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Social and Emotional Intelligence

by Melissa Starker

Which is more important for success in school and life: the intelligence quotient (IQ) or social and emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is defined as an understanding of and the ability to manage one’s feelings and emotions. Likewise, social intelligence is an understanding of and the ability to function in group settings. Over the past 20 years, brain research has increasingly highlighted the critical role that social and emotional intelligence play in children’s ability to grow and learn. In fact, research has shown that both social and emotional intelligence influence all other areas of children’s development including physical and cognitive development. Numerous studies have indicated a significant link between social skills and emotional intelligence to school readiness and school success. After all, learning is more than just knowing. We have to use what we know to question , communicate, and work with others in our everyday lives.

Three Key Factors

As noted by Willis and Schiller (2011), there are three key factors teachers can foster to improve children’s readiness skills as they relate to social and emotional intelligence including confidence, self-control, and communication.

1. Confidence is a learned skill that is essential to children’s emotional development. A positive attitude and realistic perception of skills and abilities can grow when children have opportunities to solve problems on their own.

Several children are hovering near a window apparently watching the clouds darken and trees sway as a storm brews. The children had been preparing all week for an outdoor parade and were concerned the weather would prohibit their opportunity. Mrs. Neal joins the discussion and empathizes that the parade would likely be rained out. She then begins questioning the children to determine a solution to the problem. After several minutes, the children decide to present to the class the option of re-scheduling the outdoor parade or moving the parade indoors to the hallway. Mrs. Neal knows that giving children the opportunity to solve problems builds their confidence to build successful strategies and try new ideas.

2. Self-Control is the ability to manage emotions, actions, and desires. Children need to learn limits to behaviors. Having experiences that reinforce the effectiveness of their choices helps build self-control in young children.

Ms. Candice and her 4-year-old class came up with five class rules to help everyone get along and function together throughout the year. One of the rules states “we will use our words to solve problems” and Ms. Candice has several children having difficulty with that rule. She decides to have a series of discussions during group time about staying in control of our emotions. She shares her emotions with the children when occasions arise. She also discusses ways to handle strong emotions such as calming strategies. She inserts several books into the reading area that deal with strong emotions such as No, David! By David Shannon and When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang.

3. Communication involves words, tone of voice, body language, manner of address, and active listening – all essential in social settings as children learn to negotiate and be a part of a group. An essential part of social and emotional growth is the ability to build relationships, which occurs through communication.

Desiree and Henry are playing in the block area together. They have built an elaborate scene and story line involving a princess and prince. Desiree and Henry have a disagreement about who will rescue the princess from the dangerous dragon and begin a heated discussion. Ms. Sparks moves nearby to assist and model the appropriate language to use when solving a problem. The children determine two solutions for the rescue mission and agree to work together. They happily resume playing and Ms. Sparks is confident they can complete the activity on their own.

What Teachers Can Do To Help

As demonstrated in the above scenarios, teachers can help children learn important social and emotional skills by:

  • Modeling the skill for children such as demonstrating the appropriate communication strategy.
  • alking about the skills during discussions with children or providing books that increase children’s understanding of social and emotional skills.
  • Acknowledging the efforts of children when they demonstrate a skill such as sharing, showing empathy or communicating a request.
  • Taking time to reflect and review the skills by providing feedback and support to encourage children.

While academic instruction is important to school success, building social and emotional intelligence will contribute to school readiness, success in school, and endure throughout children’s lives.


Epstein, A. (2009). Me, You, Us: Social-Emotional Learning in Preschool. Ypsilanti, Michigan: HighScope Press.

Willis, C.A., & P. Schiller. (2011). Preschoolers’ social skills steer life success. Young Children 66 (1): 50-54.

Melissa Starker

About Melissa Starker

Melissa Starker is the Child Care Training Specialist at Lifelong Learning Adult Education program through Greenville Co. Schools. She coordinates training sessions for providers in Greenville Co., many of which participate in the ABC Child Care Program. Melissa has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for 15 years as an infant/toddler teacher, training coordinator, and trainer. She holds a M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education. Melissa is fully certified in the Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) training modules and is a Master Certified Trainer with the Center for Child Care Career Development. She is also a member of the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Greenville Co. Child Care Association (GCCA).