A to Z’s of Early Childhood

The Science of Child Development and Learning

S is for Social and Emotional Development and Learning

Building Positive and Supportive Relationships With Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Social and emotional development and learning begin at birth and accelerate rapidly throughout the preschool years, where young children learn many social and emotional skills and have repeated opportunities to engage in interactions with adults and other children1. When infants and young children experience repeated positive exchanges during everyday routines, they begin to develop the foundational skills needed for future healthy relationships with peers, caregivers, and other adults (see the 3R’s of Early Learning: Relationships, Repetition, Routines ™). Over time, infants and young children learn how to communicate, regulate their emotions, and engage in positive social interactions. Research shows fostering infants’ and young children’s social and emotional skills is essential for future success and overall well-being2.

Strategies for Supporting Social and Emotional Development and Learning

 Here are four effective strategies for supporting social and emotional development and learning for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Strategy 1. Build nurturing and responsive relationships.

Supportive relationships are characterized by warmth, closeness, and interest in others. With infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, supportive relationships include speaking to them in positive tones, using words and gestures they understand, and being responsive to the child’s needs. For example, if the infant is nearing naptime, pick them up and talk to them in a soft and positive tone as they are rocked to sleep. These back-and-forth exchanges between the caregiver and child are the beginning of early social and emotional development and learning.

Strategy 2. Help children recognize, understand, and manage their feelings and emotions.

All infants, toddlers, and preschoolers experience emotions. Infants and young toddlers express them by smiling, crying, laughing, and other behaviors, such as turning away or kicking their arms or legs. Observing infants’ and young toddlers’ emotional cues is important given they are not yet using words.  Older toddlers and preschoolers should be supported to use language to express their feelings and learn strategies to identify positive (e.g., happy, excited) and negative (e.g., sad, mad) feelings in themselves and others. When caregivers show appropriate responses to feelings and emotions, it helps children regulate them. Caregivers can also model and share their own emotions. For example, if you are tired at the end of the day, say, “It was a hard day! I am feeling frustrated. I am going to take a deep breath.” Talking about the child’s feelings or expressing your feelings in age-appropriate ways helps children learn to recognize, understand, and manage their own feelings and emotions.

Strategy 3. Share what to expect during daily routines and activities.

Sharing with toddlers and preschoolers what to expect during daily routines and activities will help them learn what to do in those situations and promote their use of appropriate social and emotional skills. For example, when taking a preschooler to story time at the library, say, “We are going to the library to listen to a story. We will sit with all the other children and their parents and use our listening ears and quiet voices. Can you show me what that looks like?” When children understand the expectations and positively engage in routines and activities, they benefit from embedded learning opportunities (i.e., developmentally appropriate, intentional learning opportunities within activities or routines).

Strategy 4. Help children learn how to cooperate and get along with others.

 A caregiver’s or practitioner’s involvement with an infant’s, toddler’s, or preschooler’s playtime builds their relationship and allows the caregiver or practitioner to target specific social learning opportunities. For example, if a preschooler is having trouble sharing with a sibling, act out the problem with the child using two dolls. You may act out your doll saying, “It’s my turn to play with the ball.” Then, wait for the preschooler to act out their doll’s response. Playtime is a great opportunity for children to learn and practice social and emotional skills in a familiar context.

Watch these videos to see age-appropriate examples for each strategy.

0-12 Months

1-3 Years

3-5 Years

Download these PDFs to see age-approrpriate examples for supporting social and emotional development and learning.

0-12 Months   |   1-3 Years   |   3-5 Years

En español PDFs:
0-12 Meses   |   1-3 Años     3-5 Años”

What We are Doing

The Anita Zucker Center and our collaborators are helping families and practitioners learn effective ways to support young children’s social and emotional development and learning.

Learn more:

    Read more about BEST in CLASS and its home-school component that focuses on facilitating partnerships between teachers and families around children’s social and emotional learning and development, helping schools be “ready” to support all children and their families when they enter school.
  • Embedded Instruction for Early Learning (EIEL)
    The Embedded Instruction grant connects the California Department of Education’s Desired Results Developmental Profile assessment to the California Early Learning Foundations and classroom practices to strengthen the relationship between assessment and instruction and provide planned instruction for children with disabilities during everyday activities. 
  • Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers (EPIC) and Florida Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers (FL-EPIC)
    This page is a central location for early intervention providers in the state of Florida to access learning modules, the Tools for Early Steps Teams (TEST) Toolkit, and learning communities.
  • Pyramid Model Consortium
    The Pyramid Model for Promoting Social and Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children is a support framework that organizes evidence-based practices that caregivers and practitioners use to support young children’s social, emotional, and behavioral competence. The Pyramid Model Consortium consists of individuals who have been involved in the development, refinement, and evaluation of the Pyramid Model. 

Other Resources

  • Ideas and Tools for Working with Parents and Families
    The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a professional membership organization that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. Here you can access articles for families on children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development.
  • Topics of Development: Social-Emotional (Pathways.org)
    Read more about the importance of social-emotional development and access a list of common social and emotional skills and the approximate ages you can expect a child to begin demonstrating them. 
  • Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in Preschool
    Download this issue brief and infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to learn more about the importance of social and emotional learning in early childhood and get more information on programs and practices that work.
  • Parent Engagement Practices Improve Outcomes for Preschool Children
    This issue brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides information for supporting caregivers to help build their child’s social and emotional development.
  • National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations
    The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) assists states and programs in their implementation of sustainable systems for the implementation of the Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children (Pyramid Model) within early intervention and early education programs. NCPMI focuses on promoting the social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes of young children birth to five by promoting family engagement, using data for decision-making, integrating early childhood and infant mental health consultation and fostering inclusion.
  • Integrating a Focus on Equity into Social and Emotional Learning
    Download this PDF to learn more about social and emotional learning as a way to support the whole child and prepare students to succeed with a focus on equity. It includes strategies to focus social and emotional learning in equity as well as references.
  • Pyramid Resources for Infant & Toddler Social Emotional Development Model (PRISM)
    Pyramid Resources for Infant & Toddler Social Emotional Development Model (PRISM) is a professional development package to help early educators encourage the social-emotional development of young children in their classrooms. PRISM assists coaches and teachers by providing trainings, resources, and data management tools specific to the infant-toddler childcare settings.

Articles by Center Faculty and Collaborators

  • Artman-Meeker, K., Hemmeter, M. L., & Snyder, P. (2014). Effects of distance coaching on teachers’ use of Pyramid model practices: A pilot study. Infants and Young Children27(4), 325-344. https://doi.org/10.1097/IYC.0000000000000016
  • Brown, W. H., & Conroy, M. A. (2011). Social-emotional competence in young children with developmental delays: Our reflection and vision for the future. Journal of Early Intervention33(4), 310-320. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053815111429969
  • Conroy, M. A., Bulotsky-Shearer, R., Morris, C., & Hetrick, A. A. (2020). Prevention and intervention in preschool and early elementary school years. In T. W. Farmer, M. A. Conroy, E. M. Z. Farmer, & K. S. Sutherland (Eds.), Handbook of research on emotional and behavioral disorders: Interdisciplinary developmental perspectives on children and youth. Routledge.
  • Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Algina, J., Werch, B., & Ladwig, C. (2018). Prevention and treatment of problem behaviors in young children: Clinical implications from a randomized controlled trial of BEST in CLASS. AERA Open, 4(1)https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858417750376
  • Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Algina, J., Ladwig, C., Werch, B., Martinez, J., Jessee, G., & Gyure, M. (2019). Outcomes of the BEST in CLASS intervention on teachers’ use of effective practices, self-efficacy, and classroom quality. School Psychology Review, 48(1), 31-45. https://doi.org/10.17105/SPR-2018-0003.V48-1
  • Fox, L., Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P., Binder, D. P., & Clarke, S. (2011). Coaching early childhood special educators to implement a comprehensive model for promoting young children’s social competence. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education31(3), 178-192. https://doi.org/10.1177/0271121411404440
  • Germansky, S., Reichow, B., Martin, M., & Snyder, P. (2020). A systematic review of caregiver-implemented functional analyses. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 13(3), 698-713. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-019-00404-y
  • Han, H. S., & Kemple, K. M. (2006). Components of social competence and strategies of support: Considering what to teach and how. Early Childhood Education Journal34(3), 241-246. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-006-0139-2
  • Hemmeter, M. L., & Conroy, M. A. (2018). Advancement of evidence-based programs for young children with social and emotional learning difficulties. School Mental Health, 10(3), 199-201. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-018-9275-2
  • Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., Snyder, P., Algina, J., Hardy, J. K., Bishop, C., & Veguilla, M. (2021). Corollary child outcomes from the Pyramid Model professional development intervention efficacy trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 54, 204-218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.08.004
  • Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P. A., Fox, L., & Algina, J. (2016). Evaluating the implementation of the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social-Emotional Competence in early childhood classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 36(3), 133-146. https://doi.org/10.1177/0271121416653386
  • Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P., & Fox, L. (2018). Using the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT) to support implementation of social–emotional teaching practices. School Mental Health, 10(3), 202-213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-017-9239-y
  • Luo, L., Hong, X., & Snyder, P. (2018). The Pyramid Model: A multi-tiered model for promoting young children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development in the United States. Studies in Preschool Education [translated journal title from Chinese], 279, 35-46.
  • Luo, L., Reichow, B., Snyder, P., Harrington, J., & Polignano, J. (2022). Systematic review and meta-analysis of classroom-wide social-emotional competence interventions for preschool children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 42(1), 4-19. https://doi.org/10.1177/0271121420935579
  • Luo, L., Snyder, P., Huggins-Manley, A. C., Conroy, M., & Hong, X. (2021). Chinese preschool teachers’ implementation of practices to support young children’s social-emotional competence. Early Education and Development, 32(8), 1083-1102. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2020.1841594
  • McLaughlin, T. W., Denney, M. K., Snyder, P. A., & Welsh, J. L. (2012). Behavior support interventions implemented by families of young children: Examination of contextual fit. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions14(2), 87-97. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098300711411305
  • McLeod, B. D., Sutherland, K. S., Martinez, R. G., Conroy, M. A., Snyder, P. A., & Southam-Gerow, M. A. (2017). Identifying common practice elements to improve social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes of young children in early childhood classrooms. Prevention Science, 18(2), 204-213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-016-0703-y
  • Snyder, P. A., Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., Bishop, C. C., & Miller, M. D. (2013). Developing and gathering psychometric evidence for a fidelity instrument: The Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool-Pilot Version. Journal of Early Intervention35(2), 150-172. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053815113516794
  • Sutherland, K. S., Conroy, M. A., Algina, J., Ladwig, C., Jessee, G., & Gyure, M. (2018). Reducing child problem behaviors and improving teacher-child interactions and relationships: A randomized controlled trial of BEST in CLASS. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 42, 31-43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2017.08.001
  • Whalon, K. J., Conroy, M. A., Martinez, J. R., & Werch, B. L. (2015). School-based peer-related social competence interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder: A meta-analysis and descriptive review of single case research design studies. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(6)1513-1531. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2373-1


  1. McCabe, P. C., & Altamura, M. (2011). Empirically valid strategies to improve social and emotional competence of preschool children. Psychology in the Schools, 48(5), 513-540. http://doi.org/10.1002/pits.20570
  2. Bierman, K., Greenberg, M., & Abenavoli, R. (2017, May 1). Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool: Programs and practices that work [Issue brief]. Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University. https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2017/05/promoting-social-and-emotional-learning-in-preschool.html

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The complete 3R’s of Early Learning downloadable video recordings (including the A to Z’s of Early Childhood) for use in the field of childhood development to facilitate learning are available for purchase.

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