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How to develop healthy social and emotional growth in your kids

project launch
Candy Williams
December04/ 2018

Above: This “Healthy in All Ways” poster is being distributed by Project LAUNCH to pediatrics offices, in addition to booklets with more information for parents.

Studies show that the earliest years of a child’s life are a critical time for brain development. Physical health is important, of course, but social and emotional growth deserve attention, too.

Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health), in partnership with Allegheny County Department of Human Services, is working to help give kids a healthier start in life by addressing all aspects of their development – physical, social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral.

Coaching starts with simple behavior actions, such as offering praise and affection. Helping kids to understand their feelings and leading by example work, too. (See more tips for parents below.)

Entering its final year of a five-year federal grant, the Project LAUNCH long-term goal is to ensure that all children enter school ready to learn and able to succeed by increasing access to high-quality prevention and wellness services for kids and their families.

The project conducts extensive training for professionals who work with kids, such as those in daycare centers and pediatrics offices. Another aspect is doing outreach with parents and caregivers in the community to promote change, says Lynne Williams, executive director of Southwest Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center (AHEC). She has been serving as a project consultant for the past year.

project launch
From left, Nicole Hickman, a parent and co-facilitator of a Project LAUNCH parent leadership training; Kimberly Eckel, Project LAUNCH local coordinator; Abdulkadir Chirambo, Somali interpreter; and Joshua Kivuva, Swahili interpreter.

The project hits close to home for Kimberly Cauley Eckel, mom of three kids, ages 3 to 8. She works as the local coordinator for Pennsylvania’s Project LAUNCH through the county’s Department of Human Services.

Her passion for children’s health and wellness is helping to move the needle in terms of kids having a healthier start in life, Williams says, mostly regarding early social and emotional health.

Eckel works with parents through Building Community Connections training, where she distributes “Family Resource Rings.” These rings of cards were created by LAUNCH for families to use, as well as share with others looking for help. Included is information about vital resources, along with contact information and phone numbers.

“One of the things that we learned through this work is that many families who could benefit from services and support do not know what is available to them,” Eckel says. “The ring is meant to help empower parents to help other parents know what is out there.”

project launch
Parents in Northview Heights attending Building Community Connections training display their Family Resource Rings provided by Project LAUNCH that list important community contacts.

“It’s been such a blessing to do this work as the mother of young children,” says Eckel.

How to encourage social-emotional development

Parents can promote social-emotional health in young children through responsive care, being affectionate and nurturing, and helping kids learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Here’s how:

  • Catch your child being good! Praise your child often for even the small things they do like playing nicely with others or helping to pick up toys.
  • Everyone feels angry or stressed sometimes – even kids! Help your child to find ways of working through these feelings by offering a hug. Children need our love most when they are acting out.
  • Help your child learn to name the different feelings that they feel. “I feel angry/sad/mad/happy.”
  • Find ways to play with your child that you both enjoy every day. Follow your child’s lead and see where it takes you. Try visiting firstpathwaysgame.com for games that promote healthy brain development.
  • Show your child how you want them to behave with your own behavior. Parents are their child’s first and most important teachers.
  • Read with your child every day as part of a special family routine.

For more information about PA Project LAUNCH, contact Kimberly Eckel.

Candy Williams

Candy Williams is a freelance writer and journalist whose articles have appeared in national and local publications. She lives in the South Hills.

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