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Social and Emotional Skills for Kids: Get Ready for K Through Play


I feel that today’s fast-paced world makes social and emotional intelligence more critical for our kids than ever before. Here are a few ways I am working with my kids on social and emotional intelligence. I’m always looking for new ideas, so please take a moment to share your insights in the comments for this post!

Make Room for Pretend Play

Pretend play comes in many forms: small world play (as my son is doing with Lego guys in the photos for this post), dress-up, and in role-playing games. Legos are one of my favorite pretend play tools; I also like wooden blocks with small figurines. Pretend play is a wonderful way for kids to explore emotions and social situations!

Go Outside

Being in nature is very calming, and it allows kids (and adults) space to think and reflect. Going geocaching really sparks my kids’ imaginations!

Slow Down

Knowing how to spend a quiet afternoon is a great skill! Slow days give us time to really get to know our kids – and for them to get to know us! Our kids need to see us in all walks of life – happy, sad, and relaxed as well as rushed.

Explore Emotions

We have made simple puppets to explore emotions. Sometimes we go through and talk about emotions before drawing the puppets’ faces; other times my kids have made puppets without being given any guidelines and we have talked about what emotions the puppets were expressing once they were made. Follow this link for more ways you can teach children emotional intelligence.

Take a “You Can” Approach

My sister recently sent me this post about the “You Can” approach, and I think it’s brilliant! I also need to add my own appreciation for Early Intervention – their employees have helped my kids face challenges and have made me a better parent. If you live in the United States and are concerned about any aspect of your young child’s development – social or emotional as well as physical, I highly recommend looking into getting an evaluation. You can get an evaluation for free without committing to services (which are also free), and I have been incredibly impressed with the people who worked with my own children. They serve children aged 0-3 in Massachusetts, but I have heard that the age cut-off may vary by state.

Manners and Eye Contact

Please, thank you, and knowing social norms for speaking up go a long ways in life! And it’s much easier to learn these skills at home than in school!

Some children need to be taught that you are much more likely to be listened to if you make eye contact while stating your concerns and requests. Be sure to model this by making eye contact with your kids when you ask them to do something or explain why they need to change their behavior. I find that making eye contact helps me stay calm when I have a child whose behavior is making life challenging!

Be Kind

Kids will not learn emotional or social skills if you are frustrated, impatient, or angry while teaching them. Model the same kindness, thoughtfulness, and self-reflection that you would someday like them to have.


The best part of developing social and emotional skills is that they leave your child more prepared to face their fears! And, as you help your child develop these skills you may find yourself improving as well!

Get Ready for K Through Play button

This post is the second of eight in the Get Ready for K Through Play series I am working on with Bernadette of Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas, Megan at Coffee Cups and Crayons, Vicky at Mess for Less, Cerys at Rainy Day Mum, and Kristina at Toddler Approved. Be sure to check out their posts as well:

Drop by our Get Ready for K Through Play Pinterest board for more ideas!

What are you doing to teach your kids social and emotional skills?

MaryAnne at Mama Smiles
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MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

16 thoughts on “Social and Emotional Skills for Kids: Get Ready for K Through Play”

  1. Elisa | blissfulE

    Just coming back after reading that “you can” post. Wow! Incredibly positive and helpful!!

  2. Elisa | blissfulE

    Excellent points all! I find that slowing down helps with all of them, not just for the kids but for me as well.

    Terrific photo of Johnny engrossed in pretend play. Wonderful moment, beautifully captured.

  3. Oh, yes to the manners- these are great ideas. What really caught my eye is that I need to expose my daughter to Geocaching- I think she’ll dig it.

  4. I frequently remind J to look at me while he’s talking – it not only helps direct his voice towards me (projection) but I can also try to read his lips in case I missed the sounds of his words. We also have to remember to look at them while they are talking and model the behavior we expect. P.S. I love Johnny’s shirt in the first photo. J’s just really getting into role playing. It’s interesting to listen to his interpretation of everything he’s been told.

  5. Great ideas MaryAnne and very timely for me. I’ve been trying to spend some time exploring emotions with our upcoming move but have been a little too caught up in packing!

  6. Hi,
    Totally agree with item #1- “Make room for pretend play”. We are passionate about kids being having time for unstructured play through the medium of a cardboard box. Enjoyed reading this. Thanks

  7. There happen to be a large number of kids that are on the spectrum but seem ok in all other areas. These kids don’t develop social and emotional skills the same way regular kids do and the earlier they get help the easier it will be for them to integrate.

  8. An awesome post. I especially liked your last point about modeling the qualities you are trying to teach. Too often I have “do as I say not as I do” moments :)

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