Module 1: Introduction to Social and Emotional Health: Definition and Research Support

Module 1: Introduction to Social and Emotional Health: Definition and Research Support

baby playing with toy

What is Social and Emotional Health?

Within the context of one’s family, community and cultural background, social and emotional health is the child’s developing capacity to:

  • Form secure relationships
  • Experience and regulate emotions and,
  • Explore and learn

(Definition from Zero To Three)

Social health reflects a child’s developing ability to form close, secure relationships with other familiar people in their lives such as parents, relatives and other nurturing caregivers. This trusting bond helps children to feel safe in exploring their world. Raver and Zigler (1997) defined the term social competence as a group of behaviors that permits each individual child to develop and engage in positive interactions with other people. The following groups of behavior included are:

  • responding to and initiating interactions between caregivers, siblings, other adults, and peers
  • participating in cooperative and social activities
  • managing behavior and resolving conflict
  • knowing about self and others
  • showing empathy
  • developing a positive self-image and self-worth.

Emotional development is closely tied to social development. It refers to the expression of a child’s feelings about herself, others, and the situations she will face in the world around her as well as gaining control of her bodily functions, learning to focus, and pay attention in the context of nurturing support by familiar caregivers (Mackrain, Golani & Kairone, 2008). Witherington, Campos, and Hertenstein referred to emotions as “the processes by which an individual attempts to establish, change, or maintain his or her regulation to the environment on matters of significance to the person” (2001, p. 429). Emotional competence has been defined as the ability to effectively regulate emotions to accomplish one’s goals (Campos et al., 1994). Emotions are reactions which are experienced differently by each individual. This is why different people can have different emotions when experiencing the same event. Young children need to develop and safely express a variety of emotional responses so they can learn to adjust to new situations and achieve their desired outcomes. This results in a richer social environment and more satisfying relationships for the child and those around him or her.

This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.