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Developmental Milestones: Positive Guidance

This lesson will help you understand children’s social and emotional development as a part of relationship-based care that matches children’s developmental needs. Understanding children’s social and emotional development across various ages helps you provide age-appropriate positive guidance.

  • Describe relationship-based care.
  • Identify common behaviors that are typical for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children.
  • 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 connections between providers, each child, and their families. 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. The development of social and emotional skills forms 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 caregivers including parents, other family members, and daily care providers is important for children’s healthy development. 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 some typical challenging behaviors that might occur at each stage. The type of care you provide matches each child’s stage of development.

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 the examples in the table below. 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. Think about how you might respond in a way that provides guidance and builds a positive relationship with the child?

Age Group (approximate) Behaviors that are expected, but may be challenging to providers
Pre-mobile infants (birth to 6 months)
  • Crying
  • Refusing to take a bottle
  • Irregular sleep patterns
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
  • Pulling long hair or loose jewelry
Toddlers (13–36 months)
  • Biting
  • Saying “No”
  • High levels of activity; rarely stays still
  • Insisting on doing things independently (“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.

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.


Consider specific ways to purposefully provide strategies throughout your day that support positive guidance with the children in your care. You should:

  • Acknowledge the children’s emotions. Say things like, “You seem sad,” or, “You look very upset.”
  • Keep temperament in mind as you interact with and plan for specific children.
  • Help younger children achieve the understood intention. “When you want more milk, you can point to your sippy cup or sign milk.”
  • Be responsive to children’s interaction attempts and build on what children are saying.
  • Include emotion words in conversations with children.
  • Make books that discuss feelings and social interactions available daily.
  • Ask children meaningful questions about their actions, interests, events, and feelings.
  • Encourage children to use their words and to talk to their peers when conflicts arise. Use developmentally appropriate language and provide conversation models and cues for children to follow if they need help to solve a problem.
  • Demonstrate accountability by following through with your language and limits, being consistent, and admitting mistakes or errors.
  • Model “making things right” when you do make mistakes or errors. Encourage children to do the same when they intentionally or accidentally hurt another person, their work, or property.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Provide positive feedback and encouragement to children.
  • Model social skills by making eye contact, using manners, and showing empathy.


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 the Behavior Resources attachment 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. 


A 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 milestones:
A set of skills or behaviors that most children within a certain age range can complete
Positive guidance:
A 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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Developmental milestones.

Dodge, D. T., Rudick, S., & Colker, L. J. (2009). The creative curriculum for family child care (2nd ed.). Teaching Strategies, Inc.

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

Squires, J. & Bricker, D. (2009). Ages & stages questionnaires: A parent-completed child monitoring system (3rd ed.). Brookes Publishing Co.

Texas Child Care Quarterly. (2007). Back to basics: Child guidance: School-agers. Texas Child Care, Summer 31(1).