School Readiness

Social and Emotional Development Connect to Other Areas of Development

Social and Emotional Development

Grantee and delegate agencies must support the social and emotional development of infants and toddlers by promoting teaching practices that:

Emphasize nurturing and responsive practices, interactions, and environments that foster trust and emotional security; promote social, emotional, behavioral, and language development; provide supportive feedback for learning; [and] motivate continued effort …

Head Start Program Performance Standard 45 CFR §1302.31(b)(i)

For all children, but especially those in the earliest years of life, each area of development—perceptual, motor, physical, cognitive, social and emotional, approaches to learning, and language and literacy—is related to and influences the others. For example, a 6-month-old baby will express his delight with a smile, babbling, and a full-body wriggle. During infancy and toddlerhood, it is impossible to separate one developmental domain from any other. In fact, because infants depend completely on their caregivers, all areas of infant development unfold within the context of the child’s relationships with others. Through these most important relationships, a child develops not only his or her self-concept, but also the characteristics noted earlier—confidence, curiosity, motivation, cooperation, self-control, and relatedness. This dynamic explains why we focus on relationships as the central component of early childhood experiences that support developmental competence and school readiness.

As children mature, their strong sense of attachment to significant people in their lives nurtures the motivation to interact with the world around them. When an infant is reaching overhead for a toy swinging from the mobile and the adult says, “That’s right, you can get it,” the baby is learning that his activity matters to someone. When a crawling infant pulls up to stand on an unsteady surface and the adult extends a supportive hand and says, “No, no, that’s too wobbly,” the baby is learning that adults will keep her safe. When a toddler takes her first wobbly steps to the applause and delight of her mother and home visitor, the child is learning that others share in the joy of her accomplishments. In each of these examples, the relationship is what guides the learning process and makes the difference in how the child develops a sense of self, what he or she can do, and the effect he or she has on others. This awareness ultimately builds the social and emotional characteristics that have been identified as the foundations for readiness to learn.

Implications for Practice

Learn more about how infant development unfolds by observing infants and toddlers during everyday routines and play. Use the two examples below to increase your understanding of the connections between each area of development.

  • a baby on a play rug smiles at two adults helping her standPay close attention to your interactions with a child during a feeding routine. Reflect on the different ways the child experienced the feeding. What motor skills was he practicing? Perhaps he was reaching for the spoon or using his fine motor skills to pick up a bite of food between his finger and thumb. What language learning took place? Did the child coo and babble, imitate sounds, and hear words in his home language associated with eating? What cognitive skills did he practice? Perhaps, he was engaged in a favorite game of throwing his food and utensils over the edge of the high chair for you to retrieve again and again. (This popular activity demonstrates cause-and-effect learning and the emerging concept of object permanence, or how things continue to exist even when out of sight). What were the social and emotional messages that were communicated during this feeding? How did the child signal that he wanted more food or had eaten enough?

    From your actions, the child learns that eating is pleasurable, his hunger will be satisfied, people care about him, and many other lessons, depending on the tone of the interaction.

  • Pair up with another staff member (or have parents pair up with each other during a group socialization) to observe each other in a free-play situation with a child. Each adult will take a turn playing and then observing. Using a sheet of paper that lists each developmental domain on the left side (see Appendix A for an example), the observer writes down what the child is learning or experiencing in the domain during the play. For example, consider an adult helping a toddler who wears a hearing aid use the playground equipment. In the areas of perceptual and motor development, the child is coordinating perceptual information and motor actions, and she is using her large muscles to climb, pull her body up, balance, and jump. In the area of language development, her vocabulary and communication skills are expanding as the adult uses oral and sign language to label the new experiences in the child’s home language and by how the adult engages in a back-and-forth conversation with her during her play. In the area of cognitive development, she is learning concepts such as up, down, through, over, and under. Socially and emotionally, she is learning that a caring adult supports her as she tries new things, negotiates conflict with others, keeps her safe from harm, and brings joy to her play. She is learning to have confidence in herself, to be curious, to trust adults, and to get along with her peers.