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Social Development and Emotional Development - Young Toddlers (8 to 21 Months)

Your young toddler is rapidly developing social and emotional skills they will use for a lifetime. Warm, responsive, and stable environments help them thrive. Be especially attentive to both verbal and non-verbal cues right now, as they are still developing the words to express how they're feeling. Respond consistently and positively. You'll be helping your toddler 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.

Begin to recognize some body parts by pointing when asked.

Recognize themselves in a mirror (point to self, make faces in mirror).

Express choices with gestures, signs, or words (select a toy they want).

Show confidence in their ability to make things happen by repeating or changing their actions to reach a goal (move closer to reach an object they want).

Share what they have done with others and show them things they like.

Explore their environment, occasionally “checking in” with 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.
  • Provide a dramatic play/housekeeping area with familiar real life materials children can use in their play, such as telephones, dishes, food cartons, pots, and pans to encourage independence.
  • Set up a “safe haven” table near the door, where children who have trouble separating may ease into classroom routines by engaging with play dough or simple puzzles.
  • Provide shelves and other spaces for children’s extended art projects.
  • Display work from all the children at their eye level. Include children’s own descriptions of their work as part of the display. Occasionally use paper or inexpensive frames or mats to highlight their work.
  • Provide materials and activities that are developmentally appropriate for a wide range of ages and abilities. Include adaptive materials so children can fully participate and experience success. Offer choices of open-ended art materials, simple and more advanced puzzles, and a variety of blocks that children can access independently. Set up a safe woodworking area with child-safe tools and safety glasses.
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).
  • View mistakes as opportunities to learn. Be supportive and let children know everyone makes mistakes. Model that it is important to keep trying.
  • Use children’s home language as much as possible in daily conversations with them. Put words to feelings and emotions.
  • Read books about families and encourage children to talk about their families. Invite children to share photos of their families. Discuss similarities and differences.
  • Provide positive role models for both boys and girls. Read books that feature positive role models for boys and girls.
  • Provide opportunities for children to identify themselves in pictures and to identify their names from a group of other names.
  • Prepare children for new situations and changes in routines (such as a field trip or visitor) by using pictures, verbal explanations, and acting out what will happen.
  • Have frequent conversations with children. Listen carefully, respond, acknowledge and give them credit for their ideas.
  • Expand on children’s ideas and interests. For example, a child’s interest in vehicles may become a play theme or topic of study. Routinely involve children in thinking through real-life problems (how to clear a path through the new snow).
  • Promote reflection by asking open-ended questions as children are working on a project.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate children’s successes. Encourage them to recognize their own achievements and congratulate peers on their successes.
  • Help children identify coping skills that will help them when feeling stress, such as asking for a hug, holding a blanket and taking a break.
  • Role model relaxation skills, such as deep breathing, slowly counting and progressively relaxing muscles to help children cope with challenges.
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Developing Relationships


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

Show preference for and emotional connection with adults who take care of them on a regular basis (feel secure to explore and then “check in” with caregiver while playing, greet family member with big hug, seek out caregiver when upset or uncertain, exhibit anxiety when adult leaves).

Offer toys and objects to familiar adults.

Use sounds and gestures to engage adults (initiate simple give-and-take interactions).

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

Show delight when familiar peers arrive.

Enjoy playing alongside other children.

Imitate actions of older siblings and playmates.

Offer toys and objects to other children.


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Work to develop a sense of community among the children and adults by reading books, singing and playing together.
  • Allow each child to have responsibilities such as setting the table, helping to put away toys, watering plants, caring for pets, and contributing to the good of the group.
  • Create inviting interest areas or centers in the room where small groups of children can play. Include a housekeeping/ dramatic play area with materials that represent a variety of cultures and families, changing props throughout the year.
  • 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.
  • Be honest with children, providing a good model for them to follow. Follow through on what has been told to the child.
  • 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 if they have a good attachment 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 toddlers 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 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.
  • Discuss the feelings of characters in storybooks, similarities and differences in their appearances, etc. Help children to make their own books, family books, or class books with photos or pictures of children displaying a variety of feelings. This could be especially helpful for children who are non-verbal or who have language difficulty.
  • Provide books and music that depict a variety of cultures and traditions.
  • Engage in meaningful, back and forth, conversations with children. Listen to children’s interests and ask genuine follow-up questions.
  • Show an understanding of children's emotions, such as sharing joint excitement over an accomplishment.
  • Share activities that help children get to know each other and help them recognize and appreciate similarities and differences. For example, graph eye color, hair color, gender, and how they get to school.
  • Provide opportunities for children to play cooperatively in pairs and in small groups to foster friendships. Make sure they have opportunities to play with and learn to appreciate all of their peers.
  • Celebrate group successes and collaboration instead of competition.
  • Help children initiate play with other children in positive ways. Model strategies to help children enter a group (“Can I be a sister?”) and give children suggestions on how to join play activities with another child or group of children, such as sharing toys and play ideas, offering to help, and giving compliments.
  • Invite children to participate in a variety of small-group activities such as cooking and reading together, and in large-group activities such as circle time and creative movement for short periods of time.
  • Promote nurturing behavior by encouraging children to help each other, reading books that demonstrate caring and setting a good example.
  • Invite family members and people from the community who model caring for others to share their cultures, traditions, and talents.
  • Take trips to visit people and places in the community.
  • Involve children in projects that help the community, such as recycling, visiting the elderly, and collecting food or other items for those in need.
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Self-Regulation and Pro-Social Behaviors


AL Goal-4: Children are engaged and maintain focus in play and everyday tasks.

Use gestures, sounds, objects, or simple words to get another person to do something (bring box to adult to be opened, make noise to get someone to look).

Begin to follow simple directions (“It's time to bring me your shoes so we can go outside.”).

Control impulses some of the time (look at forbidden object and say, “No, no,” allow adult to direct them to a different activity).

Accept adult help to resolve problems and conflicts, and cooperate when an adult redirects them from a situation that poses a problem.

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

Use body language, facial expression, simple words or signs to communicate needs and feelings (clap when happy, shout “Whee!” when excited).

Separate from parent or main caregiver without being overcome by stress.

Find comfort and calm down in a familiar setting or with a familiar person.

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

Try to comfort another child or adult who is upset (bring a comfort object, stroke the person on the back).

Look at familiar caregivers to see how the caregiver is feeling (look to see if the caregiver is upset after they spill a drink).

Match their tone and emotions to that of others during interactions.


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 and post a schedule that includes both pictures and words.
  • Encourage children to identify, interpret, and express a wide range of feelings for themselves and others by providing books, toys, puppets and activities such as drawing, writing, creating art and movement, and open-ended pretend play.
  • Set up a Safe Place Center in the room where children can go when they are having a difficult time. Place soft pillows or cuddly bears, and pictures on the wall of their family members for comfort.
  • Have a Solution Center or Peace Talk Area where children can talk out and verbalize their feelings and resolve conflicts by themselves or with the help of an adult if needed.
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 children 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.
  • Allow children to make choices to promote feelings of control and success. Encourage them to do things for themselves as much as possible, recognizing it may take longer and may be done in their own way.
  • 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.
  • Use natural situations that provide opportunities to talk and identify feelings, and how our actions may affect the feelings of others.
  • Talk with children about events or challenges that are influencing their emotions.
  • Model socially appropriate ways to express unpleasant feelings and how to ask for something, using puppets or role-playing.
  • Include words that describe feelings as part of children’s overall language development. Model language to help children identify their emotions (“You look disappointed.”).
  • Give children something engaging and constructive to do during transitions or when they have to wait. For example, sing songs, draw a picture, play with a puzzle, or tell a story.
  • Model techniques to help children learn to relax, stay calm and manage their anger and fears, such as breathing deeply, finding a comfortable spot to listen to music, and using words to express themselves.
  • Understand that some children have a greater need for movement than others and make sure to provide opportunities for movement throughout the day. Allow children to move freely from one interest area/center to another. Consider allowing a child to stand, sit, or lay down in a comfortable position while reading a story to the group.
  • Involve children in creating a small number of shared expectations/rules/guidelines for the group.
  • Reinforce appropriate behaviors by providing positive feedback and linking to shared expectations/rules (“Thank you so much for walking in the room and keeping your friends safe.”).
  • Explain reasons for limits and provide alternatives (“We use gentle touch so we do not hurt our friends. When you are mad, you can use words to talk to your friend about it or come to an adult for help.”).
  • Use reminders and logical consequences. If a child throws sand let her know that if it happens again she will need to leave the sand table and choose another activity. Then assure her that she will have other opportunities to return to the sand table to “practice” good choices again.
  • Consider teaching children a Social Problem Solving Process: identifying the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, choosing a solution, trying it out, evaluating their success, and trying something else if not successful.
  • Redirect children’s inappropriate behavior by offering choices (“It’s not okay to push our friend away from the play dough table, but you can play with the blocks or in the art area.”).
  • Establish a transition routine, such as singing or playing a special song that provides cues to let everyone know they need to clean up or come to circle by the time the song ends.
  • Encourage and acknowledge children when they use good manners, such as holding the door for a friend and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” Model an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude. Thank children for being kind and include them in writing thank-you notes to others.
  • Encourage children to express their needs with words. Model appropriate language, such as, “May I please have that toy?”
  • To promote self-regulation play games such as Simon Says. Sing Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, and ask children to touch their heads when they say “toes” and toes when they say “head.” This promotes their brain’s ability to stop, think, and vary their responses.
  • Use music, literature, puppets, and role-playing to help children recognize feelings of others.
  • Encourage children to express different emotions in their pretend play.
  • Model empathy and help children develop empathy toward others. Talk with them about how their actions impact others. Encourage them to notice and ask others how they are feeling.