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Social Development and Emotional Development - Infants (Birth to 12 Months)

Social development and emotional development begins almost as soon as your infant can open their eyes. Every interaction at this stage is crucial, as infants are learning to form attachments to people who care for them. Maintain a warm, responsive and predictable environment with plenty of cuddles and smiles. Every interaction helps your baby learn to manage emotions, feel good about themselves and relate positively with others.

About This Domain

The Social Development and Emotional Development domain includes children’s feelings about themselves and their relationships with others, as well as learning to manage and express emotions. These skills and characteristics effect progress in every other area of development.


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Developing a Positive Sense of Self


SDED Goal-1: Children demonstrate a positive sense of themselves as unique and capable individuals in play and everyday tasks.

Show awareness of their bodies (purposefully reach for toes).

Show interest in their image in a mirror (smile, gaze, reach out to touch).

Respond to their name (smile, kick feet, turn head).

Express likes and dislikes (smile, cry, turn away, protest, wave hands, kick legs).

Show they expect results from their actions (hit toy over and over to produce sound).

Show pleasure at things they have done (wiggle, coo, laugh).

Explore the environment with support from a familiar, trusted adult.


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Design children’s spaces as places where they experience joy, feel comfortable, safe, and successful.
  • Include photos of each child with their family, as well as other materials that reflect their homes and cultures throughout the environment.
  • Place unbreakable mirrors in several different areas of the room, such as at the changing table and on the walls at children’s eye level.
  • Provide many opportunities for children to explore the outside natural environment, as well as the indoor environment.
  • Provide opportunities for children to do “inside” activities in the outdoor setting such as painting, reading, kitchen/ dramatic play.
  • Label cubbies or personal spaces with children’s names and photos.
  • Provide activities that are stimulating, challenging yet achievable.
  • Provide cozy areas where children can be alone if they wish within sight of an adult.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Demonstrate deep respect for each child and family.
  • Greet children individually and help them engage in activities to ease their transitions from home.
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in each child. Smile, laugh, and spend time with them. Make comments that focus on positive qualities and contribute to their self-esteem.
  • Respond to children according to their individual preferences and needs for daily routines such as feeding, sleeping, and comforting.
  • Observe how families interact. Ask parents and guardians to help learn more about their children. Use what is learned to provide consistent, predictable, loving care.
  • Keep notes on each child to develop an individualized plan to meet each child’s unique needs.
  • Offer objects to comfort, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal to help a child feel secure when he or she appears upset.
  • Take plenty of time to interact with each child in a relaxed way during everyday caregiving routines including diapering, dressing, and eating. Plan ahead so all supplies are readily available before starting routines. This enables full attention and focus to be on the child.
  • Talk with children and narrate, putting words to their actions as they explore (“I see that you are rubbing your fingers across the bark of the tree. How does it feel?”).
  • Play and interact with children at their level, getting down on the floor, or cuddling close together while reading a book.
  • Provide opportunities for children to repeat successful activities, gradually providing similar but slightly more challenging experiences.
  • Help children develop a positive sense of self by providing many opportunities to make choices, allowing them to make decisions and planning (what book to read, song to sing, or game to play).
  • Use children’s home language as much as possible in daily conversations with them. Put words to feelings and emotions.
  • Read books repeatedly with engaging voice and physical comfort.
  • Provide opportunities for children to identify themselves in pictures.
  • Prepare children for new situations and changes in routines by using pictures, verbal explanations, and acting out what will happen.
  • Have frequent conversations with children.
  • Encourage infants to find ways to self-soothe; soft blanket, favorite toy, quiet place.
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Developing Relationships


SDED Goal-2: Children form relationships and interact positively with familiar adults in play and everyday tasks.

Enjoy being held, cuddles, and talked to by familiar adults.

Recognize and reach out to familiar people.

Seek to be near trusted adults; stop crying when they come near.

Show signs of separation anxiety when a familiar person leaves.

Make eye contact with others if culturally appropriate.

Imitate sounds, facial expressions, or gestures they see other people do and wait for a response (peek-a-boo, hands up for "so big").

SDED Goal-3: Children form relationships and interact positively with other children in play and everyday tasks.

Notice other infants and children (turning and looking in their direction, reaching out for them).

Interact and move toward other familiar children when mobile.

Imitate sounds, expressions, or gestures when interacting with other children (shared smiling, squealing, clapping).


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Work to develop a sense of community among the children and adults by reading books, singing and playing together.
  • Provide plenty of time and opportunity for enjoyable peer and adult interactions during routine times, such as snack time, hand washing, and clean up. Avoid hurrying children.
  • Promote cooperation and sharing by having enough materials in centers/interest areas and elsewhere around the room that allow children to play together.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Continually nurture relationships with children daily, working in close proximity to help each of them develop a sense of trust and belonging.
  • Nurture relationships with each family, treating them as valued partners with frequent conversations and seeking their input.
  • Provide consistent, safe, comforting responses to emotions.
  • To promote attachment, assign one specific person to be the primary caregiver for each young child for as long as possible.
  • Reassure family members that children can form attachments to more than one person. Children will not become less attached to family even if they have good attachments to others as well.
  • Support each child’s attachment to his/her family. Greet both children and family members as they arrive and depart. Talk about family members with children during the day. Set up a communication system (report form, notebook, text, or e-mail) to let families know what the child’s day has been like.
  • Encourage family members to say goodbye to their children and reassure them that their loved ones will come back.
  • Help children learn strategies to deal with separation from their parents, such as bringing something special from home (their own or the parents’).
  • Interact with children in an engaging way during caregiving routines such as diapering, feeding, and hand washing.
  • Watch infants for signs that they are not becoming attached. For example, a child might become passive, not react to something that would typically upset a child, or seem not to thrive like other infants. Talk with family members, administrators, or other professionals if these signs are observed.
  • Recognize that fear of strangers and separation anxieties are normal stages of attachment in mobile infants. Help parents understand that this is normal development and create strategies and good-bye routines to support the child/family through this stage.
  • Treat children as individuals by frequently using their names rather than just talking to them as a group.
  • Model “gentle touches” for children as they interact with each other.
  • Meet children’s needs in a timely manner. Provide children with a sense of security and trust.
  • Talk about feelings, similarities and differences of characters in a book. Help children to make a book with pictures of children displaying a variety of feelings. This could be especially helpful for children who are non-verbal or who have language difficulty.
  • Show an understanding of children's emotions such as excitement over an accomplishment.
  • Provide opportunities for infants to play cooperatively with other children.
  • Invite family members and people from the community who model caring for others to share their cultures, traditions, and talents.
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Self-Regulation and Pro-Social Behaviors


SDED Goal-4: Children demonstrate self-regulation, prosocial behaviors, and participate cooperatively as members of a group in play and everyday tasks.

Use gestures and sounds to get another person to do something (cries, points to cup they want).

SDED Goal-5: Children demonstrate an ability to identify and regulate their emotions in play and everyday tasks.

Express a range of emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, and anger) with their face, body, and voice.

Show when they feel overwhelmed or are in distress or pain (cry, yawn, look away, extend arms or legs, arch their body, fuss).

Soothe themselves (suck thumb or pacifier, shift attention, rock back and forth, rub hands together, snuggle with soft toy).

SDED Goal-6: Children recognize and respond to the needs and feelings of others in play and everyday tasks.

Become upset when another infant is crying.

Respond differently to positive vs. negative emotional expressions of others.


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Keep the mood positive, creating an environment where children and adults are happy and engaged.
  • Establish a predictable daily routine.
Effective Strategies to Support Children's Development and Learning
  • Respond to children’s verbal and nonverbal expressions of feelings, such as signs of becoming overwhelmed. Let them know they can reach out for support as needed.
  • Be patient with children. Model using a calm voice. Recognize that young children do not cry or act out in an effort to frustrate adults. They are simply learning to communicate their wants and needs. Responsive adults help children learn to effectively communicate needs.
  • Recognize that expressing both positive and negative feelings is a part of healthy emotional development. Children need support to learn to express intense feelings with words and acceptable physical ways.
  • Include words that describe feelings as part of children’s overall language development. Model language to help children identify their emotions (“You look sad.”).
  • Give children something engaging and constructive to do during transitions or when they have to wait. For example, sing songs, do finger plays, describe something looking at.
  • Understand that some children have a greater need for movement than others and make sure to provide opportunities for movement throughout the day.
  • Redirect children's inappropriate behavior by offering another choice or action.
  • Encourage children to express different emotions in their pretend play.
  • Model empathy and help children develop empathy toward others.