Preparing Children for School Socially and Emotionally

Starting school for the first time can be very exciting for children, but it can also be a bit stressful as they meet new people in an entirely new environment. The social and emotional skills needed to cope with these new experiences and do well in school are an important aspect of “school readiness”, yet these skills are sometimes overlooked.

Experts at The Genius of Play suggest that the easiest way to learn and perfect these skills is during playtime. The Genius of Play is on a mission to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits play provides for children. I spoke with one of our experts, Dr. Erik Fisher, who shared his insights about the importance of play in helping kids strengthen their social and emotional skills before they head to school.

Play is when a child’s imagination comes alive, notes Dr. Fisher, and it can also be an indication of how they see and deal with conflict and emotions. Various factors, including social exposure, experiences, and maturity impact the way children play and interact with one another. As parents, observing and participating in play can be a great way to learn about, understand and influence your child’s social skills development.

Children tend to express themselves most in unstructured playful social settings, such as creating activities and games with friends, as well as playing with action figures and dolls and through role play type video or Internet-based games. Rather than rushing to critique certain behaviors they deem inappropriate, parents should learn to practice patience to fully observe how interactions unfold, while being on-hand to help guide their child. They can do this by asking questions about why their characters are making the choices that they are making. They can also ask their child to see if there are different options and what the outcomes of those options may be. 

Play is also one of the most effective ways to increase your child’s empathy. Watch how your kids play with action figures, dolls and plush toys, as they tend to use these playthings to express how they see the world. You may observe strengths and deficits in their play, providing an opportunity to get involved with feedback to help build their empathy skills. Parents should provide feedback, guidance and ask questions, such as:

  • What might ‘X character’ be feeling when that happened and how would ‘Y character feel’ if ‘X’ responded that way?
  • What are you hoping the outcome of this interaction might be, and do you feel like events like this happen to you or your friends?
  • What would you want to happen differently, and how would you get to that outcome?

Help your kids to realize that there may be a reason people express certain emotions, such as fear anger, happiness, hatred, surprise and many others. Parents can use play ideas from, such as “Mad Face, Scary Face” and “Five Things”, to open a dialog with their kids and develop their emotional intelligence in a playful way.

The social interactions in game play are critical to learning empathy and overall emotional maturity. Games teach kids how to manage feelings as they experience winning and losing; how everyone responds to those emotions becomes a further avenue for learning. Parents should model healthy behavior and communication, as they help children look through the eyes of the winner(s) and loser(s) to see how it feels to be in the other person’s shoes.

Dr. Fisher shared even more advice and tips with The Genius of Play on how parents can use play to prepare kids for school and life! Expert tips for building emotional and social skills, creativity, and brain power can be found on The Genius of Play website, along with play ideas for kids to do all summer long.

Playing with your children to develop and strengthen their social and emotional skills can easily be intertwined into your summer. It will help kids prepare for the first day of school and put your mind at ease, knowing they have the tools to succeed!

For more inspiration and play ideas, visit and follow @GeniusofPlay on Facebook and Instagram!

Article by Anna Yudina