Parenting the Preschooler: Social Competence and Emotional Well-Being
Ages & Stages
Preschooler A child who is 3 to 5 years of age.
Young child A child who is 0 to 8 years of age.
Minding Our Language
Families come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. A “family” may include people who are related by blood, by marriage, and by choice. “Parents” may be biological, step-, foster, adoptive, legally appointed, or something else. When we use the words “family” and “parent” in these materials, we do so inclusively and with great respect for all adults who care for and work with young people.
Incredible things happen during children’s preschool years when it comes to developing social and emotional skills. Children learn about the importance of social interactions and develop skills for interacting with others. They learn to respect the rights of others, to communicate, and to treat other people the way they would like to be treated.
They continue to develop meaningful relationships with family members and begin to form friendships with their peers. These early relationships allow them to test their budding social skills and help prepare them for the many relationships they will have in the future.
While developing social skills and emotional well-being, young children are also learning to regulate their feelings and actions and to solve problems. Self-control, in particular, is one of the hardest and most important skills for preschoolers to learn as they get ready for school and navigate their expanding worlds.
As a parent, you are one of the first people to socially interact with your child. You play a vital role in helping your child develop social skills in the family and the outside world. As one of your child’s first and most important role models, you will be sharing your family’s values about behavior with them. How you respond to your child and to other people – in warm and nurturing ways, coldly, or not at all – will be what your child learns about how you expect them to behave.
Social and emotional skills that are critical to school success (such as persistence, impulse control, and emotional regulation) are learned through parent–child interactions and through social play. Digital play is not a good substitute for in-person, face-to-face interactions and doesn’t help children learn critical social and emotional school readiness skills. In fact, unsupervised or inappropriate media use or fast-paced, distracting, or violent digital content may contribute to social and emotional delays and behavioral issues.
The fact sheets in the Social Competence and Emotional Well-Being section of Parenting the Preschooler provide information and suggestions for helping children develop social skills, build relationships, develop self-control, express their feelings, and manage their behavior. The materials offer insight into why preschoolers act the way they do and suggestions for working with children in developmentally appropriate ways. The fact sheets also reassure parents that some of their preschoolers’ more frustrating behavior is a typical part of early childhood development and offer practical suggestions for handling everyday situations.
Social Competence & Emotional Well-Being Fact Sheets
- Independence – How does your child ask for help?
- Responsibility – How do you teach your preschooler to be responsible?
- Choices – How do you help your child learn to make choices?
- Sharing – How do you encourage your child to share?
- Compromise – How have you seen your child make compromises?
- Conversation skills – How do you talk with your child?
- Manners – How does your child use good manners?
- Problem-solving – What have you seen your child do to solve problems with others?
- Listening – How do you teach your child to be a good listener?
- Consistency – How are you consistent with your preschooler?
- Empathy – How do you teach your child to care about other people’s feelings?
- Parent-child relationships – How do you maintain a loving relationship with your preschooler?
- Relationships with siblings – How do you help your children get along with each other?
- Relationships with siblings – How do you help your children build strong relationships with each other?
- Relationships with others – Who are the most important people in your child’s life?
- Relationships with others – How do you teach your child to be a good friend?
- Relationships with others – How do you help your child make friends?
- Relationships with others – What does your child do to join in with others?
- Self-control – How have you seen your child use self-control?
- Following rules – How do you make good rules for your child?
- Problem-solving – How does your child solve problems?
- Following directions – What do you do to help your child learn to follow directions?
- Independence – What is your child doing to show independence?
- Expressing feelings – How does your child show you how they feel?
- Expressing feelings – How does your child show anger?
- Expressing feelings – What makes your child laugh?
- Expressing feelings – How does your preschooler show stress?
- Understanding feelings – How do you help your child understand their feelings?
- Understanding feelings – How do you help your child cope with their fears?
- Understanding feelings – How do you support your shy child?
- Transitions – How do you help your child cope with changes?
- Outbursts – How do you handle your child’s outbursts?
- Aggression – How do you help your child control their aggression?
- Bossiness – What do you do when your preschooler is bossy?
- Manners – What do you do when your child interrupts?
- Manners – How do you react when your child is misbehaving?
- Lying and telling tall tales – What do you do when your preschooler lies?
- Lying and telling tall tales – How do you respond when your child tells tales?
- Tattling – How do you react to your child’s tattling?
- Whining – What do you do to stop your child’s whining?
- Tantrums – How do you manage your child’s tantrums?
Find Out More
MSU Extension provides the following resources for parents and caregivers of preschoolers and young children at no or low cost. Be sure to check out these and other MSU Extension resources available at www.extension.msu.edu.
Extension Extras (https://bit.ly/2LC2vdX) – These compilations of news articles, activities, parenting tips and advice are published online Monday through Friday. The resources are designed for parents and caregivers of young children who are home all day during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Each day has a theme: Mindful Mondays, Tips on Tuesday, Working Wednesdays, Thinking Thursday, and Fun Fridays.
Extension Extras Enrichment Kits (https://bit.ly/35QAplQ) – These kits feature five or six early childhood activities with learning goals focused in areas such as social and emotional health, literacy, and STEM; a supply list; suggested children’s books; introduction letters explaining how to use the materials; and an evaluation. The kits are available as free downloads.
Early Childhood Videos (https://bit.ly/3ioyEkS) – These short videos offer parents and caregivers of young children information on parenting topics. Titles include “Perspective Taking,” “Family Movies,” “Goals of Misbehavior,” “Using Thinking and Feeling Words,” “The Waiting Game,” and “When Siblings Fight.”
Building Early Emotional Skills (BEES) in Young Children (https://bit.ly/38XW4KI) – This page provides links to a variety of free online parenting courses, workshops, and events offered by MSU Extension for parents and caregivers of young children aged 0 to 3.
This is a revised edition of the Parenting the Preschooler curriculum that was originally published by Michigan State University Extension in 2006. The authors of this edition would like to thank the authors of the first edition for leading the way.
Parenting the Preschooler: Social Competence and Emotional Well-Being © 2021 Michigan State University Board of Trustees. The fact sheets in this series may be copied for purposes of 4-H and other nonprofit educational programs and for individual use with credit to Michigan State University Extension.