Feelings And Friendships: Helping Your Child Develop Social-Emotional Skills

Discover Ways to Encourage Social-Emotional Development in Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers

Social-emotional development is just a fancy way of saying how young children learn to handle their emotions and interact with others — which is a big feat for your little learner!  

These essential skills help children express their emotions in a positive way, control their impulses, resolve conflicts and interact with peers — skills many teachers say are the most critical to know before starting kindergarten.

We encourage your child’s social-emotional development at every age in our Day Early Learning classrooms. Continue reading to discover what that looks like and how to support your child’s social-emotional learning at home.


In their first year of life, children’s social-emotional development is about simple but powerful interactions that make them feel safe and secure. To establish strong social-emotional skills, teachers:

·  Respond to a baby’s smiles, coos, babbles and cries, helping them feel safe and secure.
·  Acknowledge and label a baby’s emotions. For example, “I see you smiling. Smiles mean you’re happy.”
·  Hold, rock, comfort or sit on the floor with babies to make them feel special and loved.
·  Create opportunities for babies to observe and interact with other infants in the environment.

As you can see, a lot of what Day Early Learning teacher do is to talk about feelings a lot. They also focus on chances to express concern and support. In other words, our teachers probably do a lot of what you already do at home. In case you want some new ways to talk about feelings with your baby, try out these phrases to promote their social-emotional learning:

  1. I love you.
  2. Tell me about it.
  3. I’m here.
  4. I know you’re upset/hungry/tired. I’m going to ___.
  5. These are big feelings. Let’s see if a hug will help.


Toddlers are just learning about their emotions and how to manage them. To encourage social-emotional development in toddlers, teachers:

·  Label and validate children’s emotions. For example, “I see that you are upset. Let me help you.”
·  Model empathy and encourage children to imitate comforting behaviors. For example, “Lucy is crying. She must be feeling sad, so I’m going to go ask if she would like a hug.”
·  Provide children with the words to express both positive or negative emotions.
·  Provide peer experiences where children have many opportunities to interact with one another throughout the day.
·  Model positive ways to manage and resolve conflict, especially sharing  words that children can use instead of physical actions.
·  Allow children opportunities to demonstrate independence and do some self-care routines, like putting on their coats, by themselves.
·  Use books and photos of facial expressions, from frowns to grins, to highlight a range of feelings
·  Help children practice taking turns

In our classrooms, teachers rely on their words to show children positive behaviors and help them find ways out of difficult moments. You probably already do a lot of that at home, but here are some phrases that help your toddler develop social-emotional skills:

  1. I hear you.
  2. It’s ok to be sad/upset.
  3. This is really hard for you.
  4. That was scary.
  5. You are safe.
  6. I know you are mad, but we don’t use hands to hit. Hands are for hugs. What else could you do to tell me how you feel?


As children progress into preschool and pre-K, they learn how to interact with peers and control their emotions while expressing them in a positive way. To help children practice social-emotional skills, teachers:

·  Read books that help children describe and understand their feelings.
·  Model calm, positive interactions and help children use words and actions to effectively express how they feel.
·  Help children identify and regulate their emotions with support.
·  Provide children with opportunities to lead and gain a sense of independence through classroom jobs and making choices throughout their day.
·  Encourage playing with peers and maintaining friendships
·  Play games that encourage children to stop and go, so they can practice their impulse control. For example, Simon Says and Red Light Green Light, which require children to think before they act.

In preschool and pre-K, children can share some very big feelings. In our classrooms, teachers use many different approaches to helping children learn to manage feelings and build social skills. Want to add some new approaches to your family time? Try these phrases to help your preschooler build their social-emotional skills:

  1. I’m listening.
  2. We can figure this out together.
  3. Let’s take a deep breath.
  4. I hear that you need space. I will be here when you’re ready.
  5. We all get frustrated sometimes. It’s okay to be frustrated.
  6. Let’s try a different way.
  7. Would you like my help?
  8. Can we start over?
  9. Tell me how that makes you feel.
  10. I see you’re upset. Can I give you a hug?


Social and emotional skills are just one developmental area children work on in our classrooms. To learn more about what other skills we teach, visit our program pages.

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