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Healthy Social and Emotional Development

Protective FactorsRisk Factors
Skills in solving problems non-violentlyLack of non-violent social problem-solving skills
Social emotional competencePoor behavioral control/impulsiveness
EmpathyPsychological/mental health problems

social competence quoteSocial emotional competence, impulse control, empathy, and skill in non-violent problem-solving
are important – and often overlapping - individual-level factors that protect against many forms of violence. These concepts are part of healthy social and emotional development. They protect against an individual's likelihood of perpetrating violence, and in the case of child maltreatment, they may also protect against victimization.

The roots of social, emotional, and behavioral health form in early infancy and grow throughout adolescence. The Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and FamiliesZero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families describes social emotional competence as “the developing capacity to experience and regulate emotions, form secure relationships, and explore and learn—all in the context of a child's family, community and cultural background.” As children age, social emotional competence evolves to include self-confidence, motivation, and impulse control (WI Early Childhood Collaborating Partners). Empathy, or the ability to identify and share the emotions of another person, also emerges in infancy. Empathy is affected by parental warmth, attachment, and emotional guidance. In addition to being crucial elements of violence prevention, these factors are essential to school readiness and healthy relationships.

Programs to support healthy social and emotional development take many forms. Most are conducted with parents, other caregivers, or in schools.

Resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,,, Vanderbilt University Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, NC Institute of Medicine



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