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Why We Should be Teaching Social Emotional Skills

teaching social emotional skills

It’s true confession time….

I have tried every behavior management system known to man.

^ Okay, that might be an exaggeration.  But, I’ve tried a ton: clip charts, treasure box, marbles in a jar, compliment parties, walking laps at recess, safe seats, individual reward systems, sticker charts… the list is ridiculous.

But, chances are … if you’ve been in the teaching world for a while, you’ve tried a lot of them too.

The fact that not one of those systems worked for every student should not have been a surprise.  There is no one size fits all solution to behavior. Children are unique and need unique approaches.

If you want to read about why I banished those clip charts, I’ve written all about it.

If you want to read about why I am no longer a junk dealer using a treasure box, I’ve also written about that.

But, here is the thing….

We want children to do the right thing because they know it’s the right thing to do.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic, Inherent, Natural, Innate

Aka: We don’t want to have to police children (or adults) because they have no intrinsic motivations. When they have no intrinsic motivation they behave based on the premise of not getting caught (punishment) or getting a reward for something they should have already been doing (reward).

So, jump back to those reward/punishment based systems. What were they missing?


We are teachers. We love to teach. And teaching social emotional skills shouldn’t be any different.

For example: If a child came to us not knowing the names of shapes. What would we do?  Teach them of course.  Would we expect them to learn it in one small group session?  No, of course not.  We know the research behind that.

So… we would teach the missing skill (naming shapes).  Would we ever punish children for not knowing the shape names? Of course not.  They just haven’t learned them yet!

Now, let’s look at a behavior- hitting.  We want to stop the behavior so we try different things. Maybe it’s time out, maybe it’s getting a reward when they don’t hit. Whatever it is, we try it.

But, wait… there is a missing skill here.  It may not be as obvious as the missing skill of naming shapes and this missing skill may not show up on your assessments.  But it is there.

Why is that child hitting? Investigate. Could it be because he/she doesn’t know how to handle another child taking their toy. Could it be because he/she wants to play and doesn’t know how to ask? Or is it because he/she doesn’t know what to do instead when they are angry?

It could one or more of many reasons.

But, finding out that reason and teaching the corresponding missing skills is where the magic happens.

It’s the biggest WHY of why we should be teaching social emotional skills.

Finding the real problem that is hidden under the behavior and teaching a better way.

Read Part 2 of this Social Emotional Learning Series here.

Social Emotional Learning Guide

Go from frustration to real progress with student behaviors in your preschool classroom by teaching social emotional skills.

How? This FREE GUIDE will show you!

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I love helping preschool teachers be the best they can be, by providing quality resources and sharing fun ideas!

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