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Promoting Social-Emotional Development: Building Positive Relationships

Promotive factors are conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities or the larger society that actively enhance well-being. By intentionally creating and attending to policies that incorporate promotive experiences, managers demonstrate support for children, families and staff members in building positive relationships with one another. In this lesson you will learn about team building and how you as a leader can intentionally promote positive relationships within the staff you supervise.

  • Identify several promotive factors that managers can incorporate into the workplace that will enhance the social and emotional development of children, families and staff members. 
  • Describe several practices and experiences that positively promote staff members’ job satisfaction.


Social-emotional development has been shown to be a critical area that lays the foundation for enhanced positive cognitive outcomes for children. Building a strong attachment to a primary caregiver is important to later life outcomes. As a manager, you will lead the staff in promoting relationship-based care. Your attention to individual children and staff members’ needs will facilitate this approach. Authentic leaders consciously plan and promote experiences that positively influence staff job satisfaction, and child and family satisfaction with the program. 

The program should have written policies to address how the staff members communicates with children, families, and one another. The program mission or foundation must be explicitly stated. As a manager, you will oversee the written program policies. These policies should be made available in the parent handbook and the staff handbook. A focus on relationship-based care and a positive learning community should be evident in your program policies and practices. All program policies should reflect your beliefs about treating each person with respect and care. You serve as an example and must uphold the program’s policies in your daily interactions with staff.

In your role as a program manager, you will want to make sure that the staff members are aware of all policies and how those policies translate into practice. The following topics (all of which should be included in a staff handbook) are important to re-visit on a regular basis:

  • Written roles and responsibilities for specific jobs
  • Expectations for respectful communication
  • Procedures for staff evaluation
  • Orientation and mentoring for new staff members
  • Team planning and meeting time
  • Expectations for professional growth and development
  • Procedures for addressing conflict

You can use program policies to create a program-wide foundation of understanding about what it means to provide relationship-based care.  It is important to focus your energy on team building and attending to the tasks that teams must complete, as well as the process they use to accomplish those tasks.

Team Building

Just as staff members focus on children’s social-emotional development by incorporating cooperative activities and games, managers can facilitate cooperative staff experiences by scheduling shared meeting times for classroom teams. Staff members should regularly meet to discuss activity plans and to problem-solve issues or concerns about particular children or the classroom environment. Team building is an important aspect of managing adults; it takes time and intentional planning. Involving staff in decision-making about topics, such as planning time and needed resources, demonstrates that you value their opinions and take their perspectives into consideration. 

The Child Care Lounge article, Ideas for Team Building-Building an Effective Team provides ideas and tips:

  • Every team member must have a complete understanding and acceptance of the goals of the team.
  • Ensure that all members of the team have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Build trust with your team members by having open and honest one-on-one meetings with them.
  • Provide time for your team members to socialize and build trust among them, allowing openness and improving interpersonal communication.
  • Allow that the whole team take part in the decision-making process. Each member of the team should feel he or she has contributed towards the final decision, solution, or idea.
  • The more a team member feels his or her contribution has led to the final solution, the more he or she will be committed to the line of action.
  • Your ideas for team building should ensure that all team members are kept fully informed, and that no lines of communication that are blocked.
  • Deal with any interpersonal issues before they get out of control.
  • Whenever possible, give positive feedback and appreciation for an individual team member’s special efforts. This will empower him or her to do better.

Managers can make sure that staff members have the knowledge and skills to develop meaningful relationships with one another and with families. Collaboration skills include reframing problems, asking open-ended questions, understanding how to resolve conflicts, and treating all members of the child-care community with dignity and respect. There are self-assessments to help staff members focus on their teamwork and collaboration skills. You may choose to observe team planning meetings and provide feedback to staff members about their partnership. Having a predetermined agenda that keeps the meeting participants on task can be helpful in promoting good staff relationships. You may want to include examples of typical meeting agendas, procedures or steps for resolving conflicts, and lists of Web-based and printed resources that address promotive behaviors.

Creating Community

Learn how creating a culture of social-emotional wellness benefits your program community.

Recognize emotions

To be most effective at your job, you must have the ability to label and talk about your own emotions or feelings and the emotions or feelings of others.

The way you respond to the daily stressors that arise within your program will influence how staff will respond to stressors. As a manager, staff will look to you to model responses to difficult situations, such as bullying, inappropriate language, and gossip. You also have the responsibility to uphold confidentiality about children and families. Be aware of your own stress levels and take good care of your physical, mental and spiritual needs. The following are just a few suggestions for reducing stress:

  • Exercise daily through walking, yoga, tennis, or other sports you may enjoy.
  • Eat healthy snacks and stay hydrated.
  • Get enough rest and sleep (6-8 hours per day).
  • Build a support network of friends and colleagues (outside the program).
  • Listen to music that brings you a sense of peace.
  • Meditate, pray, read books or poetry that help you feel connected or relaxed.

You interact with staff members, children, and families on a daily basis you.  You have an opportunity as a manager to model healthy relationships and ways to deal with stressors. The following are some suggestions: 

  • Ask questions. Seek to understand the people around you. Assume others are more interesting than you are. Build your empathy.
  • Set personal goals to improve your communication. Practice active listening in every conversation. Talk to someone you don’t usually talk to once a week. Brainstorm a few interesting questions or conversation starters you can use with different people.
  • Seek out your own professional development. Attend trainings or get coaching on your communication and conflict-resolution skills.
  • Be aware of your own emotions. Talk about your emotions and make yourself vulnerable. It can feel silly or scary at first, but it becomes more comfortable over time. Practice incorporating emotions into things you say every day. Instead of saying, “I don’t have time,” you might say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now.” Instead of saying “Good for you,” you might say, “I’m relieved that worked out for you.”
  • Manage your moods. Everyone experiences intense emotions from time to time. Anger, frustration, disappointment, and fear are important emotions to express, but you should model appropriate ways to express them. Practice stepping away and taking deep breaths when something frustrates you in front of staff. Go for a short walk when you are having a hard time solving a problem.

Cultivating Staff Morale

Celebrating individual and group accomplishments also builds staff satisfaction and promotes well-being. Just as you celebrate the children’s accomplishments, you want to recognize the special gifts and talents that staff members bring to the program. Plan recognition of staff achievements, even small ones. Recognition and awards don’t have to be expensive; they should demonstrate that the person has made a significant contribution to the program or completed a milestone in professional development. Consistently demonstrating to staff members that you respect and support them as individuals will build their trust and confidence in themselves and in you as their supervisor.  

The following are some suggestions for boosting staff morale:

Staff Appreciation Week or Day

You can have a potluck for staff and have family members attend, give small gifts, a breakfast or a gift from the children. Family members may even want to help out with this project.

Saying "Thank You"

A genuine thank you will go a long way with your staff. Delivering a note is an excellent way to acknowledge and recognize a staff member. It does not necessarily have to be for something they did above and beyond, but just appreciating them.

Recognize Staff

Use your newsletter or website to acknowledge staff's accomplishments or milestones in their life. Make sure to praise and acknowledge good work and efforts of your staff.

Empathize with Staff

Your staff needs to see that you are just as will as they are to do things like sweeping the floor, wiping noses, or changing diapers. It is important for your staff to receive the message that you are not asking them to do anything that you would not be willing to do yourself, because you all are a team.

A program culture and climate where staff morale is positive because they feel supported, nurtured and celebrated can also lead to a very effective and inexpensive recruitment tool, “word of mouth”. Listen as this director shares how staff morale can be a key strategy in recruiting for your program.

Building Staff Morale

Building staff morale can be a key strategy in recruiting for your progam.

In Summary:

Just as a family has rules, traditions, and history, you and your staff will create a child care community with shared practices, traditions, and history. Encourage staff members to join with you in creating a positive climate for your program community. A positive program climate serves as a cornerstone upon which program policies are defined (e.g., teaming structures, staffing practices, decision making structures, conflict resolution policies, etc.) and implemented. You serve as a model for your staff members about how to build meaningful relationships. Your behaviors in stressful situations, as well as your optimism and hopeful outlook, demonstrate to staff your commitment to a relationship-based climate.  As the leader, your focus on positive interactions will increase staff morale and have a direct impact on the quality of care that is shown to the children, youth, and families your program serves.

To learn more about building positive relationships, follow the link from the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children:  In addition, you can download and read the attached documents below:


It is important to have written policies and practices that you and the staff can refer to when issues arise. What should a staff handbook include?

First, take some time to review this information from ChildCare Aware about policies and procedures to consider in your childcare program: It contains a link to important ethical conduct information from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

You can also review the administration standards for Child and Youth Development Programs provided by the Council on Accreditation (COA):

Lastly, look through this example of a child-care staff handbook and compare it to the one you use in your program. Which sections do you believe are most similar to your program’s staff handbook? Does your staff handbook reflect your program’s philosophy about relationship-based care? Does your handbook include information that can help staff navigate issues such as conflicts with colleagues or families, responsible decision making, teamwork and collaboration agendas? Does it align with the ethical conduct and administrative standards of NAEYC or COA?


Dilemmas presented in a case-study format are an excellent way to discuss appropriate responses to social and emotional issues that arise in classrooms, meetings, or interactions with families. Staff members can take turns to present and lead discussions about the case study. Different suggestions for solutions can be discussed. The handout, Problem-Solving Process, may be helpful to follow as a step-by-step method for generating solutions to address the issue.


To help something happen, develop or increase (promote emotional competency)
The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change


True or False? As a manager, it is your responsibility to make all decisions about staff members’ planning time and necessary classroom resources.
You walk into an infant and toddler classroom and notice that an infant is crying and a toddler has a very runny nose. The two staff members are busy changing diapers and comforting another crying infant. What do you do?
Which of the following are effective ways to manage your stress level?
References & Resources

Gatti, S. N., Watson, C. L., & Siegel, C. F. (2011). Step Back and Consider: Learning from reflective practice in infant mental health. Young Exceptional Children, 14(2), 32-45.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). How to reduce stress and beat burnout. Teaching Young Children, 3(1), 6-7.

Whitson, S. (2014) 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for parents and schools. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kznaric, R. (2012). The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People. University of California Berkeley: The Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved from