image for Social and Emotional Development

Social and Emotional Development - Younger Preschoolers (33 to 48 Months)

Sharing and caring are a big part of your younger preschooler's social and emotional development. Not only are they learning how to cooperate with other kids their age - they're developing the ability to show empathy, express feelings and be generous with others. That's a lot to learn! Always model good behavior, and remember to go heavy on the hugs and praise. Simply helping your child feel good about themselves plays an important role in emotional development.

About This Domain

The Social 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.


image for Developing a Positive Sense of Self

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.

Use more complex terms to describe body parts and physical characteristics (accurately identify “where it hurts”).

Identify themselves by first and last name.

Aware of the idea of ownership. (“This is mine, that is yours.”)

Describe themselves in positive terms, including what they like and dislike, what they can do, and what they have done.

Demonstrate emerging sense of independence in their choices and confidence that they can do many things.

Express a sense of belonging to a group. (“There’s Destiny from my class.”)


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 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 families interactions. Ask parents and guardians 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.
  • Help children use conflict resolution skills when they are working through problems with other children. Model negotiation skills by talking about the problem, the feelings related to the problem, and how to explore possible solutions.
  • 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.
  • Encourage children to think of mistakes as opportunities to explore alternative solutions and ways to complete tasks. Avoid making critical or negative comments. Acknowledge when you yourself make mistakes and talk about how you try to learn from them.
image for Developing Relationships

Developing Relationships


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

Seek out trusted adults for approval, emotional support, assistance, and help solving problems when needed.

Show affection for adults they are close to and refer to them by name. (“Hi Nana!”)

Given time, form positive relationships with new teachers or caregivers.

Show ease and comfort in their interactions with familiar adults.

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

Demonstrate developing social skills with guidance and support when interacting with other children (improving turn-taking, conflict-resolution, sharing).

Form and maintain friendships with a few other children.

Identify another child as a friend.

Begin to initiate positive interactions and play with other children.

Seek comfort from and give support to familiar children.

Begin to demonstrate a respect for the rights and property of others (ask to play with someone else’s toy).

Notice and accept similarities and differences among people, including people with disabilities and those from different cultures (hair color, gender, or favorite activities).


Suggestions for Enriching the Environment
  • Work to develop a sense of community among the children and adults in your setting by reading books, singing and playing together.
  • Allow each child in your care 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 your relationship with each child 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 you have told the child you will do.
  • 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 and will not become less attached to them if they have a good attachment to their caregivers as well.
  • Support each child’s attachment to his/her family while the child is in your care. 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 you observe these signs.
  • 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 characters in storybooks, talking about feelings of the characters, similarities and differences in their appearances, etc. Help children to make their own 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. Let children see that you understand by mirroring their 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. Be especially mindful of dual language learners who may need additional support.
  • 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.
image for Self-Regulation and Pro-Social Behaviors

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.

Demonstrate pro-social behaviors (waiting for a turn), participate in routines, and transition smoothly from one activity to the next with some adult guidance and support.

Often make requests clearly and effectively.

Show awareness that their actions affect others (move carefully around classmate’s block structure).

Wait for a short time to get what they want (a turn with a toy, a snack).

Work to resolve conflicts effectively, with guidance and support.

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

Use words or signs to express their needs and feelings most of the time.

Suggest reasons for their feelings. (“I’m sad because Grandma’s leaving.” “That makes me mad when you do that!”)

Manage emotions, control impulses, and calm themselves with adult support and guidance.

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

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

Communicate concern for others. (“Are you OK?”)

Use words and/or actions to meet the needs of others (pick up item someone dropped, help another child who is having trouble building a block tower).

With guidance and support, show respect for others’ feelings and points of view (work out conflicts, listen to opinions expressed by 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 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 you are there for them and care about them unconditionally.
  • 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, even though it may take longer and won’t be done as you might have done it yourself.
  • 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.
  • 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 emotions you see a child is experiencing. (“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 you read 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 your 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 OK 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.