Pre-K  Social & Emotional Development

During the pre-kindergarten years, children are learning very quickly. While children at this age may have short attention spans, they often learn best by being read to, playing pretend and observing others, especially you. By setting a strong example, you can show your child how to be socially and emotionally intelligent. Keep in mind that every child develops at his own pace. Maurice Elias, director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University, recommends being watchful without overly worrying, as preschoolers are extremely different in their rate of development and your child may even excel in one area and lag in another. The concepts highlighted in this section are based on the five sets of competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). If you have concerns about your child’s development, please contact your healthcare provider, his teacher or school counselor, or visit our additional resources page.

Social & Emotional Development


Self-awareness is the ability to know your feelings and how they affect your behavior. It is a skill that your child can begin developing at this early age, but it is something that continues to develop into adulthood. At the ages of 3 and 4, your child is likely to increase the words she uses to describe her feelings. She also has likes and dislikes, and her own unique personality. Your child is learning more about herself, and part of building that self-awareness is learning her strengths and weaknesses as well.  

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Self-management is the ability to control your emotions and work toward goals, a skill that is important for all ages. At this age, your child may not be able to control his feelings or understand how to handle them. For example, he may take toys away from siblings or friends, or even bite or hit, when he is angry. It is your job to teach him appropriate behavior.

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Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to take the perspectives of others and apply it to your interactions with them. It is also being aware of socially acceptable behavior. At this early age, some children may have a hard time knowing how to interact with others in a socially appropriate manner, and how to recognize another person’s feelings and needs.

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Relationship Skills

The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups defines relationship skills. According to CASEL, this includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.

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Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible decision-making is the ability to make sound judgments about your behavior and how it affects others. Responsible decision-making includes all the social and emotional knowledge your child has built so far. Your child must weigh the impact of her choice on both herself and others. It is through making choices that she learns about hurting or helping others, and gains important relationship and problem-solving skills. Will she share a new toy with a friend? Or will she keep it all to herself?

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Parents' Guide

Research has shown that those with high emotional intelligence have better attention skills and fewer learning problems, and are generally more successful in academic and workplace settings. We offer the following examples as a guide to help you continue to be a strong, positive influence on your child's social and emotional growth, and to reflect your own skills in the process.

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Other Pre-K Growth Charts

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