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The Role of Mother’s: Insights and tips on how mothers contribute to social-emotional-cognitive (SEC) learning

Mothers are most often the primary caregiver who support their children’s physical, emotional, mental and social development. As such, it is no surprise that mothers play a significant role in every aspect of their children’s growth. We at Dolphin Under 5 want to recognize and strengthen the maternal role and relationship that contribute to social-emotional-cognitive (SEC) learning in their children.

Children often take reference from their mothers when it comes to the expression, understanding and coping with emotions. Even early in infancy, your child can already express themselves emotionally through their body language, vocalizations and facial expressions. When mothers respond with positive emotions, infants begin to regulate their emotions and gain a sense of predictability, safety and responsiveness in their environments, that will eventually contribute to a sense of self-confidence as they grow up.

Provide a positive role model of emotional regulation through your behavior and through the verbal and emotional support you offer your child when managing their emotions. Don’t be afraid to apologise to your child if you have lost your cool and reacted in an inappropriate way to a situation. Use feeling words when you talk with children about everyday situations, “You scored a goal! How exciting was that!”; or “It’s pretty disappointing that your friend can’t play with you today.” Invite children to describe their own feelings, “I’m feeling quite nervous about going to the dentist. How about you?”, or “when I am angry, I try to take a few deep breaths to calm down.” Demonstrate and explain to your child how to identify, label and manage emotions in a calm and helpful manner.

When young children are able to experience, express and manage emotions, they are equipped with the ability to establish positive and rewarding social connections with others. Positive emotions enable relationships to form, while struggles with expressing and coping with emotions leads to problems in social relationships. Research has also indicated that a mother’s advice and guidance about peer relationships significantly reduces aggression in boys, while improving girls’ prosocial behaviours, i.e., helping, sharing, caring and collaborating with others. In other words, social competence improves with mother’s coaching and positive responsiveness.

Talk to your child about how people’s feelings, beliefs, wants and intentions to improve your child’s social understanding and empathy. Use TV shows, movies or story books to talk to your child about what the characters may be feeling as a result of what others do. There are also many teachable moments available everyday. For example, if you notice your child being refusing to share his toys with a friend, you can say, “That makes him sad when you choose not to share,” instead of just saying, “stop it,” or “don’t do that”.

Research has shown that a mother’s EF, e.g., short-term memory, self-control, and cognitive flexibility contribute to their child’s development of EF.  In other words, high level cognitive tasks, including planning, problem solving and decision-making are essentially EF. For example, when a child shows an undesirable behavior, a mother has to use her EF skills to focus on relevant information, control her response in the presence of her own stress, plan and act as necessary according to situational demands. Rather than having negative or hasty reactions, she has to analyse the various situations through logic and emotions to plan and make decisions.

Besides role-modelling EF skills as a parent, you can teach and encourage your child to develop their own plans as they encounter new experiences –  for everything from celebrations (e.g., creating a plan to make a birthday fun and meaningful) to the most difficult of life’s challenges (e.g., creating a plan to remember the loss of a loved one). Let them practice writing out their plans, and then trying to execute and when necessary, adjust their plans. Set a few guidelines and try to allow them to explore as much as possible (Be a DOLPHIN Parent!) without overly correcting them or imposing your ideas on them. This way, children are given opportunities to integrate the key systems of the brain that boosts EF.

From the above, we caught a glimpse into how each aspect of SEC development in young children are supported by their relationship with their mothers. However, because mothers have such great influence on her child’s well-being, they too, feel often blamed for the way the child turns out. As such, mothers carry the burden of the responsibility of caregiving, which includes the struggle of dealing with expectations from themselves and others. Therefore, it is always important to remember that as a parent, you are also every bit as human and hence, will make mistakes from time to time. Children do not need to grow up in a “perfect” environment, rather they need to experience, understand and learn from how you adapt to problems and deal with your struggles too.