There are lots of activities you can do to develop a three-year-old’s social-emotional development

As a preschooler, as many as half will have an imaginary friend, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to place an extra place at the dinner table. These ‘phantoms’ don’t mean your child is lonely or unstable. In fact, children with imaginary friends are more likely to grow up to be creative, co-operative, sociable, independent and happy.

An imaginary friend can be human or animal, and usually comes with a name and distinct personality. Playing the role of confidant, playmate, protector and scapegoat, they help children practice relationship building and let them be in control for a change.

Watching your child’s interactions with their imaginary friend can give you useful insights into fears and stresses. If an imaginary playmate is afraid of monsters under the bed, then your child may be, too.

Although it’s wise to be respectful of your child’s imaginary friend, try not to get involved in the relationship. For example, avoid using imaginary friends as a way to manipulate your child (“Tommy ate his peas, why can’t you?”). Instead, follow their lead. They know deep down this is an imaginary creation, and it can be alarming if you buy into it too readily. These extra members of the family usually disappear by age seven, as your child becomes immersed in the real-life world of school.

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With this in mind, there are lots of activities you can do to develop their social-emotional development:

Creating a ‘Me’ poster

As a way of creating a positive self-image, on a large piece of plain paper, the adult draws an outline around the child’s body. Then the child can then draw in their features, favourite outfit, paste their favourite things onto the picture – look in magazines for pictures of their favourite sporting equipment or games, music and books, camping or holidays, foods and colours, pets and animals, etc.

In this way the child will be able to define what they like and their favourite things, and the parent can discuss with them why they like specific things.

Talk to your child

Discuss emotions and feelings, and ways in which to deal with them.

Encourage your child in all that you do

Let them know that you believe in them and do not compare them with other children. It is key to identify and highlight the child’s strengths

Other ways in which you can encourage them are:

  • Allowing them to help around the house and kitchen, and handle responsibilities
  • Giving your child the opportunity to interact
  • Teaching your children manners, self-respect and self-love

Having a three-year-old can make you proud and drive you insane all at the same time. Although preschoolers sound and look capable of much more, social and emotional maturity takes time to develop – and that means lots of patience from the parents.

That’s the WHAT and WHY. For the HOW, contact lauren@earlyinspiration.co.za.