Social-Emotional Development

Several factors – such as hunger, fatigue, temperament, and culture -- influence the expression of emotions in young children. Young children turn to caregivers for behavioral cues on how to deal with uncertain situations, beginning around 9 months of age. Parents and caregivers reinforce emotional expressions by their reactions to the child’s behavior. Emotional regulation develops in the context of relationships.


The first step in supporting children's social and emotional development is for professionals working with families to build close trusting relationships with the child’s primary caregivers. When caregivers and professionals get to know the family, they gain a better understanding of their culture, goals, expectations and the child's routine. With strong adult/child relationships established, children's cues are more readily understood. This closeness provides opportunities for the caregivers to respond appropriately to children's signals, providing them with the support that will be most helpful. Here are some methods of support to be considered when meeting children's individual daily needs.

Support children through the difficult times. A caregiver who is in tune to their children's cues knows when their level of frustration communicates a need for special attention.

  • Children need additional support when their parents are leaving for the day.

  • Transitions throughout the day can be difficult for some children, requiring additional support.

  • When children are having trouble with a particular activity, support may be needed to help through the process.

  • Sometimes mistakes are made. We can support children by letting them know that mistakes are okay and we can all learn from them.

Support children when they achieve what they have been working on. Share in their happiness and let them know when they are doing something good such as being kind to others.


Support children in their efforts of independence. When children are empowered to do for themselves, they feel good about what they can do and build on a positive self-concept. Independence can be fostered by offering children choices when possible and allowing them to be a part of their own daily routine.


Support children with their understanding of feelings. It is important that children are able to identify what they are feeling and know that it is okay to feel that way. Validate children's feelings at the time they are experiencing them. This can be accomplished by verbalizing what the child is feeling. For example, "I can see you are angry." We can also help children work through their feelings in appropriate ways.


Support children's social interaction.

  • Encourage children's play together.

  • Help children to recognize what other children are feeling so they can learn to respect other's rights.

  • Encourage children to support each other's efforts and accomplishments.