Suffers from a social construct

Social and emotional skills:
Theoretical foundations

Emotional and social skills are closely linked and significantly influence the quality of our social relationships. They determine how well we can deal with our own emotions and the emotions and wishes of others, for example, and how well we can cope with social conflicts. The acquisition of emotional and social skills is an important developmental task in preschool and the basis for psychosocial health.

Promotion of emotional skills using the example of the "Papilio-3bis6" program

Article in the journal report psychologie 44 (6), pp. 10-12

Early prevention has a lasting effect: social-emotional skills protect against the development of addiction and violence "

Technical article on Papilio-3bis6 in Kita-Handbuch (online)


The following theoretical background is (abridged) taken from the book "Papilio: Theory and Fundamentals".

More about the book and how to order

Comparison of socially competent and lack of social competence

The importance of social skills becomes particularly clear when you see how socially competent children differ from children with a lack of social skills:

Children with social skillsChildren with poor social skills

Successful adaptation to the social environment

Behavioral problems, e.g. aggression in preschool age

Positive peer relationships

Few peer relationships

Positive relationship with the educator


Prosocial behavior (e.g. sharing, cooperating, social interactions)

Little prosocial behavior


Extreme forms of shyness

Social and emotional skills are of great importance. The lack of these skills is believed to be the cause of many problems. Therefore, measures to promote social and emotional competence in therapy and prevention of various psychological problems in children are applied. Studies on the effectiveness of these measures confirm an improvement in emotional and social skills and abilities and reduce behavioral problems.

Skills and abilities

Abilities relate to fundamental potentials (e.g. in relation to communication, movement, thinking) that make it possible to control our environment and act competently. They are seen as a prerequisite for realizing a skill.

Skills prove to be more specific than abilities, represent, so to speak, a learned or acquired part of the behavior and become stronger through practice.

Please click on the yellow arrows on the right for further information:

  • Basic concepts of the constructs “emotional” and “social competence” and their relationship to positive and negative developmental processes in children
  • Relationship between emotional and social competence
  • Factors influencing the development of social and emotional skills in children

Emotions are understood as short-lived, transitory emotional states and as a reaction to external events. They are associated with certain physiological (body) reactions and influence what and how quickly we perceive something, how we react to these sensory impressions and what we think. Emotions influence our actions, shape our daily life and decisively shape the quality of social interactions and social relationships with other people. In general, emotions serve to adapt to the environment. A comprehensive knowledge of emotions and the ability to deal with one's own emotions are therefore crucial for experiencing positive social interactions and building stable relationships with other people.

Development task emotional competence

Children first have to learn to deal with their own emotions and those of others. Due to the outstanding importance of emotions for social interaction, the acquisition of emotional competence is one of the most important development tasks in toddlers and preschoolers. It is a basis for other areas of development and promotes them.

Definition of emotional competence

In general, emotional competence can be understood as the ability to deal appropriately with one's own emotions and the emotions of others. Developmental psychology defines it even more precisely, since emotional competence requires a number of skills:

  • Own facial expression of emotion
  • Recognizing other people's facial expressions of emotions
  • Linguistic expression of emotions as well
  • Knowledge and understanding of emotions
  • Emotion regulation

Own facial expression of emotion

Children need to learn to express emotions appropriately through facial expressions and gestures so that other people are able to recognize the emotional state.

In the further course of development they should learn, you to separate subjective feelings from the expression of emotions as needed. This applies, for example, to situations in which the actual emotions should not be shown due to social conventions or to protect one's own interests. Children learn the distinction between experiencing and expressing emotions from around the age of 3. At this point they also begin to adapt their expression of emotions to situations and use them strategically.

Recognizing other people's facial expressions of emotions

Recognizing emotions in other people is important for a successful interaction with you. If children can estimate how the other person is feeling at the moment, this helps them to adjust their own actions accordingly. Children who recognize the emotions of others well are more popular with other children.

Linguistic expression of emotions, knowledge and understanding of emotions

The linguistic expression of emotions includes the ability to describe one's own emotions and thus also to be able to communicate them. A prerequisite for this is a more extensive knowledge and understanding of emotions.

Children with extensive knowledge of emotions can more easily describe their own emotions and thus communicate their needs. Children with poor understanding of emotions have difficulty expressing their feelings and related needs. If a child with poor verbal emotional expression is angry, they are more likely to be more prone to socially inappropriate behavior (e.g., taking away toys or hitting) than children who have the ability to resolve a conflict through verbal communication.

In addition, understanding and knowledge of emotions form the basis for the development of Empathy and prosocial behavior.

Between the ages of two and five, a particularly large number of connections are made between emotions and cognitions. So kindergarten age is a sensitive phase herein which the emotion-cognitive connections must be promoted. These skills form the basis for learning to regulate emotions.

Emotion regulation

The regulation of emotions applies to everyone A child's strategies for dealing with their own emotions. This includes the following skills:

  • Creating and sustaining emotions
  • Control and modulation of the intensity and duration of emotions
  • Possibility to influence the accompanying physiological processes (body reactions) and behavior

Emotion (dys) regulation is related to a common behavior in toddlerhood, which to a certain extent is part of the development of children: the intense tantrums (English technical term temper tantrums).

Development-related changes in the regulation of emotions can be identified particularly well in outbursts of anger or fits of anger. Tantrums are particularly common around the age of two and become rarer as you develop. The most characteristic thing about tantrums is the enormous intensity with which children express their anger. The children experience their emotions so strongly that they are often inaccessible to helpful words.

If tantrums are still common in an older child, there is a lack of control and modulation of the intensity and duration of the emotions. The children's thinking and behavior is severely restricted in such a situation. In the case of interpersonal problems, the children are less able to come up with solutions to the problems and also to implement them. Children with a lack of emotion regulation show less prosocial behavior, are more aggressive and are more likely to be rejected by their peers.

The theoretical construct of “social competence”, like “emotional competence”, has different aspects.

Definitions of social skills

On a very general level, people skills can be called Effectiveness in social interactions To be defined. Effectiveness relates to the achievement of personal goals in social situations, whereby generally applicable social rules and norms are observed.

Social competence is defined somewhat more broadly as the ability of a person to personal goals in social interactions to reach while positive relationships to be sustained to others over time and across different situations. This definition emphasizes the ability to maintain positive social relationships.

Social skills is also called general, overarching competence shown because it denotes the ability to maintain positive social relationships.

Social competence thus comprises a multitude of social skills, behaviors and competencies that relate to tasks in the social environment that a person successfully implements.

Prerequisite: being able to differentiate yourself from others

For socially competent action, all definitions fundamentally require the cognitive ability to distinguish oneself from others. This shows a close connection between social and cognitive development in the first years of life, because the child develops this ability to differentiate in the second year of life.

Kindergarten age is therefore the decisive phase in life in which important social skills and abilities are developed and further differentiated.

Only the ability to distinguish oneself from others enables self-awareness and the Ability to take on roles and cognitive perspectives. Both are in turn a prerequisite for empathythat can express itself in prosocial actions (e.g. helping or comforting).

Cognitive perspective adoption and empathy

empathy refers to emotional reactions that are evoked by the affective state or the situation of other people and describe the empathy. Basically, there are two levels of empathy that overlap and cannot always be clearly distinguished:

  • Cognitive level: Be aware of the emotions of the other person, be able to put yourself in the person's shoes (cognitive perspective).
  • Emotional level: Representative affective reaction to the emotions of the other person, the sympathy and the resulting impulse to act, to help change the suffering or the situation of the other person.

A number of scientists have already dealt with social competence and there are correspondingly different approaches to description.

Rose-Krasnor (1997) E.g. distinguishes three dimensions of social competence:

  1. knowledge-related competencies (culture-specific information about the basic rules of interpersonal relationships),
  2. Skills (basic social skills not restricted to specific situations) and
  3. Skills (specific, specific, situation-related, learned behaviors that depend on general skills).

Kanning (2009) has summarized various dimensions of social competence that occur in psychology into three skill areas:

  1. Perceptual-cognitive area: self-awareness, perception of people, assumption of perspective, conviction of control, willingness to make decisions, knowledge
  2. Motivational-emotional area: emotional stability, prosociality, pluralism of values
  3. Behavioral area: extraversion, assertiveness, flexibility of action, style of communication, conflict behavior, self-control.

Eisenberg and Harris (1984) describe at least five aspects of social competence:

  • Ability to take on perspectives
  • Realize the importance of friendships
  • Develop positive problem-solving strategies within social interactions
  • Development of moral values
  • Communication skills

Caldarella and Merrell (1997) After analyzing various studies, describe the abilities and skills that can be used to determine social competence in children. You come to five dimensions of social competence:

  • Skills for developing positive relationships with peers (including taking social perspectives, helping or praising others)
  • Self-management skills (such as coping with conflicts or regulating one's own mood)
  • Academic competencies (listen to teacher's instructions; ask for help)
  • Cooperative competencies (recognition of social rules; show appropriate reactions to criticism)
  • Positive self-assertion and assertiveness (starting conversations or activities)

Prosocial behavior

Prosocial behavior includes behaviors such as caring, sharing, helping, and working together for the benefit of the group. It is about skills on the basis of which other people are helped (prosocial behavior). A lack of these skills, for example, leads to harm to others (antisocial or aggressive behavior). The skills or deficiency develop in the context of social interactions. The peer group plays an important role in this. Social skills are a prerequisite for prosocial behavior.

Relationship between social and emotional competence

Emotional and social skills are closely related diverse relationship to each other. Certain emotional skills are the basis for socially competent behavior. High emotional competence goes hand in hand with higher social competence and fewer problems with peers. For example, five-year-olds who are better able to recognize and name the facial expression of other people's emotions have more pronounced, positive social behavior and more frequent social contact with their peers.

Emotions form the motivational basis for empathy and prosocial behavior as well as for anger, which in the worst case results in aggressive and violent behavior. Emotional competence strengthens, for example, the adoption of social perspectives, i.e. a child can better imagine how other children are feeling right now. These skills will help you tailor your own behavior to that of other children. Therefore, emotionally competent children tend to be more popular and less aggressive with other children.

Children with low emotional competence however, show poor social competence and more frequently externalizing behavioral disorders. In children with social and emotional problems, studies found weaknesses in the area of ​​emotional competence more often.

Scared children tend to have a limited repertoire of facial expressions and are less sure of interpreting the emotions of others.

Children with aggressive behavior are more likely to be conspicuous due to impaired emotional competencies.

Children, the Problems with emotion regulation and dealing constructively with their feelings are more often rejected by their peers and viewed as less socially competent.

Poor skills in perceiving and naming one's own emotions and those of others are associated with rejection by other children. If one child does not understand another's emotions, misunderstandings and conflicts arise more quickly. Appropriate anger regulation strategies, on the other hand, can even counteract the occurrence of behavioral disorders.

Since emotional and social competencies are closely linked, one often speaks of social-emotional competencies and, consequently, of social-emotional skills.

Scientists have a number of socio-emotional Key skills that are recommended to be promoted through programs for emotional and social learning:

Perception of oneself and others
Perception of one's own emotions

Perceive and name your own emotions correctly

Regulation of emotionsCan change your own emotions (e.g. in intensity)
Positive self-imageRecognize your own strengths and weaknesses and face everyday challenges with self-confidence and optimism
Takeover of perspectivesPerceive other people's point of view
Social interaction
Active listeningReach out to others and show them that they are
be understood

Initiate and maintain conversations and own
Express thoughts and feelings verbally and non-verbally

cooperationTake turns and share with others
negotiationsIn a conflict, consider all points of view in order to arrive at a solution that is satisfactory for everyone involved
refusalRefuse yourself and don't let yourself be pressured
Seeking supportRecognize support needs and achievable and
get appropriate help

By promoting these key social-emotional skills, the risk of emotional problems (e.g.Fear, social withdrawal) and behavior problems (e.g. aggressive antisocial behavior). The successful development of social and emotional skills is a prerequisite for a healthy psychological development of the child. Building on these competencies, children show prosocial behavior such as helping.

Children with social and emotional skills show better integration into their peer group and adapt better to new challenges (e.g. at school). Children with a high degree of socio-emotional skills are also less likely to have behavioral problems.

Conversely, poorly developed social-emotional competencies represent a significant one Risk factor for a variety of problems (e.g. aggressive antisocial behavior).

Factors influencing the development of emotional and social skills in children

Childlike temperament

A child's temperament is an early influencing factor on social and emotional development. Generally one can use the temperament way understand how children react or act, or in other words: the temperament does not describe what a child does (behavior), but rather, how it does something.

It is about behavioral tendencies that remain relatively constant in a child over certain periods of time and different situations, e.g. related to the physical readiness to react or the emotionality.

"Difficult" temperament

A certain combination of temperament traits is also known as a "difficult" temperament. This is used to mark children who are easily irritable, have an irregular biological rhythm and often show negative emotions. This temperament constellation in particular is associated with oppositional and aggressive behavior in childhood and, in the long term, with aggressive antisocial behavior in adolescence.

We expressly point out that there is actually no such thing as a "difficult" temperament, but that possible problems and risks in child development arise from the fact that the child's environment does not match the temperament characteristics described, i.e. parents, for example, have different expectations of their child or cannot deal well with a very lively child and feel overwhelmed. This situation then gives rise to problems in the interactions between child and parents.

"Inhibited" temperament

Children with an "inhibited" temperament stand out because they are less able to adapt to new situations or strangers. These children are more likely to withdraw and feel more afraid. Children with a strong behavioral inhibition are at an increased risk of anxiety disorders.

Language development of children

The language development of children is closely related to social competence or difficulties in social interactions, because language has a fundamental function in establishing and maintaining interpersonal contacts. Children with language disorders are more likely to have emotional or behavioral problems. This is interpreted to mean that children, for example, react more aggressively when they cannot express their needs or wishes in an understandable way, but still want to achieve their goal (e.g. to get a toy).

Parent-child interaction

Parental, especially maternal, characteristics also influence the social and emotional development of children. A major influencing factor is the quality of the early parent-child interactions. The term interaction already emphasizes that the behavior of the caregiver or the child is not considered one-sided, but rather the process of social exchange is the focus of attention.

Family influences and the parenting behavior of the parents are reflected in the mother-child interaction. The most important influencing factors on emotional and thus also on social development include:

  • Emotional family atmosphere
    How do family members express emotions.
  • Parents' emotional expression
    The parents are role models for the children with regard to the expression of positive and negative emotions and thus also regulate the emotional experience of their children, as they orient themselves to the reactions of their caregivers in emotional situations.
  • Parental responsiveness
    Parents who react sensitively to children's emotions, i.e. do not suppress emotions, but rather respond to positive and negative emotions of the children, support the same behavior in their children when dealing with others.
  • Conversations about emotions
    Conversations with parents about emotions, their causes and consequences as well as their connections to behavior and the accompanying thoughts promote the emotional and social development of the children. Children have a broader knowledge and understanding of emotions and are better able to regulate emotions when their mothers talk to them about emotions.
  • Dealing with negative emotions
    Frequent expression of negative emotions by the parents, such as anger or sadness, is particularly unfavorable for the emotional development of the child. Children then also increasingly show negative emotions, to which the parents react with strict and dismissive behavior. In this way, negative emotions can build up in children and adults and, in the long term, the expression of negative emotions is particularly intensified. Parents who, on the other hand, often show positive emotions in their interaction with their child and have an attitude of affection for the child are more likely to have children who react empathically to negative emotions of other children and show fewer behavioral problems.
  • Coregulation of emotions

Parenting behavior

A warm, affectionate parenting attitude in combination with a consistent and consistent parental behavior supports a positive development of children. Harsh disciplining techniques, physical punishment, poor parental supervision and unpredictable parental behavior, on the other hand, are particularly associated with defiant and aggressive, but also with fearful, withdrawn behavior on the part of children. The latter also occurs with overprotective and overstimulating parenting styles.

The mother-child interaction and parenting behavior are of particular importance for the emotional and social development of the child. The skills a child builds at home determine the child's ability to develop social relationships with their peers. The interaction pattern learned at home is first transferred to the social interactions with educators or peers - but then changed over time through experiences with educators and peers.

Social skills and contacts with peers

Contact with peers plays an important role in developing social skills and has a long-term impact on individual development. That is why entry into daycare for children is particularly important in our western society. Many children can play for the first time with (several) children of the same age and thus with equal rights in the day care center. In contact with their peers, the children therefore increasingly deal with the issue of justice. They have to learn to share toys or be patient for their turn. Playing together is particularly crucial for developing social skills. Here children can learn to coordinate their own needs and those of others. Playing together promotes the adoption of social perspectives, a key prerequisite for coordinating one's own actions with the needs of others.

The first ones are often created in the daycare center Friendships. The term "friendship" is defined differently depending on the level of development. Friendships among three- to four-year-olds mainly result from playing together. Common attitudes or belonging to a certain group are not yet in the foreground. However, these forms of friendship are the basis for later friendship relationships. Building stable friendships and developing social skills influence each other: A child's social skills have a significant influence on a child's ability to build stable friendships. Conversely, children practice and develop social skills within the framework of friendships. Children with poor social skills and unable to develop friendships are at risk of their development deficits widening over time. In the long term, this can result in them withdrawing as much as possible from social situations and / or being rejected by other children for behaving inappropriately. This puts you at a higher risk of undesirable developments such as social anxiety or aggressive behavior.

A lack of social skills and a lack of friendships are therefore risk conditions for the further development of children. Positive relationships with peers are a protective condition for children. Scientists were able to show that five-year-olds from unfavorable family backgrounds develop positively if they are accepted by their peers and have stable friendships with other children. On the other hand, children from adverse family backgrounds who had no steadfast friendships or who were rejected by their peers were more likely to have aggressive and hyperactive behavior problems later in school.

The definition of social competence is based on the work of Rose-Krasnor (1997) and Rubin & Rose-Krasnor (1992), the five aspects of social competence are based on Eisenberg & Harris (1984):

  • Eisenberg, N. & Harris, J.D. (1984). Social competence: A developmental perspective. School Psychology Review, 13, 267-277.
  • Kanning, U.P. (2002). Social competence - definition, structures and processes. Journal of Psychology, 210 (4), 154-163.
  • Rose-Krasnor, L. (1997). The nature of social competence. New York: Guilford.
  • Rose-Krasnor, L. (1997). The nature of social competence: A theoretical review. Social Development, 6 (1), 111-136.
  • Rubin, K.H. & Rose-Krasnor, L. (1992). Interpersonal problem solving and social competence in children. In V. VanHasselt & M. Hersen (Eds.), Handbook of social development (pp. 283-323). New York: Plenary.
  • Zahn-Waxler, C., Radke-Yarrow, M., Wagner, E., & Chapman, M. (1992). Development of concern for others. Developmental Psychology, 28, 126-136.

An article on the topic that is well worth reading was published in the FAZ on February 22, 2014:

Leave the children alone! "Disturbed", "hyperactive": students who are conspicuous are quickly sent to therapy. Pediatrician Michael Hauch defends himself against teachers and parents, ...

New insights into the basic emotions in Newsletter No. 21 on pages 2 - 3
"How can you learn to deal with feelings?" in newsletter no. 27 on pages 2 - 3.