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    • Describe relationship-based care.
    • Describe children’s social and emotional milestones across age levels.
    • Describe the role you as a provider play when it comes to using positive guidance.




    The Importance of Relationship-Based Care

    Relationship-based care involves more than just caring for the physical needs of children (such as meals, activities, outdoor play); it focuses on the importance of building strong emotional ties between adult providers, each child, and their families. The family care provider consciously pays attention to building a strong relationship with each child and family.

    The development of social and emotional skills form the foundation for children’s later academic learning. As young children grow and develop, it is the people they interact with on a regular basis who will support their growth and development. Children’s earliest memories and feelings of attachment are to the significant people in their lives. Attachment is a strong emotional bond that grows between a child and an adult who is part of the child’s everyday life.

    Forming strong attachments with parents and other family members is most important for children’s healthy development. In addition to family members, you as a family child care provider are significant in nurturing positive social and emotional development in the children for whom you provide care. You may be the most important adult in a child’s life outside of his or her family.

     As a family child care provider, you focus on building positive, nurturing relationships with each child and family. Your daily interactions with children promote relationship-based care. Your focus is on creating strong relationships with each child and each child’s family. Your decisions each day promote relationship-based care: safety, belonging, trust, community.

     Trister Dodge, Rudick and Colker (2009) list the following practices that enhance building relationship-based care with children and families:

    • Provide responsive, loving care by offering comfort and affection to each child.
    • Use daily routines (meals, activities, arrival time) to build trust with each child.
    • Talk to all children one-on-one and in groups.
    • Use relationships to guide children’s learning and encourage their continuing efforts.
    • Comfort and otherwise respond intentionally to children, especially those who are under stress.

    Understanding the different stages of child development can help with providing relationship-based care. In this lesson, which focuses on guidance, we have included a brief list of the different stages of children’s social and emotional development and what some typical challenging behaviors might occur at each stage. Accordingly, you provide relationship-based care that matches each child’s stage of development.

    Children’s Social and Emotional Milestones across Different Ages

    The more you know and understand about children’s social and emotional milestones across the ages, the better equipped you are to apply the best ways to provide relationship-based care at each developmental stage. There are many books and websites that provide information about each stage of development. The following chart developed by Diane Trister Dodge, Sherrie Rudick, and Laura Colker (2009) provides aspects of social-emotional development with examples of how you might respond to each stage in your practice as a family child care provider.


    Aspects of Infants’ Development: Socially and Emotionally

    What it Means for Your Practice

    Birth to 18 months

    Depend on adults to meet their basic needs (keep dry, fed, cuddled, picked up, etc.).

    Respond to each child individually, building the child’s sense of trust and security. Once babies trust you, they feel safe to explore the environment.

    Form strong attachments to the important people in their lives.

    Offer consistent, responsive care for all infants.

    Children who are cared for and nurtured consistently are more likely to feel confident and become independent.

    Like to watch other children and be part of the action.

    Talk about what other children are doing. “Tamika is beating the drum. We can do that, too.” Include infants in activities with the other children whenever appropriate.

    18-36 months

    Assert themselves and want to do things independently.

    Provide a safe way for them to practice self-help skills (washing hands, tooth brushing) as independently as they can. Offer toys they can use on their own (soft blocks, toddler books).

    Are beginning to learn about taking turns, but waiting is hard for them.

    Provide opportunities for children to learn to take turns. Provide more than one item if it is a favorite toy.

    Are starting to use caring behaviors to help and comfort others.

    Model caring behaviors and acknowledge children’s behavior whenever you see them caring for others.

    3-5 Years

    Are learning to solve problems through negotiation and compromise.

    Engage children in social problem-solving process.

    Like to play with other children and often have one or two friends.

    Provide opportunities for children to play together. Encourage children to help each other, cooperate on tasks, and comfort other children. Support children as they learn to make friends.

    Are able to recognize, name, and express their feelings to others.

    Encourage children to label and talk about their emotions. Connect storybook characters’ feelings to the children’s feelings. Emphasize and model respect for others’ feelings.

    6-12 Years

    Are eager to be independent from adults.

    Give children opportunities to play on their own, study, and be with peers. Let them help themselves to nutritious snacks. Tell them when they have to check in with you. Encourage them to help younger children.

    Are concerned about being accepted by peers and often conform to peer expectations.

    Create an environment where all children feel they are part of your family child care group and their unique interests and abilities are appreciated.

    Enjoy cooperative games and games with rules, but may have difficulty with losing.

    Offer physical activities through which school-age children can refine their motor skills. When children feel discouraged, invite them to talk about their feelings and plan ways to strengthen their skills.

    Your Role as a Provider Providing Positive Guidance

    You play a critical role in enhancing the social and emotional development of the children in your care. You serve as a role model when you use positive daily interactions with children in your care to promote healthy emotional development. Your reactions in response to children’s challenging behavior creates a safe, loving atmosphere in your child care setting.

    Guidance is how you help children learn the expectations for behavior in a variety of settings. It is the way you help children know what it means to be a member of your community. It means helping children learn from their mistakes and make positive choices. It is also important to think about what guidance is not. Guidance is not punishment. It is not about control or making children fear adults. It is about knowing children and creating the best physical and social environment in which they can learn.

    As a family child care provider, you have many opportunities to observe and get to know each child individually. You can learn to read their cues so you understand what a child’s behavior is telling you.


    Watch the following video and notice how the provider responds to the children in her family child care home with positive guidance.

    Positive Guidance Techniques

    Watch this video to learn more about positive guidance techniques.


    What are Typical Behaviors to Expect for Each Age Group?

    In each area of development, there are certain behaviors that are typical of children during developmental stages. Adults in a child’s life may see these behaviors as challenging, but they are to be expected. Consider these examples of typical behaviors across different ages of childhood that might seem challenging for adult caregivers. You may find it helpful to plan positive ways you can address challenging behavior. What may be a challenging behavior to you might be viewed differently by another adult, based on culture and upbringing.

    How might you respond in a way that provides guidance and builds a positive relationship with the child?

    Behaviors That Are Expected,
    but May be Challenging to Providers:

    Pre-mobile infants (birth to 6 months)
    • Crying
    Mobile infants (7–12 months)
    • Taking toys from others
    • Mouthing toys
    • Climbing or crawling on others
    • Knocking things down (block structures, etc.)
    • Stranger anxiety or refusing to go to unfamiliar adults
    Toddlers (13–36 months)
    • Biting
    • Saying “No”
    • High levels of activity; rarely stays still
    • Wants to do things on own (“I can do it myself”)
    • Whining and crying
    Preschool (3–4 years)
    • Fears and vivid imaginations (fear of the dark, monsters, etc.)
    • Excluding others from play
    • Telling others what to do
    • Tattling or telling on others
    Younger School Age (5–8 years)
    • Overly concerned with fairness
    • Uses sex differences as the basis for play decisions or excluding others from play (“No boys allowed”)
    • Lying or stretching the truth
    • Tattling or telling on others
    • Cheating at games or getting upset and not wanting to play
    Older school Age (8–12 years)
    • Avoiding adults and preferring peers
    • Talking back
    • Experimenting with swear words and adult behaviors
    • Wanting to appear cool to peers

    In addition to a child’s development, expectations about behavior are driven by cultural values and preferences. For example, in some cultures children are not expected to feed themselves independently until they are 3 or 4 years old. In other cultures, children are expected to feed themselves in late infancy and toddlerhood. You want to ask families about their expectations and honor family preferences. In your daily interactions with families and children, you should remind yourself that culture and family priorities influence children’s behaviors.



    Positive guidance allows children to learn appropriate behavior in a safe, nurturing environment. It supports relationship-based care. Positive guidance takes into account the developmental needs of each child.

    It is important that you are clear about your own beliefs and values about supporting children’s social and emotional development and addressing challenging behaviors.

    Based upon what you have learned in this lesson, develop a brief (five-sentence) paragraph about your beliefs and values about child guidance. How might you share your beliefs about child guidance with the families of the children in your care?



    Use the resources in this section to learn more about children’s social and emotional developmental milestones and what you can do to support positive relationships with the children in your care.

    American Academy of Pediatrics: Healthy Living-Emotional Wellness:

    Extension Alliance for Better Child Care: Basic Tips Child Care Providers Can Use To Guide Children’s Behavior:

    Learning More About Infant and Toddler Behavior

    Below you will see a list of websites to access additional resources to further explore and better understand behaviors of infants and toddlers. Pick one of the resources and use the information to learn more about guidance strategies and supportive responses to challenging behavior.

    The attachment below, Milestones of Social-Emotional Development, was adapted from U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn the Signs. Act Early: Developmental Milestones, accessible from:


    AttachmentA strong emotional bond that grows between a child and an adult who is part of the child’s everyday life; attachment relationships between children and adults teach children to interpret emotions and behaviors and to develop an understanding of relationships
    Developmental milestonesA set of skills or behaviors that most children within a certain age range can complete
    Positive guidanceA method that teaches children to solve their problems rather than punishing them for the problems they cannot solve, allowing them to learn from their mistakes rather than face punishment for making mistakes




    Which of the following is not a developmentally appropriate (or expected) behavior?


    True or False? There is one guidance strategy that fits the needs of all children in your care.


    Finish this statement: Relationship-based care…

    References & Resources

    Dodge, D. T., Rudick, S., & Colker, L. J. (2009). The Creative Curriculum for Family Child Care (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc.

    Gartrell, D. (2012). Education for a Civil Society: How guidance teaches young children democratic life skills. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

    Texas Child Care Quarterly. (2007). Back to Basics: Child guidance: School-agers. Texas Child Care, Summer 31(1). Contents available at