What is Emotional Competence?

Local column: What is emotional competence?

The first step for parents is to role model the behavior you would like to see in your child, writes Taryn Yates.

I’m happy to say that I’m expecting my second child.

However, I’ve been fairly stereotypical in the sense that pregnancy makes me cry more easily than normal.

One day I was crying over an animal-related video on Facebook while my son played next to me. He noticed my tears and came over to me. “Mommy sad” he said, touching my face.

His little eyebrows were drawn together and I was at once touched at his attention and a little embarrassed to be “caught” crying over Facebook. “Mommy is fine, baby, I’m just pregnant.” I said with a shrug.

He stroked my cheek for a second and, satisfied with my answer that I’m sure he didn’t actually understand, he resumed playing.

As it struck me what had happened, I smiled with pride. At 25 months old, my son just demonstrated the ability to name an emotion based on my facial expression. This is the first step toward developing social and emotional competence — a quality in children that protects them against child abuse and neglect.

What exactly is social and emotional competence? It involves various abilities. For example, a person with a high level of this skill would be able to perceive the emotions of others based on facial expressions and nonverbal cues.

Not only can they “read” and respond to others, but they also have a good grasp on their own emotions. They are able to identify and regulate negative emotions such as anger and sadness. They can also respond appropriately in social situations.

A child with a high level of social and emotional competence may be perceived as “easier” by parents and adults. Their personalities are likely more laid-back and cooperative and they can control their emotions better, meaning fewer melt downs.

Some children will not be able to develop this trait easily because of either a congenital condition or because trauma they have experienced has rewired their brain to be on alert. These children often demonstrate difficult behaviors and are more likely to experience child maltreatment.


Programs like the Infant Toddler Connection (ITC) through Health and Welfare are designed to aid children and families affected by these delays early to promote physical, mental and emotional development.

ITC can be accessed by calling 211. Fortunately, for most children, social and emotional competence can be learned.

The first step for parents is to role model the behavior you would like to see in your child. Children instinctively mimic their parents’ behavior, so if you want your child to learn to control their anger, you must do your best to control yours.

To further prove this point, if you struggle with anger issues and yelling, I’m willing to bet you had a parent who was the same way (so give yourself a break — undoing learned behavior is hard!).

Second, label their emotions. Say, “You must be frustrated” or “I’m sorry you are so sad.” Then suggest a positive coping strategy. “Do you want to scream into this pillow?” or “Can you take a few deep breaths with me?”

I can say from experience that teaching social and emotional competence is an ongoing process. My 2 year old still has meltdowns (which is developmentally normal), but he’s making progress.

We use the deep breathing technique so often, that he now does it without my prompting. The trick is to have patience and compassion with both yourself and your child — the results are worth it. Teaching your child to effectively communicate and interact will build positive relationships that will strengthen your family and last for the rest of their lives.

Yates, Master in Social Work, is a grants manager and planner for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund/Prevent Child Abuse Idaho.

Public Health Works

Eastern Idaho Public Health
1250 Hollipark Drive
Idaho Falls, ID 83401

About 10 children gamboled about under the watchful eye of their parents Tuesday at Eastern Idaho Public Health’s Idaho Falls office.

The children, ranging in age from toddlers to 5-year-olds, played with brightly colored toys or snaked through oblong child-sized cylinders.

The parents act as teachers in this scenario, giving the children pro-social advice and making sure they burn off some of that relentless energy.

The two-year-old “Parents as Teachers” program emphasizes parents engaging with their children. The participants come through referral or by choice to the program. Some of the families are low income or have children with developmental issues while others come for the free play time.


Cami Walker, holding her smiling, slobbery 4-month-old boy named Ammon, enrolled in the program in April. She, her four children and her husband moved from Utah to Idaho about two years ago. Her husband works at a farm and is going to school to get a degree.

The program is ideal for parents with no ties to the area, as it puts them in contact with other parents, said Program Coordinator Holly Whitworth. Public Health employees make home visits with each family once or twice a month and show parents activities to do with their children to promote emotional, physical and social health, Whitworth said.

The “Parents as Teachers” program is one among many — often free or reduced cost — services Eastern Idaho Public Health provides.

Public Health and its 110 employees serve eight counties in all manner of ways.

The department’s staff administer a variety of services from providing health care to the needy, to immunizations, to parent-education classes, to restaurant licensing and environmental protection.

Many of the programs work in tandem to benefit eastern Idahoans who would otherwise not receive care. The Women Infants and Children program will refer young mothers to the Parents as Teachers program. The immunization clinics will recommend vaccines performed by the reproductive health program to prevent human papillomavirus.

Public Health spokeswoman Mimi Taylor said the state- and county-funded health district doesn’t try to compete with other health organizations in eastern Idaho. Taylor said Public Health’s goal is to fill in the gaps where people are not receiving care.

Parents as Teachers

Whitworth said the “Parents as Teachers“ program has stayed at its capacity of 50 enrollees since it started.

Walker said it isn’t hard to convince her 4-year-old daughter Maci to attend the monthly community events hosted at Public Health’s Hollipark Drive office.

Walker said getting the kids to roll out of bed or focus on any other activity can be difficult.

“(The program is) great bribery for my kids,” she said.

She said the kids enjoy playing and learning developmental activities, and Walker gets to learn how to implement the activities at home. She said Whitworth visits her home twice a month and shows her how to make cheap, engaging toys such as cutting up cereal boxes to make into a toy car race track.

“You know the game Mancala? Well instead of going out and buying a board, Holly came by with rock marbles and an egg carton to make the game,” Walker said.

Whitworth said there could be room for expansion, the program is currently only offered to Bonneville County residents, and hopes more parents join.

“Parenting is the hardest job anyone ever does,” Whitworth said. “We are here to help parents achieve whatever they hope for as their child develops.”

Reporter Tom Holm can be reached at 542-6746

January 2017 Board Meeting

MEETING NOTICE: January 25, 2017
9:00 A.M.

The Idaho Children's Trust Fund Board will hold its Regularly Scheduled Board Meeting on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at the offices of the Idaho Department of Education, Len B. Jordan Building, 650 W. State St., Second Floor, Boise, Idaho.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:00. Members of the public wishing to participate in person may do so by appearing at the Len B. Jordan Building at the designated time. Members of the public wishing to participate by telephone should contact the Children's Trust Fund Board offices (at 208-386-9317) to obtain the call in number and pass code.

This notice is published pursuant to §67‐2343 Idaho Code. For additional information regarding Idaho's Open Meeting law, please see Idaho Code §§ 67‐2340 through 67‐2347.

Posted 1/11/17

Facilitator Training for Stewards of Children

Create Safe Communities and Protect our Children! Get trained as a Facilitator for the Stewards of Children program. As a Facilitator you will raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse by educating adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.    

February 24, 2017 8a.m.-5p.m. Boise location to be announced.

Cost is $450. Full and partial scholarships are available. 

For more information and to register, please contact Norma Pintar at (208)386-9317.

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