Report | February 28, 2024

Social-Emotional Skills: An Early Childhood Fundamental

Essential area of child development has implications for business, public safety, and national security

In child development, social-emotional skills are one area – like speech, motor, and cognitive development – that is essential for healthy functioning. As research demonstrates, there is no substitute for advancing skills early and building traits that help kids thrive into adulthood. This is a reality understood by the civic leaders who belong to the membership organizations housed under the nonprofit Council for a Strong America: the business executives of ReadyNation, the law enforcement officials of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, and the retired military leaders of Mission: Readiness. Of these 8,000+ civic leaders nationwide, more than 650 are in Illinois.

From workforce concerns such as working parents’ child care needs and employers’ desire to cultivate good job skills, to crime prevention and strengthening national security, early childhood care and education provides an underpinning for success. Early education plays a crucial role in both the cognitive development that supports academic or “technical” skills, and the “soft” or social-emotional skills needed to flourish in any career path and in life. These soft skills – also known as character skills, or executive functioning skills – encompass traits such as the ability to manage emotions and impulses, communicate well and get along with others, demonstrate empathy, take initiative, be flexible, persevere and show resilience, and solve problems.

This new report from Council for a Strong America-Illinois explores the value of supporting social-emotional development in young children and how that also lays a strong foundation for good mental health. The report also examines the ties between social-emotional skills and such matters as the health of our workforce and economy, crime prevention, and national security. Finally, the publication makes policy recommendations for better enhancing the professional capacity of early childhood educators to support this area of development in young children.

Terri Winfree

Executive functioning skills can be the difference between success and failure in the workplace, deeply impacting the ability to thrive as part of a team.

Terri Winfree, President, Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce, Frankfort


  1. Illinois*