Alison McClymont is a children’s psychotherapist with over a decade’s worth of experience working at the forefront of children’s mental health. She is the Author of ‘Wilbur’s Memory Box’ her instagram is @alisonmcclymont.

Social and emotional development is a vitally important part of growing up, and 0-13 are some of the most fundamental years of personality building. In these seminal years, children learn about the world around them and their place in it. They learn, empathy, friendship, collaboration and compromise. They learn that life can be a series of negotiations and demands, as well as the joy of companionship. So how can we as caregivers help them along this wild and wonderful journey? By incorporating small rituals into our everyday routines to help them understand concepts such as gratitude, empathy, expressing our own needs and recognising the needs of others. Below are ten ideas of how to get some social/emotional learning into your everyday routine. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be taxing and it certainly doesn’t have to cost anything. So much research shows that children who experience warm, loving and secure attachments grow into kind, confident and emotionally intelligent adults, just a few small additions to your day can lay foundations that last a lifetime

Ten tips to encourage social and emotional development

Gratitude is a good attitude!

Introduce the concept of gratitude to children from an early age, for example at the end of every activity or outing, share some things you enjoyed and then a thing and a person you were grateful for, and ask your child to do the same. This encourages your child to think about the impact others have on them and also the impact THEY can have on their environment. In young children this focus on the environment and small pleasures can be a great start for later introduction of mindfulness.

Say: “I really enjoyed walking with you in the park, I was grateful for the sunny weather, and I was thankful that the lady helped the gate to the playground open for us”

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End of day rituals to encourage reflection

At the end of each day when you are spending some time with your child before bed, try to find a brief reflective moment to think about what they enjoyed today and what they didn’t. Simple and straightforward sentences offer your child the opportunity to name difficult emotions and to introduce the idea that it’s ok to express anger/sadness/ disappointment, this is a part of life. Too often we try to overcomplicate emotional learning to children with overly complex language, keep it light and allow your child to express whatever they need to.

Say “What was your favourite thing today? What was your not favourite thing today?”

Get outside!

Studies have shown that getting children to play outside encourages independence, exploration skills, more naturally attuned sleep skills, and even health benefits such as reducing risks of nearsightedness, obesity, and helping with ADHD symptomology. Researchers have also shown that even a few minutes getting your vitamin D can encourage the development of brain synaptic connections in children

Read books with your children!

Researchers from Ohio University found that children who entered nursery having been read 5 books a day heard 1.4 million words than those who had never been read to! This “million-word gap” researchers explained could be the basis for later literacy and learning gaps. The team stressed that words heard in books may be more complex and structurally different from everyday conversation and that this “extra textual” exposure is a keen component in the basis of reading

Role play

One of the things parents tell more than anything is “I love playing with my kids, I love the crafts, the arts, reading, the playground….but I hate the imaginative play”. You are not alone! It’s really, really hard to drum up the energy as a tried, busy parent to engage in this sort of play. But fear not, imaginative play and all the benefits it brings doesn’t mean you have to play Anna and Elsa or the fireman and Shopkeeper for hours a time. Just 15 minutes a day will be helpful to encourage social learning, problem-solving, emotional articulation, and language exploration. Imaginative play is so important to allowing children to “try on” new roles and explore aspects of themselves and others. Studies have shown that children with developed imaginations adopt better coping skills for life adversities and develop more creative problem-solving skills. Imaginative play doesn’t have to take place at home, it can fit into the walk to school, the bath time, the early morning…whenever suits your family best. So go on….it’s just 15 minutes, who knows, you might like it?

Household chores!

Whilst household chores sound like hell to a parent, children greatly enjoy the sense of being “helpful”. Giving children small age-appropriate chores, such as setting the table, bringing their plate to the kitchen, making their bed encourages independence, and most importantly a sense of “family community”. The child that has a task starts to feel that they have a role, this is key to fostering empathy for others, control of one’s actions and also a generosity of spirit

Do something fun after dinner!

In my house after dinner, is always a “dance party”- for 15 minutes we put Alexa on and we dance. All members of the family get to choose one song and everyone has to join in. It’s a great way for the children to expunge energy before bed and a wonderful intimate family ritual. Also, it’s a fun way for adults to wind down their day and to laugh at Dad’s dancing. If dancing isn’t your thing, what about going for a walk, or playing a board game. If weekdays mean separate dinner times- no problem, just do a weekend night. Whatever it is, find your own after-dinner family ritual and have fun.

Talk about your day

Of course, all the data tells us that family mealtimes are important, but this just isn’t practical for every family, so instead find times in your days to simply ask about each other’s day and to talk about YOUR day. Every parent knows the response from the school child of “how was school?” uttered straight as they come in the door. Find a time when everyone is relaxed, maybe around the dinner table if that is doable or just before bed to talk about your day, then ask about your child’s day. The idea here is to model conversation and empathic connection by first sharing something from your own experience and then opening up the floor for your child to share theirs

Family Dinner

Yes, I know this isn’t always a reasonable goal for every night of the week, and yes, I know you’ve heard it all before. But even just once a week, around the table (!) helps to model table manners for the younger members (and maybe the older!) of the family, encourage connection through conversation and experience sharing, healthy eating habits, and also turn taking……but no technology at the table!

I love you

Every day regardless of the day you’ve had, or might be about to have…say “I love you” to your child. It reinforces on a daily basis that they are valuable, they are protected, and they are adored. Children who feel strong attachments to their caregivers have been shown in countless studies to go on to excel in almost every area of their life. Knowing we are loved gives us courage, gives us self-compassion, gives us hope and gives us joy. Loved people go on to love others.

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