a piece of paper.  Whose hand is bigger?  Smaller?  How many fingers do you both have?  You can also chat through what physical sensations you both felt as you drew around your hand.  

Another activity that can support your child’s developing sense of self using similarity and difference is to engage in some physical play together.   Who can jump the furthest?  Who can crawl through a tunnel with ease?  There will be some physical skills you may be more adept at – you’re an adult, of course!  But there’s likely to be some things your child excels at – squeezing between a tight gap or spinning on the roundabout tends to come more easily to preschoolers than adults!  By modeling your willingness to try things that are difficult for you, you’re encouraging a growth mindset which can support emotional wellbeing.  

Check out The Best Self-Esteem Activities for Your Preschoolers to keep building this sense of self and discovering new found independence.

Keep Talking:

As you spend time with your preschooler, chat about what it is you are doing and experiencing together.  That can include any emotions you are feeling.  This allows you to name emotions and build your child’s emotional literacy. Fostering Creativity in Your Preschooler is a great way to facilitate the conversation building while also getting creative.

If you are waiting in line, you can simply say – “I’m feeling cross about standing here.  I am trying to be patient but it’s difficult”.   Invite your preschooler to say how they are feeling about the shared experience.  Many preschoolers’ express emotions at a physical level – and might be able to comment they want to jump up and down, or have a funny feeling in their tummy, for example.  Keep talking about feelings and sensations to encourage expression of emotions in your preschooler.  

So – as we’ve seen, social and emotional activities for preschoolers can be varied and need not cost the earth.  At the core of any activities is the supportive relationship in which they take place.  That relationship can be used at the container for a whole host of activities that support them to develop emotionally and socially. 

Social and emotional activities for preschool can be tons of fun, but sometimes we run into behavior issues. These issues can be big or small. Check out What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan to curb tantrums and stay on top of emotional regulation.

mother and daughter making a recipe

Our Lead Contributor, Claire Law has a background of almost 20 years of teaching experience. She now works as a relational psychotherapist, writer and trainer. Claire is passionate about supporting children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

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