The aim of the interviews/questionnaires was to identify the main socio emotional competences to develop in children (0-6 years). Further, to identify the most relevant skills and competences educators need in order to provide socio emotional competences for early childhood education.
- Why do you think it is important to support the social and emotional competences of young children?
In all countries, participants agree that supporting young children’s social and emotional competences is important for their welfare here and now and in the future. It is also critical for the development of communication skills. In addition, such support has been shown to facilitate young children’s adaptation to school and to learning. Some respondents also stated that this support plays a highly significant role in reducing the likelihood of conflicts in communications and anxiety.
- How would you define social and emotional competencies?
In the reports from Iceland and Romania, it was revealed that participants found it difficult to define social and emotional competencies. A common understanding of these skills includes children’s ability to understand and control their emotions, to understand how others feel and to manage relationships with others. Therefore, social and emotional competencies are about self-awareness and communications skills.
- What socioemotional competencies do you find most important for young children (0–6 years)? Why?
Many competencies were mentioned in each country and were similar across countries. They can be categorized on an individual level or a social level. Competencies that participants found important for young children on an individual level were independence, self-confidence, self-awareness, creativity, critical thinking, and the ability to understand their own emotions.
On a social level, competencies that participants identified as important for young children were communication skills, friendship, empathy, solidarity, trust, respect, kindness, collaboration, understanding, active listening, care, and support.
- During your professional career, what strategies have you encountered for supporting preschool children’s social and emotional competences?
Play is considered a beneficial activity by which children can learn and develop their social and emotional competences. Through play, they learn to communicate and respect others.
Participants mentioned different strategies; some used commercial materials focussing on social skills and friendship. It was common for participants to use stories or photos that describe some kind of conflict and different emotions. These were used for discussion in the children’s group. Freedom to express oneself was emphasized as well as the importance of offering space where children could share their feelings and experiences. Several mentioned the importance of having rules and routines and of teaching values. Finally, collaboration with parents and other educators was also noted.
- What is your experience with methods to support the development of social and emotional competences? Which have proven most effective?
The participants reported positive experiences with the methods they described. Some said that different methods were better for different ages. For example, talking to older preschool children about their emotions and the conflicts they faced was effective, but with the youngest children, using teddy bears, puppets, and similar artefacts was more successful for approaching these topics.
- Can you give examples of activities/methods that have worked well for you?
Participants from all countries offered examples of methods that they felt worked well for them. Common to all countries was listening to the children and giving them opportunities to express themselves and their feelings. Participants also described different activities they used successfully, for example, using care stones, stories, a bullying-prevention program, a problem-solving wheel, role-playing, songs, photos showing different emotions, circle time and yoga.
- Have you been able to assess the success of these methods? If so, in which way(s)?
Most participants from all countries said they used observation to assess the methods and reported that they could see improvements in various areas of activities in daily practice and reflect on these together. Several had also used more-formal tools, lists or questionnaires to evaluate the outcome.
In Romania, 93% of the participants answered that they had assessed success but did not explain how. Finally, some mentioned positive feedback from parents as a measurement of success.
- What are the main challenges educators face when supporting children’s socioemotional competences?
Most participants mentioned that having too many children in each group was the main challenge. Difficulties collaborating with families were also mentioned number of times, and it was reported that the main reason for these was parents’ lack of interest. Some said that different values at home and at school create challenges since parents focus more on individualism, while the preschool focusses on social factors. In two countries, participants said that the parents put too much responsibility on the preschool. In addition, many mentioned a lack of support and a lack of teachers for children with special needs and to work with the increasing numbers of children with foreign backgrounds as particular challenges.
- How can these challenges be addressed?
Participants from Estonia mentioned the need to have fewer children in each group. Many said that good collaboration between teachers is highly important, and others noted that good communication and collaboration with parents is helpful for meeting challenges. Teachers’ abilities to be aware of their own emotions and able to express them and reflect on them were also seen as important.
- What are the most important attributes that educators must have to help children develop their socioemotional competences?
Participants from all countries mentioned similar attributes. Among these were empathy, patience, tolerance, warmth, understanding, joy, calmness, communications skills, willingness to listen to a child and understand their reasoning and having a passion for the practice.
- What would help you in your work supporting social and emotional competences of preschool children?
Many participants said that they wanted more training, seminars, or courses on how to support social and emotional competencies. Some mentioned that they would like to have more games or programs to use for supporting these competencies. Better staffing situations and better financial resources were also mentioned, in addition to access to outside experts such as psychologists or speech therapists.