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Feature Article


Social and emotional skills help children succeed in school, life

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, Human Development Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


What does a child need to be successful in both school and life? Although learning numbers, colors and ABCs are essential, it’s also important for children to learn social and emotional development and behavior skills. Young children will find learning difficult if they have problems following directions, getting along with others and controlling negative emotions. On the contrary, children who are emotionally well-adjusted are likely to have early school success. According to the Zero to Three Policy Center, young children’s emotional, social and behavioral competence is a strong predictor of academic achievement in early elementary school. The following are suggestions for teaching your children social and emotional skills for success in school and life.

  • Help children learn feeling words. Children need to be taught words to describe their feelings and emotions. For instance, when your child is having a good time playing with a toy, let them know how happy he or she is. When your child is angry, say “You seem angry.” When your child is frustrated, describe the feeling by saying, “You look frustrated.” If you continue to use words to help young children learn feelings, they will put their feelings into words.
  • Use story books to learn about feelings. Story books are great resources to help young children learn about feelings. Many characters in story books show different feelings and children learn a great deal from them. When you read a story to your children, make sure to talk about the feelings of the characters. When children learn feeling words to describe how they feel, they are less likely to misbehave.
  • Teach children to recognize feelings in others. Children can be taught how to read the feelings of other people. Identifying other people’s feelings involves facial expression, body language, the tone of voice and the situation context. Children can also learn other people’s feelings through playing with other children. When a child is sad, you explain to your child how you know this through nonverbal signs. When children learn to read other people’s feelings, they become better at finding the right things to do. For instance, children may bring a toy to the child who is sad. By encouraging children to try to help others, they are learning to be caring and sensitive peers.
  • Teach children to solve problems. The most important thing we can help young children learn is to solve their own problems. When children have a chance to practice how to solve problems, they become better at getting along and working with others. Research shows that children with problem-solving experience have more solutions and that their solutions are better suited to the situation than children with no experience.



Van Horn, J. & L. Horning. 2007. Success in school and life. Penn State Cooperative Extension.


Zero To Three. 2003. Assuring school readiness by promoting healthy social and emotional development. Washington, DC: Zero to Three Policy Center.


Zins, J. Bloodworth, M., Weissberg, R., & Walberg, H. 2004. “The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success.” In Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say?, ed. J. Jins, R. Weissberg, M. Wang, & H. J. Walberg, 1-22. New York: Teachers Press, Columbia University.


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Last Updated 08/16/2011