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February 21, 2012

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The Meaning and Importance of Pro-Social Behavior

By Graydon Gordian


Sharing, taking turns, listening to one another: Sesame Street has been encouraging these kinds of benevolent actions since the show’s first episodes. Here at Sesame Workshop, our early childhood education specialists call these kinds of actions “pro-social behavior.” It’s a term we use often when talking about the empathy and kindness we try to engender in children.

But we can’t all be early childhood education specialists, which means we might not all recognize the term pro-social behavior right away. That’s why we wanted to take a few minutes and explain exactly what we mean when we use the term.

According to our early childhood education experts, pro-social behavior is when children show positive behaviors such as sharing, cooperating, empathy, and taking turns when interacting with others. These skills can help children build strong friendships and relationships and enable children to navigate different social circumstances in a constructive manner.

Put differently, children experience many of the same emotional trials as adults – interpersonal conflict, the loss of loved ones, even the challenges of economic hardship are not lost on children. If a child is not given the emotional tools to handle those trials, they can have a lasting negative impact on his or her life. The more emotional education a child can receive at a young age, the better. If children’s behavioral problems are ignored, they are more likely to struggle in school and act out later in life.

The value of encouraging “pro-social behavior” at a young age isn’t just a theory of ours. Our research and education team has demonstrated its importance and the effectiveness of our educational methods time and again. For instance, children who view Sesame Street episodes with pro-social messages exhibit significantly higher levels of pro-social behavior than those who do not watch, as much as 40% higher.

For more information about pro-social behavior and Sesame Street’s proven ability to encourage it in young children, check out our page on emotional wellbeing.

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