A to Z’s of Early Childhood
The Science of Child Development and Learning
X is for X’s and O’s
Nurturing and responsive relationships are essential for healthy development and learning. From a child’s birth, hugs and kisses from a caregiver lead to the child’s warmth and affection with peers and positive relationships later in life. There are hundreds of opportunities for caregivers to show warmth and affection within everyday routines and activities. These opportunities may look different depending on a child’s age and the family’s cultural values, beliefs, and community. For example, a caregiver may hug a toddler and sing a favorite song in an unfamiliar environment (e.g., a new playground). Research shows developing supportive, responsive relationships between a caregiver and a young child using warmth and affection promotes healthy development and learning at every stage.
Practices for Promoting Nurturing and Responsive Relationships Using Warmth and Affection
Here are practices and examples for using warmth and affection to build nurturing relationships with young children at different ages.
Practices for Infants:
- Practice 1. Carry or hold your infant whenever possible. Research shows physical contact between a caregiver and newborn, often called “kangaroo care,” promotes positive physiological and behavioral changes for the infant and the caregiver, including the release of calming hormones, such as oxytocin, and increased positive responsiveness between caregiver and infant.
- Practice 2. Use touch to encourage learning and development. As infants get older, caregivers’ touch helps orient infants’ attention and can promote their active engagement during everyday routines and activities. For example, when introducing tactile books for shared reading, gently guide the infant’s hand with your hand to touch the object on the page and describe it (e.g., “rough.”).
Practices for Toddlers:
- Practice 1. Be physically responsive when communicating and interacting with a young child by providing reassuring physical touch and encouraging words to promote positive behavior. For example, smile, gently place your hand on the child’s back, and say, “I like how you asked me for more water and then waited for me to bring it to you.” This reassuring physical touch paired with positive words encourages the child to continue the positive behavior.
- Practice 2. Redirect a young child’s challenging behavior through supportive and developmentally appropriate interactions. If a young child demonstrates challenging behavior, one appropriate response would be to touch their arm and make eye contact while calmly describing what behavior they should do instead. For example, if a young child is upset about not being able to continue playing with a favorite toy, bend down to their level, gently touch their arm, look them in the eye and say, “I know you are upset, but we have to stop now. We’ll play later.”
Practices for Preschoolers:
- Practice 1. Teach a young child how to share their emotions using warmth and affection by showing and talking about emotions. For example, while waiting at the bus stop with a preschooler, say, “I’m feeling frustrated waiting for this late bus. Can I have a hug?” Showing and talking about how to ask for affection when experiencing emotions teaches the child how to share their own emotions.
- Practice 2. Encourage a young child’s positive interactions with others by being close to the child and supporting positive interactions, especially in new places or with new people. This increases opportunities for warmth and affection. For example, during a new lunchtime routine, sit close to the child, make eye contact and smile. Being close and positive helps young children feel safe and supported.
What We And Our Partners Are Doing
The Anita Zucker Center and our collaborators are helping families and practitioners use warmth and affection to develop consistent, positive relationships during everyday routines and activities that support young children’s development and learning.
- 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.
- Soft Touch: The good medicine of gentle contact with our skin
This article describes the history and importance of human touch and gives tips on how to engage in “soft touch” with infants.
- Caregiver Practices to Support Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Development
This resource from the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) outlines the caregiving practices that lead to healthy social and emotional outcomes for infants and toddlers.
- Infant-Toddler Caregiver Reflection Tool
This checklist from NCPMI helps caregivers reflect on their use of practices to support healthy social and emotional development in infants and toddlers.
- Zero to Three Resources for Parents
Visit this page for a collection of Zero to Three’s highest trending resources for parents, including topics such as brain development and positive parenting.
- Cero a Tres: Recursos en español
Conozca los recursos de Cero a Tres para los padres, profesionales de la primera infancia y legisladores.
Books and Articles by Center Members and Collaborators
- 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 Intervention, 33(4), 310–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053815111429969
- Han, H. S., & Kemple, K. M. (2006). Components of social competence and strategies of support: Considering what to teach and how. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(3), 241–246. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-006-0139-2
- Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P., & Fox, L. (2018). Using the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT) to support the implementation of social and emotional teaching practices. School Mental Health: A Multidisciplinary Research and Practice Journal, 10(3), 202–213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-017-9239-y
- Bigelow, A. E., & Williams, L.R. (2020, September 20). To have and to hold: Effects of physical contact on infants and their caregivers. Infant Behavior and Development. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7502223/
- Greicius, J. (2013, September 23). The benefits of touch for babies, parents. Stanford Medicine News Center. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2013/09/the-benefits-of-touch-for-babies-parents.html
- Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: the relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 2283-2290. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630
- Nemec, A. & Barton, E.E. (2020, October 6). Caregiver practices to support infant-toddler social emotional development. National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations. https://challengingbehavior.cbcs.usf.edu/docs/Caregiver_Practices.pdf
- Twardosz, S. (n.d.). What works brief. Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/wwb/wwb20.html
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