Social & Emotional Development Framework icon

This document was developed before the release of the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework 2015 (HSELOF) [PDF, 9.2MB]. While information in this document is still valuable, the Office of Head Start (OHS) is in the process of updating materials to reflect the HSELOF 2015 to ensure they address the current needs of programs and reflect best practices and research. At this time, Getting Started [PDF, 703KB] provides initial guidance to programs in how to use the HSELOF.

Social & Emotional Development refers to the skills necessary to foster secure attachment with adults, maintain healthy relationships, regulate one's behavior and emotions, and develop a healthy concept of personal identity. Positive social and emotional development provides a critical foundation for lifelong development and learning. In early childhood, social and emotional well-being predicts favorable social, behavioral, and academic adjustment into middle childhood and adolescence. It helps children navigate new environments, facilitates the development of supportive relationships with peers and adults, and supports their ability to participate in learning activities. Children with emotional or behavioral challenges are likely to receive less adult support for development and learning and to be more isolated from peers. In the domain of Social & Emotional Development, programs need to ensure that children who are dual language learners can demonstrate their abilities, skills, and knowledge in any language, including their home language.

Strategies to Develop Positive Social Relationships

  • Provide opportunities for children to work and play together. Successful relationships need both time and content—something to do or think about together.
  • Draw children's attention to the feelings or experiences of others by saying, "Look at her face. Can you tell how she feels?" Help them to develop empathy by reminding them of their own similar feelings or experiences: "You know what it feels like when someone says you can't play."
  • Model caring, positive regard for others. When a child is absent, remind the others of the friend who is missed. If absences are prolonged, have children make cards or gifts to convey feelings of regard.
  • Intervene when children are repeatedly rejected by others. Coach these children with specific strategies for entering play. Asking, "Can I play?" is not as effective as watching, getting close, and playing with the same thing or bringing a toy over to a peer. Help children identify common ground or shared preferences with others as ways to begin relationships. "Your mom said you have a new book about fish. Why don't you bring it to school? I know the other children would like to see it!"
  • Build relationships with parents and families so that children feel safe, secure, and comfortable with their teachers.

Domain Element: Social Relationships

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
ACF-IM-HS-08-21:The Importance of Teacher-Child Relationships in Head Start [PDF, 80.12KB]

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Government Legislation and Regulations Positive interactions between adults and children and between children and their peers are among the key elements of overall classroom quality. Teaching teams can be instrumental in fostering the development and maintenance of positive social interactions and a pro-social environment.
The Pyramid Model for Promoting the Social Emotional Development of Infants and Young Children Tip Sheet Teaching teams and management staff can use this fact sheet as a guide when assembling resources to promote the social and emotional well being of children in classrooms, programs, and communities.
Cultural Competence in Working with Children and Families Catalog Program staff can increase their sensitivity to cultural differences by using these resources to increase their knowledge and appreciation of different cultures.
Head Start Bulletin 2009 Issue 80 - Mental Health [PDF, 1.59MB] Bulletin Teachers, directors, education managers can review the scope of promoting positive Mental Health outcomes for children and families.
Why Research? Strategies to Promote Language and Social Development Bulletin Program managers and content specialists can access information that highlights specific findings from Head Start research on social development as well as experiences of Head Start grantees involved in research. Research results are used to inform policy and practice in ways that continue to benefit Head Start children and families.
Part 3: Social and Emotional Development Webcast Webcast Program staff can reflect on the advice given in this webcast to assess their own cultural identities and biases to better address the social and emotional needs of their multicultural students.
Maryland Head Start State Collaboration Office Needs Assessment Report and Strategic Plan 2010-2011 Project [PDF, 706.58KB] Article, Needs Assessment Collaboration offices can use this report of one state's assessments of state agencies with respect to collaboration, coordination, alignment of services, and curricula used in Head Start programs in order to coordinate their efforts.
Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation—An Evaluation Tool Kit [PDF, 544.68KB] Tool Program managers and staff can use the resources in this tool kit as a guide in designing and implementing effective mental health services for families.
Fathers and Father-Figures: Their Important Role in Children's Social and Emotional Development Article Family service staff can review content that reinforces the importance of engaging fathers in Head Start. Resources and websites also are included.
Random Acts Of Kindness [PDF, 22.10KB] Guided Practice Management staff and education coordinators can use this exercise in training sessions with teaching teams to provide teachers the opportunity to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of varied observational assessment techniques.
The Joy of Learning: Effective Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children [PDF, 202.34KB] PowerPoint Directors, education managers can review effective practices for connecting ongoing assessment with curriculum experiences. Such practices are proven to support the goals of school readiness promoted by OHS.
Heart to Heart: The strength of the relationship between an adult caregiver and a young child is affected by the adult's responsiveness Article Management and program staff can learn the research evidence and strategies to support positive and responsive interaction between a parent and a child.
About Face for Stormy Preschoolers Article Through the research and strategies discussed in this article, management and program staff can better understand the Parent Child Interaction Therapy, which focuses on teaching parents behavior management techniques within a play therapy setting, and then coaching them as they use them with their children.
The Importance of Teacher-Child Relationships in Head Start [PDF, 52.58KB] Government Legislation and Regulations Teaching teams can refer to this Information Memorandum (IM) for highlights of the importance of promoting strong, positive interactions with young children and specific examples of some successful strategies.

Strategies to Promote Self-Concept & Self-Efficacy

  • *Make sure the learning environment is welcoming to every child and reflects his identity and culture. Use photos of children and family members, displays of children's work, and their names for functional purposes like taking attendance, storing belongings, or assigning jobs.
  • Structure the environment to offer opportunities for children to share information about themselves, their families, and experiences.
  • Organize the environment so children can independently choose their own activities for part of each day. If children have difficulty making wise use of choice time, limit their choices at first and gradually add more offerings.
  • Let children do for themselves what they are capable of doing, whether it is dressing, serving a snack, cleaning up, writing their names, solving a problem, or any of the myriad of opportunities for developing and demonstrating growing competence.
  • Make the study of self and families part of in-depth projects that are integrated with other areas of learning.
  • Provide appropriate levels of challenge to work at something and feel a sense of accomplishment.

* Identifies content and references that include children who are dual language learners.

Domain Element: Self-Concept & Self-Efficacy

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
*Staff Development: Multimedia Audios, Videos, Webcasts *Management and program staff can use these audio, video, and webcast resources to learn specific tools and strategies for teaching DLLs.
Sharing Special Topic Books with Children [PDF, 274.91KB] Training (Professional Development) Education managers and professional development providers can use this resource to support teachers in selecting and using books that help children identify, understand, and express emotions in a healthy way.
Why Children's Dispositions Should Matter to All Teachers Article Teaching teams can use the information about the link between effective learning and children's dispositions and habits to help strengthen children's independence, creativity, motivation, and resilience.
Health Benefits To Children From Contact With The Outdoors & Nature [PDF, 201.73KB] Bibliography (annotated) Management staff and teaching teams can use these literature reviews and overview documents to learn about research related to the health and mental health benefits of outdoor experiences for young children and their adult caregivers.
Kids Dig Dirt! Green Paper [PDF, 1.35MB] [PDF, 1.35MB] Guide Management staff, teaching teams, families,  and community partners can use this information to gather resources and activate change. Resources focus on the need to support the addition, expansion, or redevelopment of children's outdoor environments and to support play and informal learning for health and sustainable development.
Learning Life Skills Through Physical Play

Article-Excerpt Management staff and teaching teams can learn about the Star Power for Preschoolers curriculum, which addresses five goals: self-esteem, concentration, imagination, relaxation, and cooperation.
*Part 2: Physical Well-being and Motor Development Webcast Webcast *Management staff and teaching teams can use this webcast to better understand how culture influences parental approaches to discipline, feeding, sleeping, toilet training, and other behaviors critical to a child's physical development.
All Kinds Of Movement [PDF, 88.14KB] Guided Practice Teaching teams can document children's progress through anecdotal note taking and thoughtful reflection on their observations. Physical behavior offers evidence of how the child begins to show self-awareness.

* Identifies content and references that include children who are dual language learners.

Strategies to Help Children Develop Self-Regulation

  • Provide a sufficiently engaging curriculum and variety of learning experiences to ensure that children are not bored or aimlessly wandering. Young children are very good at creating diversion when none is available. Often teachers think they cannot provide interesting learning experiences until the children are under control, when, in fact, the real problem is that the children are out-of-control because there is nothing interesting to do.
  • Arrange the environment to help children do their best. For example, make sure block building has enough space and is protected from traffic; avoid arrangements that invite children to run or fight, such as long corridors or large open spaces.
  • Set clear limits for unacceptable behavior and enforce them with rational explanations in a climate of mutual respect and caring.
  • Work with children to establish a few simple group rules: Take care of other people, take care of yourself, and take care of the Head Start setting. Systematically teach and reinforce these rules throughout the program year.
  • Evaluate and change your own behavior if needed. Give time and attention to children when they are behaving appropriately, not just when they are causing a disturbance or breaking a rule. Especially for the few children with the most challenging behaviors, be sure to "catch them doing something right" and those desirable behaviors will increase.
  • *Remember to use the child's home language as often as possible for purposes beyond giving the child directions such as sit down or be quiet.

* Identifies content and references that include children who are dual language learners.

Domain Element: Self-Regulation

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
Curriculum, Assessment and the Head Start Framework: An Alignment Review Tool [PDF, 703.79KB] Tool Content specialists, directors, and education managers can use this resource to help determine how well an early childhood assessment or curriculum aligns with the domains and domain elements identified in the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework.
Section 3 Focus on Fathering: One-Hour Group Parent Education Sessions [PDF, 2.22MB] Training Parent educators can review this resource as they plan for a session on fathering that emphasizes the importance of fathers connecting with their children.
Home-Based Supervisor’s Manual [PDF, 1.52MB] Guide, Tool Management staff can use the information, materials, and strategies in this manual to support their work with home visitors. The manual includes background information on the home-based program option; tools for selecting, supervising, and supporting home-based staff; and ways to help home visitors.
Screening for Social Emotional Concerns: Considerations in the Selection of Instruments [PDF, 1.52MB] Research Management staff and teaching teams can use this resource to better choose appropriate instruments for screening programs and initiatives.
Embrace Risks, thoughtfully in Design Principles for Nature Play Spaces in Nature Centers and Other Natural Areas Article Teaching teams can refer to this article when balancing the potential dangers of natural play spaces with the benefits of helping children learn self-regulation and how to assess risks.
News You Can Use: The Culture of Sleep and Child Care [PDF, 704.60KB] Article Teaching staff, home visitors, and parents can use this information on sleep as a resource for creating safe sleeping arrangements for babies. Topics covered include the biology of sleep, cues that babies are sleepy, sudden infant death syndrome, when sleep becomes a problem, co-sleeping, and suggested reading about sleep.
The Role of Time-Out in a Comprehensive Approach for Addressing Challenging Behaviors of Preschool Children Article Program staff can gain a clear understanding of the “time out” strategy provided in this resource, as well as solutions to support children with challenging behaviors.
Section 5 Parenting Apart: Co-Parenting Sessions for Parents Who Live Apart to Learn New Ways of Working Together to Do What is Best for Their Children [PDF, 1.04MB] Training Management and program staff can use this 3-hour curriculum to help parents learn about the importance of consistent parenting, explore how children develop, and practice positive decision-making strategies.
Physically Healthy and Ready to Learn: Technical Assistance Paper No. 1 [PDF, 597.35KB] Article Teaching teams, parents, managers, and directors recognize that physical health is foundational to learning and development. This brief highlights the importance of recognizing and addressing the individual needs of each child.

Strategies to Promote Emotional & Behavioral Health

  • Acknowledge and encourage children's efforts and accomplishments using specific feedback. For example, say, "You wrote your M," or "Thank you for helping Keisha with her coat," rather than offering nonspecific praise such as, "That's really nice." Provide children with evidence of their increasing skills and abilities by showing them examples of their previous work and allowing them to compare it to current work. For example, "Look at this. In October, you were writing an 'A' and now you can write your whole name, AMY."
  • Coach children to express their feelings verbally, using either home language or English, and solve social problems with others using words. For many children, this will mean not only providing the words and offering some possible solutions, but being there to assist when situations arise.
  • Engage children in group discussions and role play how to resolve conflicts or negotiate social problems before they arise.
  • Read books that include conflicts or problems requiring cooperation. Ask children to predict what will happen in advance, or after reading, ask them to provide alternative solutions.
  • Provide time, materials, and support for children to engage in many kinds of play—including block play, dramatic play, simple games, and rough and tumble play.

Domain Element: Emotional & Behavioral Health

Title of Resource Type of Resource Notes
§1308.8 Eligibility criteria: Emotional/behavioral disorders Government Legislation and Regulations Directors and education managers can review the criteria and process for identifying children with emotional and/or behavior problems.
Fact Sheet: Vulnerable Young Children Article Program staff and families may find this information useful for meeting the emotional needs of children in their care.
Stress and the Developing Brain Article Program staff will find an informative discussion of how stress affects the development of the brain and the implications for helping children become ready to learn.
[Witnessing Violence]: Behavior Effects on the Child Article Health managers, health and program staff, and parents can use the tips in this article to become aware of behaviors that might indicate a child is coping with the experience of witnessing or being a victim of violence.
Interactive Tool for Parents: Milestones Checklist Tool Program staff and parents can use this interactive tool to help recognize typical milestones for children, ages birth to five.
*Part 3: Social and Emotional Development Webcast Webcast *Program staff can use ideas from this webcast to assess their own cultural identities and biases to better address the social and emotional needs of their multicultural students.
Little Listeners in an Uncertain World: Providing Safety and Support through Community Trauma Audio Program staff can listen to a discussion of real-life experiences with community trauma and principles for practice in working with families and young children affected by catastrophic events.
News You Can Use: Disaster Readiness and Response for Families with Young Children Article Program staff can find ideas in this article for developing disaster readiness plans.
Emotional Disturbance: NICHCY Fact Sheet 5 Article, Bibliography, Catalog Teaching staff and parents can find descriptions of the definition, incidence rates, characteristics, and educational implications of emotional disturbance. A brief bibliography and list of organizations also are included.
Promoting Social and Emotional Competence: Training Modules Training Teaching teams and parents can use the information from these modules when identifying the types of content and training that would be most useful in addressing the social-emotional needs of young children.
Screening for Social and Emotional Concerns: Considerations in the Selection of Instruments [PDF, 7.08MB] Research Management staff and teaching teams can use this resource to better choose appropriate instruments for screening programs and initiatives.
Fostering Emotional Literacy in Young Children: Labeling Emotions Article Management and program staff can refer to this article for a discussion of children’s emotional literacy and practical intervention strategies for early childhood settings and home environments. Management staff may find this resource useful in meeting professional development needs.
Social and Emotional Development from Birth to Preschool Tip Sheet Teaching teams and parents can use this information to promote positive social and emotional development in young children.
Developmental Screenings and Assessment Instruments with an Emphasis on Social and Emotional Development for Young Children Ages Birth through Five Catalog Disabilities service coordinators can use this list of developmental screenings and assessment instruments to address multiple developmental and social-emotional domains.
Fathers and Father-Figures: Their Important Role in Children's Social and Emotional Development Article Disabilities service coordinators, teaching teams, and family services staff can learn how fathers have an impact on engagement and interaction, availability and accessibility, and the day-to-day care of children with and without disabilities.
Sand Table Selflessness [PDF, 47.24KB] Guided Practice Education managers can use this example of sand table play to explore a number of observations and reflections teachers might consider as they develop an understanding of how ongoing assessment supports individualization of curriculum experiences for children.

* Identifies content and references that include children who are dual language learners.

References for Evidence-Based Practice for the Social & Emotional Development Domain of the 2010 Early Learning Framework

The body of research that focuses on early education intervention as a key contributor to children's school readiness and successful achievement has grown significantly since the creation of Head Start in 1965. In order to highlight the significance of this research across the outcome domains of the Early Learning Framework, we include a variety of references that describe various levels of evidence in the research base. Specifically we include levels of evidence that support the scientific believability of approaches, strategies, instructional practices, and outcomes. These levels of evidence include results of large scale research studies, documentation of evidence-informed practices, and/or replicable practices that effect children's progress toward outcomes, or are heuristic in that they hold merit for future research.

Social & Emotional Development

Center for Early Care and Education Research. (2011). Social-emotional development of dual language learners: A critical review of the research. Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Early Care and Education Research: Dual Language Learners.

Denham, Susanne A. (2006). Social-Emotional Competence as support for school readiness: What is it and how do we assess it? Early Education and Development 17 (1): 57-89.

Lally, J. Ronald, Pamela Phelps and Yolanda Torres Ledon. (n.d.). Caring for infants and toddlers in groups: Necessary considerations for emotional, social and cognitive development. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

Nadeem, Erum. (September 2010). Aligning research and policy on social-emotional and academic competence for young children. Early Education and Development 21 (5): 765-779.

National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care. (2006). Strengthening interdisciplinary partnerships in addressing children's early development: a think tank. Aurora, CO: National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care.

Social Relationships

Conners-Burrow, Nicola A. (2011). Social outcomes associated with media viewing habits of low-income preschool children. Early Education and Development 22 (2): 256-273.

Luchtel, Molly. (April 2010). A comparison of teacher-related classroom conduct, social skills, and teacher-child relationship quality between preschool English learners and preschool English speakers. NHSA Dialog 13 (2): 92-111.

Naerland, Terje. (April 2011). Child-child interactions and positive social focus among preschool children. Early Child Development and Care 181 (3): 361-370.

Schultz, Betsy L. (June 2011). A preschool pilot study of Connecting With Others: Lessons for Teaching Social and Emotional Competence. Early Childhood Education Journal 39 (2): 143-148.

Spritz, Becky. (July 2010). Models of emotion skills and social competence in the Head Start classroom. Early Education and Development 21 (4): 495-516.

Self-Concept & Self-Efficacy

Boseovski, Janet J. (2010). Evidence for "rose-colored glasses": An examination of the positivity bias in young children's personality judgments. Child Development Perspectives 4 (3): 212-218. 

Guo, Ying. (May 2010). Relations among preschool teachers' self-efficacy, classroom quality, and children's language and literacy gains. Teaching and Teacher Education 26 (4): 1094-1103.

LaRocca, Regina. (2010) Stability of self-efficacy and self-concept in young children. Dissertation Abstracts International ProQuest Information & Learning.

Meunier, Jean-Christophe & Roskam, Isabelle. (2009). Self-efficacy beliefs amongst parents of young children: Validation of a self-report measure. Journal of Child and Family Studies 18 (5):495-511.


Denham, Susanne A. and Chavaughn Brown. (2010). "Plays nice with others": Social-emotional learning and academic success. Early Education and Development 21 (5): 652-680.

Skibbe, Lori E. Schooling effects on preschoolers' self-regulation, early literacy, and language growth. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 26 (1): 42-49.

Smith-Donald, Radiah and Raver, C. Cybele and Hayes, Tiffany and Richardson, Breeze. (2011). Preschool Self-Regulation Assessment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 22 (2): 173-187.

Winsler, Adam. (2011). Singing one's way to self-regulation: The role of early music and movement curricula and private speech. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 22 (2): 274-304.

Emotional & Behavioral Health

Boyd, Judy and W. Steven Barnett and Elena Bodrova and Deborah Jane Leong and Deanna Gomby and Kenneth B. Robin and Hustedt, Jason T. (2005). Promoting children's social and emotional development through high-quality preschool. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

Dobbs-Oates, Jennifer. (2011). Effective behavior management in preschool classrooms and children's task orientation: Enhancing emergent literacy and language development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 26 (4): 420-429.

Frey, Andy. (2010). The social validity of program-wide positive behavior support. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions 12 (4): 222-235.

Lee, Michael D. and Barbara W. Sarnecka. (2011). Number-Knower Levels in Young Children: Insights from Bayesian Modeling. Cognition 120 (3): 391-402.

Raver, C. Cybele and Jane Knitzer. (2002). Ready to enter: What research tells policymakers about strategies to promote social and emotional school readiness among three- and four-year-old children. NY: National Center for Children and Poverty.

Last Reviewed: June 2015

Last Updated: June 19, 2015