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Social-Emotional Development: An Introduction

This lesson provides information and resources that managers may use to support staff members and families in promoting children’s social-emotional development. A key learning point is the impact that social-emotional development has on all other areas of a child’s development and how important it is to children’s future learning and social relationships throughout life. As a leader and manager, your role is critical to fostering a climate that supports social-emotional development of the children and youth served in your program.

  • Define social-emotional development and its importance to children’s outcomes in your program and the community.
  • Reflect on your role as a leader and manager who models and effectively supports staff and families in promoting children’s social-emotional development.


What is Social-Emotional Development and Why is it Important?

As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, and that each of us has something that no one else has-or ever will have-something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression. -Fred Rogers

What is Social-Emotional Development?

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional development (also called social-emotional learning) consists of the following five core components:


This is the ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions, thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.

Examples of questions someone who is self-aware may ask:

  • What are my thoughts and feelings?
  • What causes those thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?


This is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.

Examples of questions someone who has good self-management may ask:

  • What different responses can I have to an event?
  • How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible?

Social awareness:

This is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school and community resources and supports.

Examples of questions someone who has good social awareness may ask:

  • How can I better understand other people’s thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?

Relationship skills:

This is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.

Examples of questions someone who has good relationships skills may ask:

  • How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
  • How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
  • How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?

Responsible decision-making:

This is the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

Examples of questions someone who is a responsible decision-maker may ask:

  • What consequences will my actions have on myself and others?
  • How do my choices align with my values?
  • How can I solve problems effectively?

Social-Emotional Development: An Introduction

This video provides an overview of social-emotional development and its importance to children’s outcomes throughout their lives.

Early Attachments and Approaches to Learning

Social-emotional development builds upon the formation of secure, early attachment relationships. Cognitive, motor and language development are all affected by a child’s self-confidence and how she or he expresses emotions and needs. Neuroscience research tells us that children’s secure emotional development is the foundation for the later development of academic skills. Children need to develop empathy, self-regulation, emotional expression, and the ability to engage with adults and peers.

Approaches to learning (e.g., persistence, curiosity, intensity, etc.) are critical aspects of a young child’s social-emotional development and can be supported through sustained and meaningful play with caregivers, teachers, and family members. School-age children need positive, caring and trusted adults as they develop their self-confidence, learn to negotiate conflicts with others, address bullying behavior, and engage in decision-making about time management, educational decisions and peer friendships.

Relationships are Crucial

As you watch this video focus on the important role caregivers play in forming attachments with infants, toddlers, and young children and think about how in your role as a manager you ensure that staff and children are encouraged to form close relationships.

Social-Emotional Development in Your Program

It is essential that you help support the stages of social-emotional development in each age group within your program. All families need the support of their children’s caregivers and teachers in this area of development. Some families may be going through transitions (e.g., marital separation, birth of a baby, grandparent illness, etc.) and may ask for assistance with finding community resources and services to help a child develop the ability to self-regulate emotions.

As a program manager, you must ensure that children’s social-emotional learning goals are addressed within all facets of your program.  Practical ways you can implement this in your program are:

  • Make sure that your program's mission, goals, and policies directly address the promotion of social-emotional development for all children.
  • Observe and document children’s social-emotional development.
  • Be aware of how children in your program express their social-emotional needs.

As a manager, you also encounter many situations that can lead to emotional distress. It is important to reflect on your own coping strategies for regulating your emotions. You are a model for staff and families in how you cope with the daily stresses of managing a child-care and/or youth program. Emotion regulation includes the ability to use and respond to emotions in a healthy manner. Gratz and Tull state, “Healthy emotion regulation may include having healthy strategies to manage uncomfortable emotions, the ability to pursue goals and engage in healthy behaviors when experiencing distress, and the ability to avoid impulsive behaviors when experiencing difficult emotions” (Gratz & Tull, 2010).

Social-Emotional Development: Resources for Families and Staff

Staff members and families need access to specific training, resources and information regarding warning signs of mental health disorders, prevention of problem behaviors, and ways to support families. You should be engaged with other agencies and have a clear understanding of what resources are available to families.

The following are some ways you as a manager can make available resources for families and staff:

  • Offer to connect families with appropriate services and resources.
  • Provide links and suggestions on your program's website and in newsletters about relevant parenting workshops, mental- health services, articles, tip sheets, and other evidence-based resources.
  • Plan workshops that include a speaker knowledgeable about topics regarding social and emotional issues (e.g., bullying).

Keeping staff members informed about available programs and resources is essential so they can in turn help families who need assistance. Families may be more comfortable turning to their child’s teacher or youth leader for advice. Sharing information about relevant resources (e.g., Department of Defense New Parent Support Programs, playgroups, and parenting classes) with your staff members and families demonstrates your commitment to meeting families’ needs for information to support their children’s social-emotional development.

Developing Social-Emotional Problems

While children are enrolled in your program, families may experience a range of stressful events, such as separation of parents, death of a grandparent, illness of another child, etc. These events can affect a child’s social-emotional development. Managers and program staff must carefully observe, listen to, and support children who may react to family stress in a variety of ways, such as increased tantrums, refusal to play, and lack of focus during group activities or games. Caring and trusted adults can make a difference in children’s social-emotional outcomes and may be a stabilizing factor in successful lifelong development and learning.

According to Dr. Rita Smilkstein, emotions, thinking, learning and remembering are inextricably bound. People with positive emotional experiences learn that they are safe, valued and respected. They have self-esteem and self-confidence and behave accordingly. With negative experiences, people learn they are unsafe, not valued and not respected. They have low self-esteem, lack self-confidence, and behave accordingly. Being highly upset or overstimulated by negative emotions can also overshadow and interfere with other brain activities, such as curiosity, concentration, and motivation to learn (Davies, 2011). Although it is never too late to learn new skills, it will take time, patience and a team approach from all adults to help all children develop the skills they need.

Supporting Families

Watch this video to learn about the importance of supporting the social-emotional needs of children and families in your program

Leadership: Supporting Social-Emotional Development

As a program manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that all staff members and families understand the importance of guiding children’s social-emotional development. The importance should be made evident through the program’s mission statement, goals, and policies. You and staff members build positive relationships with one another and with families. Staff members work together to support family members’ needs for information and resources, which should be accessible to staff members and families through multiple vehicles (the program’s website, a family center or resource library, program newsletters, etc.). 

What Does This Mean For You?

Staff members will enter your program with a range of skills and experiences related to promoting social-emotional development. Some staff members may have misconceptions regarding social-emotional development. Other staff members may struggle with their own social-emotional skills. As a manger, you are responsible for making sure staff members understand typical social-emotional development. Then, you can help them develop programs that give children the opportunity to develop the confidence and competence they need. It is also your responsibility to be attuned to the social-emotional needs of staff members. Be aware of staff members’ stress levels, friendships in the program, and social tensions. This will help you maintain a healthy workplace for yourself and your staff.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Management Social & Emotional Development Course Guide

To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:


As a program manager, you encounter situations on a daily basis that can lead to emotional distress. You also are a model for staff and families on how you cope with the daily stresses of managing a child-care or youth program. It is important to reflect on your own coping strategies for regulating your emotions.

  • Think about a time when you experienced difficult emotions. What strategies did you use to deal with your difficult emotions? What was the outcome?
  • What are some healthy strategies you use to manage uncomfortable emotions?
  • What coping strategies would you recommend to a staff member who asks you for assistance when she or he encounters uncomfortable emotions?

You may want to discuss and share with a trusted colleague or supervisor how you can incorporate the use of healthy coping strategies (e.g., deep breathing, walking, listening to music) to assist you in dealing with difficult emotions.


A great deal of research suggests the importance of social-emotional learning for children’s development. Below you can find a resource from the Center for the Study of Social Policy Strengthening Families framework. Use this as a resource to learn more about the importance of social-emotional competence or to share with staff members and families.

You can also access additional information on social and emotional learning by visiting the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning website below:



Approaches to learning:
The ways children respond to learning situations; curiosity about the world, initiative and problem solving, and focused attention and persistence are just a few approaches to learning that children can develop
A lasting psychological connectedness, particularly between a child and parent or other meaningful adult
Executive function:
The coordinated abilities to stay on task in attending and thinking, to plan and organize thoughts as in problem solving, and to utilize short- and long-term memory to facilitate thought processing


True or False? As a manager, it is your responsibility to address the promotion of social- emotional development in your program’s mission statement, policies, and goals.
Finish this statement: Your program’s website and newsletters should provide…
Which of the following are components of social-emotional development?
References & Resources

Baker, A. C., & Manfredi/Petitt L. A. (2004). Relationships, the Heart of Quality Care: Creating community among adults in early care settings . Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2012). Results-Based Public Policy Strategies for Promoting Children's Social Emotional and Behavioral Health

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Resources: Research Syntheses. Retrieved from

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Retrieved from

Davidson, R. (2008). The Heart-Brain Connection: The Neuroscience of Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Retrieved from:

Davies, D. (2011). Child Development: A practitioner's guide. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Gratz, K. L., & Tull, M. T. (2010). Emotion regulation as a mechanism of change in acceptance-and mindfulness-based treatments. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Assessing mindfulness and acceptance: Illuminating the processes of change (pp. 107-134).Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Gronlund, G. (2013). How to Support Children's Approaches to Learning? Play with them. Retrieved from:

Hyson, M., & Tomlinson, H. B. (2014). The Early Years Matter: Education, care and the well-being of children, birth to 8. New York: Teacher's College Press.

Smilkstein, R. (2011). We're Born to Learn: Using the brain's natural learning process to create today's curriculum (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.