Social & Emotional Development

The Social & Emotional domain describes children’s ability to develop positive relationships and ideas about themselves and their abilities, regulate their emotions, behavior, and impulses, and express emotions. Appropriate social and emotional development is critical to life-long development and learning and is associated with a wide array of positive outcomes. Such skills allow children to feel confident in their abilities to interact with others, approach new situations, and express their individuality. Children who are English language learners should be allowed to express their emotions and relationships in their home language.

Social & Emotional Development

Children may . . .

Children may. . .

Suggested Supports
Adults may . . .

1. Relationships with Adults and Peers:  The healthy relationships and interactions with adults and peers.

  1. Engage in and maintains positive relationships and interactions with adults.*
  2. Engage in prosocial and cooperative behavior with adults.*
  3. Engage in and maintains positive interactions and relationships with other children.*
  4. Engage in cooperative play with other children.
  5. Use basic problem-solving skills to resolve conflicts with other children.
  • Interacts readily with trusted adults.
  • Engages in some positive interactions with less familiar adults, such as parent volunteers.
  • Shows affection and preference for adults who interact with them on a regular basis.
  • Seeks help from adults when needed.
  • Engages in prosocial behaviors with adults, such as using respectful language or greetings.
  • Attends to an adult when asked.
  • Follows adult guidelines and expectations for appropriate behavior.
  • Asks or waits for adult permission before doing something when they are unsure.
  • Engages in and maintains positive interactions with other children.
  • Uses a variety of skills for entering social situations with other children, such as suggesting something to do together, joining an existing activity, or sharing a toy.
  • Takes turns in conversations and interactions with other children.
  • Develops friendships with one or two preferred other children.
  • Engages in joint play, such as using coordinated goals, planning, roles, and games with rules, with at least one other child at a time.
  • Demonstrates willingness to include others’ ideas during interactions and play.
  • Shows enjoyment of play with other children, such as through verbal exchanges, smiles, and laughter.
  • Engages in reflection and conversation about past play experiences.
  • Recognizes and describes basic social problems in books or pictures, such as both children wanting the same toy, and during interactions with other children, such as “Why do you think your friend might be sad?”
  • Uses basic strategies for dealing with common conflicts, such as sharing, taking turns, and compromising.
  • Expresses feelings, needs, and opinions in conflict situations.
  • Seeks adult help when needed to resolve conflicts.
  • Remember the details concerning the lives of individual children. For example, make a connection to their families by asking children to talk about the people in their drawings or photos. As time permits, use index cards or sentence strips to create captions.
  • Show children you value their presence by offering a warm, personal greeting when they enter the setting and a “See you tomorrow” or “See you soon” as they leave. When a child is absent, let her know you missed her.
  • See and be seen. Circulate so you can spot children who might need support. Make sure children can see you, too.
  • Pair a child who has difficulty making friends with a more skilled buddy to complete a fun activity together.  
  • Model ways a child can invite himself into a group. Join the play yourself with dialogue that shows how; for example, “That looks like fun. Shall we ask them if we can play, too?”
  • Identify problems as you see them happening. Cue children by saying, “I see we have a problem. What should we do?”
  • Use puppets and persona dolls to role-play common conflicts, asking children to describe how characters are feeling and how they might solve the problem.
  • Create laminated books showing illustrated solutions to problems, such as trading, taking turns, and playing together. Have children refer to the book for solutions as needed.
  • Create a “friendship can” that includes popsicle sticks with each child’s name or photo. Draw sticks to pair children for activities or classroom errands.

2. Sense of Identity and Belonging:  The perception that one is capable of successfully making decisions, accomplishing tasks, and meeting goals.

  1. Recognize self as a unique individual having own abilities, characteristics, emotions, and interests.*
  2. Express confidence in own skills and positive feelings about self.*
  3. Sense of belonging to family, community, and other groups.
  • Describes self, using several different characteristics.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of uniqueness of self, such as talents, interests, preferences, or culture.
  • Shows satisfaction or seeks acknowledgment when completing a task or solving a problem.
  • Expresses own ideas or beliefs in group contexts or in interactions with others.
  • Uses positive words to describe self, such as kind or hard-worker.
  • Identifies self as being a part of different groups, such as family, community, culture, faith, or preschool.
  • Relates personal stories about being a part of different groups.
  • Identifies similarities and differences about self across familiar environments and settings.
  • Take photos of children working and playing together and post them around the room. Share children’s accomplishments with families via photos on protected websites or apps designed for this purpose.
  • Learn words and phrases in a child’s home language that are meaningful to the child and family.
  • Have families bring in objects that represent children’s cultures; for example, empty food boxes to stock the dramatic play area.
  • Offer chances for children to share information about themselves, their family, culture, and community; for example, drawing pictures, telling personal stories, and singing a song or doing a dance they learned at home or a community event.

3. Emotional Functioning: A healthy range of emotional expression and learning positive alternatives to aggressive or isolating behaviors.

  1. Express a broad range of emotions and recognizes these emotions in self and others.*
  2. Express care and concern toward others.
  3. Manage emotions with increasing independence.*
  • Recognizes and labels basic emotions in books or photographs.
  • Uses words or signs to describe own feelings.
  • Uses words or signs to describe the feelings of adults or other children.
  • Reflect on personal experiences that evoked strong emotions.
  • Experiment with new materials and activities without fear of making mistakes.
  • Act out powerful emotions (fear, anger) through dramatic play.
  • Pause before you react to an incident in the setting; for example, a disagreement over a turn on the slide. Ask the children who were involved how they feel about what has happened. This acknowledges children’s feelings and also gives you a moment to figure out how you want to respond.
  • Encourage children to notice each other’s feelings and suggest ways to help. “Jared, can you slide a little this way? Samantha is building something with blocks and looks worried that it may get knocked over.”
  • Anticipate what might happen in a new situation and provide reassurance that will help children manage emotions. For example, “We have new supplies in the art center, and I know you will all want to try them out. Don’t worry. Everyone will get a turn at some point during center time.”

4. Emotional and Behavioral Self-Regulation: The ability to recognize and regulate emotions and behavior.

  1. Follow classroom rules and routines with increasing independence.*
  2. Appropriately handle and takes care of classroom materials.*
  3. Manage actions, words, and behavior with increasing independence.*
  • Expresses emotions in ways that are appropriate to the situation.
  • Looks for adult assistance when emotions are most intense.
  • Uses a range of coping strategies to manage emotions with the support of an adult, such as using words or taking deep breaths.
  • Demonstrates awareness of classroom rules when asked and is able to follow these rules most of the time.
  • Follows most classroom routines, such as putting away backpack when entering the room or sitting on the rug after outside time.
  • Responds to signals when transitioning from one activity to another.
  • Appropriately handles materials during activities.
  • Cleans up and puts materials away appropriately, such as places blocks back on correct shelf or places markers in the correct bin.
  • Demonstrates control over actions and words in response to a challenging situation, such as wanting to use the same materials as another child, or frustration over not being able to climb to the top of a structure. May need support from adults.
  • Manages behavior according to expectations, such as using quiet feet when asked or sitting on the rug during circle time.
  • Waits for turn, such as waits in line to wash hands or waits for turn on swings.
  • Refrains from aggressive behavior towards others.
  • Begins to understand the consequences of behavior, such as hitting leads to an adult giving you quiet time. Can describe the effects their behavior may have on others, such as noticing that another child feels sad when you hit him.
  • Redirect challenging behavior by using different strategies, such as verbal reminders to suggest an alternative; physical cues (e.g., placing a hand on the shoulder of a child who’s about to hit or grab a toy); visual cues (e.g., pointing to a rule on a chart); or calling attention to a child’s who’s doing what’s expected.
  • Help children identify when they’re tense and stressed, or relaxed and calm. Name those feelings when you see them.
  • Introduce the idea of taking three deep breaths as a calming technique. Children can use the mantra “smell the flowers” (inhale) and “blow out the candles” (exhale). Teach and practice when children are calm, and coach them when they’re upset.
  • Set three to five rules that are simple and positively worded (e.g., “Hands to self; safe feet; eyes are watching; ears are listening; I try new things.”).
  • Use pictures or photos to illustrate the rules.
  • Model what following the rules looks like. Acknowledge when children follow the rules (e.g., “Zenobia is sitting on the rug. She looks like she is ready for story time.”).
  • Label shelves, bins, and containers with pictures and words so children know where to store toys and materials. Show children how to use and store them appropriately.

5. Cognitive Self-Regulation (Executive Functioning): The ability to regulate attention and impulses.

  1. Demonstrate an increasing ability to control impulses.*
  2. Maintain focus and sustains attention with minimal adult support.*
  3. Persist in tasks.*
  4. Hold information in mind and manipulates it to perform tasks.*
  5. Demonstrate flexibility in thinking and behavior.*
  • Stops an engaging activity to transition to another less desirable activity with adult guidance and support.
  • Delays having desires met, such as agreeing to wait turn to start an activity.
  • Without adult reminders, waits to communicate information to a group.
  • Refrains from responding impulsively, such as waiting to be called on during group discussion or requesting materials rather than grabbing them.
  • Maintains focus on activities for extended periods of time, such as 15 minutes or more.
  • Engages in purposeful play for extended periods of time.
  • Attends to adult during large and small group activities with minimal support.
  • Completes tasks that are challenging or less preferred despite frustration, either by persisting or seeking help from an adult or other child.
  • Returns with focus to an activity or project after having been away from it.
  • Accurately recounts recent experiences in the correct order and includes relevant details.
  • Successfully follows detailed, multi-step directions, sometimes with reminders.
  • Remembers actions to go with stories or songs shortly after being taught.
  • Tries different strategies to complete work or solve problems, including with other children.
  • Applies different rules in contexts that require different behaviors, such as using indoor voices or feet instead of outdoor voices or feet.
  • Transitions between activities without getting upset.
  • Play games, such as Simon Says or freeze dance, where children are challenged to control impulses and hold information in mind and use it to perform a task.3
  • Praise children’s attempts to regulate or control their impulses (e.g., “Jeremy, thank you for remembering to raise your hand so everyone gets a turn.”).
  • Use external aids to support children’s attention and memory. For example:
    • Invite children to plan which learning center they will play in and give them a card with a picture of the learning center.
    • In buddy reading, you might pair one child who holds a card indicating they want to hear a story with a child who holds a card indicating that they would like to read a story.
  • Assist a frustrated child by providing just enough help (e.g., “You are working so hard on that puzzle! Would that piece fit if you turned it a little bit?”).
  • Use prompts to help children connect new concepts with what was learned previously (e.g., “Remember when …,” “Yesterday …,” and “What does this remind you of?”).
  • Ask children to generate ideas and try them out (e.g., “How could we use these materials to build a birdhouse?”).