Enhancing Your Child’s Social Emotional Development Through Play

Toddlers Playing Together the Floor with a Toy
Share this Page:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

“He had it first”, “Take turns”, “Share your toys!” You’re having coffee with another mom at a playdate as you alternate peeking into the next room to respond to crying and remind your little ones of the appropriate ways to interact. While coaching your children through these natural learning experiences is helpful, you can also enhance your child’s social-emotional development through everyday play at home!

Social and emotional development involves a set of skills that children typically start to learn from the earliest moments in their life, like when your baby hears your voice and turns to look at you. Social interaction, self-regulation, and emotional awareness are all part of social and emotional development. Gaining these skills helps your child experience the world, form friendships, and manage their emotions through life.

More reasons it’s helpful to boost this area of your child’s development? Research shows that a child’s social emotional competence in Kindergarten can significantly predict later academic and job success, as well as mental health.

Now let’s get into how you can enhance these very important skills!

Let’s Pretend!

Playing pretend with your little one’s favorite baby doll is one of the best ways to encourage empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). According to the CDC, this skill develops when your child is as young as 18 months-old! Name emotions as you play with the baby doll. Then narrate what you are doing as you respond. “Aww, the baby is crying! She must feel sad. I’ll give her a hug to make her feel better,” is a great start. Then hand the doll to your child and encourage him or her to take a turn doing the same thing you did!

For toddlers, playing dress up and imitating housework activities is not only fun, but can help them learn to follow others’ cues and encourage independence. At 2 years-old, children start to develop these social and emotional skills. Before cleaning the house on Saturday morning, try handing your child a spray bottle with water or a toy broom and ask him or her to help you. Talking out loud as you clean helps teach your child the vocabulary associated with the task, so he or she can use those words as well.

As your child grows, pretend play can continue to be a fun and helpful way to teach your child some important social skills. Children of ages 3 and up might enjoy playing with toy figures, stuffed animals, or Barbies. Get into character and talk as one of the toys while creating scenarios that require your child to problem solve through different emotions (with your help!). You can imagine there’s only one piece of cake left but both toy characters want some. Talk about how one might be sad if he doesn’t get any cake, and model how they could solve the problem by cutting it in half and sharing!

Take Turns

Turn taking is an important part of social and emotional development. It’s important to teach this skill to your child, as it doesn’t develop naturally. Learning to take turns teaches your child to play cooperatively with others, take another person’s perspective, and use self-regulation skills like patience.

Did you know you can work on your child’s turn-taking abilities from infancy? Play simple games like peek-a-boo, or imitate cooing sounds back and forth as you sit face to face with your baby on your lap, and you are laying the building blocks for strong social skills!

Preschool-aged children can take turns with toys as you play together. Grab a racecar and give one to your child as you take turns sending them down the track. Add language like, “my turn” and “your turn” to model appropriate cues for signaling the routine. Say things like, “I like the way you’re waiting patiently for your turn!” to give your child specific, positive praise. That lets them know what they’re doing well, so they can apply those skills the next time they’re in a similar situation with peers, like waiting to go down the slide at the playground.

Even older children can benefit from participating in turn-taking activities. Playing board games like Monopoly or Uno, or alternating adding Legos to create a building, teaches children some important social skills. Children learn to work cooperatively with others, use appropriate body language (stay seated while playing the game), make appropriate comments to form friendships (“Good try!”), and manage emotions (not becoming upset if the game doesn’t go their way)

Name Emotions as You Play

Take your child’s lead during play and tune into their emotions as you help them name and respond to the feelings. If he or she becomes upset after a tall tower of blocks tumbles down, you might say, “I can tell you’re feeling sad because your building fell over. Why don’t we try building a new one?”. If your child claps after successfully building a new tower, you can respond by saying something like, “You look proud because you did it!”

When children develop language, they typically understand more than they can say. That means, even if your child isn’t able to talk much yet, he or she is still listening and learning! Try acknowledging your own feelings as you and your child play together. For example, talk about how you were worried when you couldn’t find the right spot to put the shape, and relieved when you finally found it!

Incorporating these simple strategies into play is a great way to help your child develop the necessary set of social and emotional skills he or she needs to successfully navigate relationships, school, work, and other facets of life! If you have concerns about your child’s social and emotional development, consider consulting an expert. TherapyWorks provides pediatric Speech, Occupational and Physical Therapies with licensed professionals that can evaluate your child and, if indicated, provide assistance

Therapyworks Erin Michelle

Are you interested in services for your child? Founded by Michelle Worth and Erin Vollmer, TherapyWorks provides in-home speech, occupational and physical therapies in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and teletherapy nationwide.

Related Posts

Road Trip Activities that Promote Speech and Language Development

Planning to hit the road with your kids this summer? You might have thought about packing the snacks, tablets, and …

Road Trip Activities that Promote Speech and Language Development Read More »

Imagine That! The Benefits of Imaginative Play at Every Age

Cook up a delicious meal, perform a check up on your puppy, plant a garden, and heal a sick patient. …

Imagine That! The Benefits of Imaginative Play at Every Age Read More »

Collaborative Board Games for the Win!

Board Games Enhance Cognitive Development   If you’ve found yourself pulling out more board games lately for family game nights …

Collaborative Board Games for the Win! Read More »

Best Tips for Toy Shopping

Best Tips for Toy Shopping With the holidays quickly approaching, we thought this would be a great opportunity to share …

Best Tips for Toy Shopping Read More »

3 Engaging Games to Encourage Your Child’s Language Growth

As many of you know, we love using games in therapy to promote language skills. Games are motivating and don’t …

3 Engaging Games to Encourage Your Child’s Language Growth Read More »

Follow Us

COVID-19 Protocol

We hope you and your family are continuing to stay safe and healthy! We have outlined our protocols for in-person sessions during COVID-19. As you know, the health and safety of our clients and therapists remain our highest priority. As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding as we work together through these unprecedented times.

Hand Washing:
Upon arrival at your home, your therapist will wash their hands with soap and water and/or use hand sanitizer. We ask that you and your child also wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer upon your therapist’s arrival.
We are asking our therapists to wear masks upon entering your home and throughout your child’s session. That said, we understand that some children have adverse reactions to seeing adults in masks and will leave it up to you and your therapist to decide your comfort level while still taking safety precautions.
We ask that parents and caregivers also follow the guidelines and wear masks when sitting in on sessions. We will not enforce that policy, but we do kindly ask for compliance.
As for your child, we realize that masks may not be appropriate for every child so we will not enforce the rule that children over the age of 2 should wear a mask.  However, if your therapist insists that your child wear a mask, then that will be a requirement directly between the two of you. We respect our therapists’ individual comfort levels with safety precautions and ask that you respect them as well.


Protocol Acknowledgment and Health Certification:

Before your child’s first in-person session, we are asking clients to submit an acknowledgment of these protocols and a health certification, which you can find here. Thank you again for your cooperation and for helping all of us stay healthy!