- The parent–child relationship serves as a training ground for children to build social and emotional skills.
- Parents can use children’s screen time as a space for learning, especially when it comes to managing difficult emotions.
- Asking questions, bridging material with your child’s life, and calling attention to traits/themes are three ways you can boost learning opportunities!
Children learn a lot from their parents, from how to walk and talk to the importance of manners and hard work. In fact, this is so well known that it is commonly summed up by the popular saying, “children are like sponges.” One of many reasons the parent–child relationship is so important is that it serves as a training ground for children to build social and emotional skills they can apply to future relationships.
Emotion socialization is a term that describes how children learn to identify, understand, and control their emotions from their interactions with others. Think back on a time when your child was expressing an intense emotion, such as anger, and how you as the parent reacted to your child. While a single incident may not be particularly impactful, a pattern of positive (e.g., acknowledging the child’s emotions and helping them to problem-solve) or negative reactions (e.g., punishing the child for emotional outbursts or withdrawing completely) to these expressions can impact the ways children express or react to emotional experiences over time.
Now, while modeling is an important part of this process, there are other ways that parents can help children build on their social and emotional skills. One such way is for parents to use screen time as a space for learning. To help with this, we’ve provided the A-B-C strategies of joining in below.
Ways Parents Can Build Children’s Social and Emotional Skills
- Ask questions! As opposed to watching in silence, try engaging with your child by asking questions. Not only does this allow you to watch and monitor what your child is doing, it’s a great way to interact and show that you value their interests and perspective. For example, if your child is a big fan of PAW Patrol, you might ask: “What about Rubble makes him your favorite character?” or “What’s the Kitten Catastrophe Crew?”
- Bridge material with your child’s life. You can also use questions to provide valuable teaching moments, especially when it comes to managing difficult emotions. For example, if your child has trouble dealing with feelings of anger, you can point out displays of anger in a TV show they’re watching and ask questions like: “What’s going on here?”, “How would you have felt in that situation?”, and “What could Katara do differently next time to avoid hurting Aang’s feelings?” Doing so helps your child better identify these emotions as well as healthy ways of managing them.
- Call attention to important themes or character traits. So, you’ve asked your child the who-what-where’s and are thinking now what? To take this a step further when you’re joining in, highlight important aspects and traits that you either: 1) would like to see more of from your child, or 2) know that your child struggles and needs some extra help with. Highlighting these aspects brings awareness to positive qualities of the programming more broadly. For example, Minecraft and Animal Crossing may seem like pointless games, but they are actually a great way for children to improve their creativity skills and teamwork if they play with friends. To do this, offer labeled praises, like “I like how thoughtfully you’re putting that house together — you’re so creative!” or “Good job working together.”
Using these strategies may be easier said than done given busy schedules and other competing priorities. However, the idea of joining in can be flexible and easily molded to whatever method best suits the needs of your family. Whatever you do, just remember: have fun!
Interested in learning more about children’s social and emotional learning?
- The Committee for Children has a 3-minute introductory video on why social and emotional learning is important to children’s development
- Rutgers University’s Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab provides resources broken down by child age, including older children in grades 6+; resources are available in both English and Spanish
- Emotion Coaching UK provides a 5-minute introductory video on the steps to coach children through difficult emotions and the benefits of doing so
DiMarzio, K., Satoba, S., and Parent, J. (December 1, 2022). Building Young Children’s Social and Emotional Skills through Screen Time. https://infoaboutkids.org/blog/the-abcs-of-making-screen-time-good-for-young-children