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Pre-K social and emotional development: Here's how to help your child

Sometimes it's hard for your preschooler to talk about their emotions. These tips can get you started.

Looking for tips on how to talk to your preschooler about their emotions? Here are some basic tips that experts suggest to help with social emotional development for pre-K.


Self-awareness is knowing your emotions, strengths, and challenges, and how your emotions affect your behavior and decisions.

Connect feelings with words.

"I was very proud of you when your teacher told me you behaved so well in class. How does that make you feel?"

Validate your child’s feelings.

"It can be frustrating when that toy falls apart, can’t it? I get frustrated sometimes too. Let’s see if we can fix it together."

Teach your child that it’s O.K. to ask for help.

"If you need help, say, ‘Help,’ and I’ll be there to jump in."

Talk to your child about perseverance.

"You tried really hard" or "I like how you didn’t give up" or "I could tell you were trying your best," rather than "you did well."


Self-management is controlling emotions and the behaviors they spark in order to overcome challenges and pursue goals.

How to give clear directions so your child learns what is expected of them:

"Please put your toys in the red bin, and your book on the shelf so that you will be able to find them easily and your room will look nice and clean. Thank you for being so helpful!"

Social awareness

Social awareness is understanding and respecting the perspectives of others, and applying this knowledge to social interactions with people from diverse backgrounds.

How to talk to your child about the feelings of others in real-life social interactions:

"How do you think that your friend Alice felt when you shared your favorite toy with her today? Why do you think she felt this way? How did it make you feel when we did this nice thing for her?"

How to teach your child about the value of kindness:

"I know you are mad at your friend, but how would you feel if she stole your toy?" or "It hurt your sister when you hit her, how would you feel if someone hit you?"

How to explain to your child about how they can make new friends:

"New friends like it when you smile, tell them your name, ask them how they are doing, and tell them ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’"

How to talk to your child about personal space:

Ask them to stretch their arms out, and tell them, "This is your personal space. People like to have their personal space. If you get too close, they may not like it, and that’s why it’s best to keep this space between you and them."

How to remind them about appropriate behavior in different situations:

"When you are outside with friends, you can use your outside voice, but when you are in a library or a wedding, you should use your inside voice."

How to discuss similarities and differences with your child:

"In the United States, people say ‘hello’. In other cultures, like India, people bow and put hands together and say ‘namaste.’ In France, people kiss three times on the cheek."

How to talk about your own family’s traditions or history:

"Even though we all are different, we are similar in many ways. We all love our families and like it when people are kind to us. It’s important to respect and be nice to all people, no matter where they come from or who they are."


The ability to interact meaningfully with others and to maintain healthy relationships with diverse individuals and groups contributes to overall success.

How to talk to your child about their relationships:

You can ask them, "Did you make any new friends at school?" or "Did you share your toys with your friend Freddy today?" or "Why did you get upset with your sister? How do you think that made her feel?"

For children going through hard times with friends:

Try "Freddy may not want to be your friend today, but give him some time, and if he doesn’t want to play with you, ask him why. If he is still not being nice to you, why don’t you play with your other friend Andy instead?"

How to discuss trust and honesty with your child:

You can say, "When I ask you to help me pick up your toys, I trust that you will do it," or, "When I drop you off at school, you can trust that I will come and get you every day."

If you see a child break something, try "Did you do that?"

If you ask them, and they say no, you can say, "It’s important for you to tell me the truth and I promise that I will not get angry with you." You can add, "trust is when I ask a question and you are honest, and tell me what really happened."

How to help your child manage conflict and work with them to find solutions to problems they may be having:

"Why do you think your sister got upset when you called her a name? How did that make her feel? Do you think you should say sorry to her? What can you do next time so that you don’t make her mad?"

Responsible decision-making

Responsible decision-making is the ability to make choices that are good for you and for others. It is also taking into account your wishes and the wishes of others.

One way to help your child make decisions is to allow them to make some choices on their own.

"Do you want carrots or broccoli with dinner tonight?" instead of, "What vegetable do you want?" You’re allowing a choice, but both choices have outcomes you’d like.

How to talk to your child about helper adults:

You can tell them, "Do you see that security officer here in the mall? You can go to him for help if you get lost. Do you see that police station here by the park? If we ever get separated, they can help you find me."