Anyone who has ever seen a preschooler passionately denounce the same friendship twice in one play-date, "You're not my friend anymore!" knows that young children aren't born emotionally competent. Emotionally competence means she identifying, communicating and regulating her emotions, along with developing empathy for the emotions of others. In addition, though her latest play-date meltdown may have you convinced that she will be the next playground bully, there are activities to encourage appropriate emotional reactions and regulation.
Like adults in line at the airport, preschoolers usually need instructions, and many reminders on taking turns. Activities where your child frequently takes turns, such as a cooperative toy or a simple board game, will require lots of instruction--at least in the beginning, "Tell Charlotte that you would like a turn. See the timer on the wall? When the timer dings it will be your turn, say thank you to Charlotte and now it's your turn." The more practice she has communicating what she wants, patiently waiting her turn and graciously giving someone else a turn, the more fluent she becomes at sharing.
Spreading the Love
Sure, your preschooler beams like she has just solved world hunger when you compliment her for latest indecipherable scribble, but emotional competency means understanding the benefit of making others feel good. Explain what a compliment is and how it makes someone feel good. Then, practice giving compliments back and forth, including other family members for variation. See how many compliments you can think of together about a relative and write them down in a letter.
Do not be surprised if your preschooler thinks cooperation is another word for,"Do what I'm telling you." Cooperative activities help her realize that communication and working together can actually make activities easier and more fun. Have her and a playmate help you knead pizza dough or build a block castle and comment on how much faster and fun it is when everyone works together. If she frantically tries to roll the entire crust before her friend gets turn, stop the activity and explain how cooperating means allowing others to finish their part without interrupting, even if it means waiting a little longer.
Modeling and Discussion
Preschoolers absorb tons of information from stories, as she demonstrated during her last stomachache when she tried to nibble on the houseplant, because, hey, it worked for Eric Carle's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Reading stories about friendship, sharing, feelings and consideration for others fleshes out these abstract concepts, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. You can also put on plays together using finger or hand puppets acting out a common social situation correctly and incorrectly.
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images