Prosocial Behavior in Early Childhood

Did you know prosocial skills in preschoolers begin to develop before most children turn two? Studies have even shown that children as young as one demonstrated the ability to try and comfort others in distress.

Prosocial behavior is conduct intended to help others, which includes actions such as comforting, cooperating, sharing, and more.

For toddlers, prosocial behavior in early childhood plays an enormous role in their overall development. By teaching prosocial skills in early childhood, it will impact your students’ academic performance, attitude, emotional state, frame of mind, motivation and so much more.

Prosocial behavior in early childhood begins with small, kind, and thoughtful actions that show regard for others (you’ve witnessed this anytime you’ve seen a child hand a toy to another person). And the great thing is you’re likely already promoting prosocial skills in preschoolers by encouraging these types of behaviors.

There are a number of tactics you can use for teaching prosocial skills in early childhood.

Sharing is caring 

Whether you first learned this from the Care Bears, your parents or a teacher, this is perhaps the most well-known (and important) prosocial behavior in early childhood to teach. And the best part is you can incorporate this into just about every lesson plan.

For instance, choose any of these stories from Teaching Expertise’s list of 22 children’s books about sharing to read during storytime. Then, after reading the story, talk to your class about why sharing is good.

You can also incorporate games and activities that promote sharing to help develop prosocial skills in preschoolers. We love this list of easy activities from Love to Know.

Finally, one of the best ways to reinforce this important prosocial behavior in early childhood is to acknowledge good examples of sharing in your students and give children plenty of praise when you see them sharing.

Teamwork makes the dream work 

Teaching cooperation is another key skill to address when discussing prosocial behavior in early childhood.

When you teach a child to cooperate, you teach him or her to work with someone else in a meaningful way where they learn to balance their own interests with another person’s wants and needs.

That’s why this ranks so high on the list of items for teaching prosocial skills in early childhood.

There are several ways to incorporate cooperation into your classroom.

For starters, have your children take turns. This may come in the form of turn-taking games, building turn-taking into play time, incorporating books about teamwork into story time (here’s a wonderful list from Imagination Soup), and more.

You can also incorporate turn-taking into every aspect of your classroom routine. For example, when lining up to go outside, make sure each student has a turn being at the front of the line.

There are also several ways to help reinforce turn-taking and cooperation when teaching prosocial skills in early childhood. It’s helpful to use language such as “my turn, your turn,” visual cues and music to measure the length of a turn (this can help them predict when their turn begins/ends making it less likely they’ll become frustrated).

Again, as we mentioned above, it’s important to always reinforce good behavior by pointing out and applauding when your students demonstrate good examples of cooperative behavior.

I feel ‘ya

You can’t discuss prosocial skills in preschoolers and not cover empathy.

Toddlers will begin to exhibit genuine empathy around the age of two (and even respond with care by trying to soothe another child’s pain).

There are several ways you can promote this prosocial behavior in your classroom.

For starters, choose books that teach empathy and kindness (check out this Brightly list for inspo). After you read the story, talk to your students about the kindness displayed in the book. You can also discuss how your kids can model the same behavior in the classroom.

Another great way to promote empathy and kindness is by discussing others’ feelings and going a step further by suggesting how a child can demonstrate empathy. For example, if Suzy falls down on the playground, you might say, “Suzy is sad because she fell down and scraped her knee (talking about her feelings). Let’s get her a bandaid for her ouchie (demonstrating empathy).”

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, CCEI offers a number of courses to help you with teaching prosocial skills in early childhood and ways to encourage prosocial behavior in early childhood.

If you’re looking for a place to begin, our one-hour beginner-level course Promoting Empathy and Other Prosocial Behaviors is a great place to start. This course examines recent social research into empathy and other prosocial behaviors, as well as recommended strategies and practices for guiding children through the early phases of empathy’s long developmental process.

You may also want to explore Building Social and Emotional Competence. This two-hour beginner-level course explores how social and emotional skills develop over time and ways that teachers can use their understanding of this development to create an environment that supports children’s individual needs.

For more on these courses that will help you instill prosocial skills in preschoolers, as well as our entire catalog of courses, click here.