Growing healthy minds - Ideas for educators

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  Published on Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Growing healthy minds - Ideas for educators

Library Home  >  Approaches to Early Childhood Education
  Published on Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Growing healthy minds: ideas for educators to support social and emotional development to build mental heath.

This article was written by KidsMatter a mental health and wellbeing initiative set in early childhood education and care services and primary schools. KidsMatter provides a framework that helps staff, parents and carers to work together to create settings that better support children's social and emotional wellbeing needs.

Social and emotional skills are important for good mental health, wellbeing and learning. There are core social and emotional skills that children of different ages develop through their relationships and everyday experiences with others. Through their responsive, warm and trusting relationships with children, educators nurture children's social and emotional skill development.

When educators use intentional teaching and make the most of spontaneous opportunities, children's social and emotional learning is enhanced.

Educators can be supported in a range of ways to develop and integrate their own skills in fostering children's social and emotional development.

Mental health in early childhood

"Mental health in early childhood is seen in the capacity of a young child within the context of their development, family, environment and culture to:

  • Participate in the physical and social environment
  • form healthy and secure relationships
  • experience, regulate, understand and express emotions
  • understand and regulate their behaviour
  • interact appropriately with others, including peers, and
  • develop a secure sense of self.

Early childhood mental health and wellbeing is related to healthy physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. Early childhood development and life experiences contribute strongly to a person's mental health and wellbeing during childhood and later in life.

KidsMatter Early Childhood has organised children's social and emotional skills into three core areas considered essential for children's development of good mental health and wellbeing. These provide a useful way of understanding, organising and planning social and emotional development across the early childhood period.

These areas overlap, and some skills may fall into more than one area. Children may also sometimes demonstrate different skill levels at different times or in different situations.

Sense of self: Children's developing capacity to feel positive about themselves and their capabilities.

Social skills: Children's developing capacity to interact successfully with others.

Emotional skills: Children's developing capacity to recognise, express and regulate feelings.

Babies - develop and learn their social and emotional skills through their daily interactions and emotional relationships with their caregivers. They imitate and internalise these early social and emotional experiences which lay a foundation for all future development.

Educators can optimise babies' developing social and emotional skills by:

  • Engaging in frequent face-to-face interactions, including smiling, laughing and showing joy
  • being affectionate and warm
  • talking to the baby about what they are doing
  • establishing responsive routines to help the baby become regulated
  • starting to play simple and predictable games together, such as finger play and imitating noises
  • calming the baby when they are upset by holding, rocking and patting, and using a calm, gentle voice and a kind face.

Toddlers - continue to develop their social and emotional skills through their close relationships and use imitation to learn from others. Toddlers want to be like adults and enjoy engaging in 'helping' behaviours around every day experiences. They also begin to test their capabilities and their caregivers' responses to their behaviour and thus begin to organise and manage their behaviour and learn about limits and boundaries and their need to adapt.

Educators can optimise toddlers' developing social and emotional skills by:

  • Facilitating experiences and interactions for toddlers to explore and play
  • allowing toddlers to attempt new things for themselves (such as negotiating a physical obstacle, or discovering how a new toy works)
  • facilitating the child's development and practice of their conflict-resolution skills
  • encouraging and acknowledging positive behaviour
  • helping toddlers manage their internal struggle between their growth and development and their need to feel safe, secure and supported (for example, by giving limited choice)

Pre-schoolers' - social and emotional development continues through their social interaction with others. Interactions and friendships with their peers and wanting to be liked are features of preschool social and emotional development.

Educators support pre-schoolers' developing social and emotional skills by:

  • Providing opportunities for children to engage in storytelling, games, play and creative, hands-on experiences
  • arranging opportunities for children to be involved in meaningful decision making (for example, discussing possible places to go for an outing)
  • giving children control over their environment and routines (for example, making choices around meal times and equipment), facilitating children's interactions and developing friendships with their peers and reflecting and discussing children's experiences with them
  • providing opportunities for independent and group problem solving.

The intentional teaching of social and emotional skills requires educators to understand themselves, children and their families. It also requires educators and teams to reflect on all areas of their practice including curriculum, routines, environments, relationships and experiences.

Being intentional includes educators and teams planning to:

  • observe children's social and emotional skills and notice what children can do
  • be 'in tune'
  • have appropriate expectations and scaffold to the next step
  • provide lots of opportunities for children to practice their developing skills
  • communicate effectively – name and label what children are doing
  • be consistent and predictable over time
  • know children well and respond
  • be self-aware
  • have great relationships with families

Helpful resources

Bringing Be You Professional Learning to life
KidsMatter Framework
Observation Chart (BETLS)

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Friday, 31 January 2020