A growing body of research has demonstrated the strong link between young children’s social-emotional competence and their cognitive development, language skills, mental health, and school success.
As a follow-up to CalTrin’s Overview of Child Development blog post, we are taking a deeper dive into how social-emotional development occurs in the context of relationships and the important role parents and caregivers play in nurturing this domain. The information in this post draws from the CalTrin-hosted training, Nurturing Parent & Child Development, led by Dr. Pradeep Gidwani, MD, MPH.
Children’s social-emotional competence is seen in their ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, establish and maintain relationships with others, and engage in problem-solving and conflict resolution. These competencies emerge gradually as a natural developmental process. According to Dr. Gidwani, infants experience, express, and perceive emotions before they fully understand them. In learning to recognize, label, manage, and communicate their emotions and to perceive and attempt to understand the emotions of others, children build skills that connect them with family, peers, teachers, and the community.
Social-emotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions
and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen et al 2005).
Healthy social-emotional development for infants and toddlers unfolds in an interpersonal context, namely that of positive ongoing relationships with familiar, nurturing adults. Young children are particularly attuned to social and emotional stimulation. Even newborns appear to attend more to stimuli that resemble faces (Morton and Johnson, 1991). They also prefer their mothers’ voices to the voices of other women (DeCasper and Fifer 1980). Through nurturance, adults support the infants’ earliest experiences of emotion regulation (Bronson 2000a; Thompson and Goodvin 2005).
Social-emotional development occurs in the context of relationships;
therefore, parents and caregivers play an important role.
Responsive caregiving supports infants in beginning to regulate their emotions and develop a sense of predictability, safety, and responsiveness in their social environments. Early relationships are so important to developing infants that research experts have broadly concluded that, in the early years, “nurturing, stable and consistent relationships are the key to healthy growth, development, and learning” (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000).
This is a key theme we see in our work. One of the five Protective Factors at the foundation of the Strengthening Families™ framework is Social and Emotional Competence of Children. This factor is described as family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, and establish and maintain relationships.
Together, social and emotional factors have been shown to make positive outcomes more likely for young children and their families and to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. Read CalTrin’s blog post, Understanding and Integrating the Protective Factors Framework into Everyday Practice, for a simple overview of the framework. CalTrin also offers free training on the Protective Factors—see details at the end of this post!
If social-emotional problems are identified and addressed early, children are less likely to be placed in special education programs—and later in life, they’re also less likely to experience school failure and unemployment. For those interested in screening tools, the Ages & Stages Questionnaires® (ASQ®) provide reliable, accurate developmental and social-emotional screening for children between birth and age 6. Learn more about the ASQ® and pricing here.
This post highlights resources shared by Dr. Gidwani as well as additional tools that child- and family-serving professionals and families can access to support healthy social-emotional development in children. These resources focus on social-emotional development and the role parents and caregivers play in nurturing this domain.
Administration for Children & Families Office of Early Childhood Development
- Dear Colleague Letter on Social-Emotional Development and Mental Health
- Resource Library
- ACF Video Series on Early Childhood Social Emotional Development and Mental Health and Caregiver Well-being
California Department of Education
- Social and Emotional Development Domain
- Social and Emotional Learning Guidance and Resources
- Social and Emotional Learning in California: A Guide to Resources
Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP)
- About Strengthening Families and the Protective Factors Framework
- Perspectives on Early Relational Health Series: Promoting and Supporting Foundational Early Relationships
- Willis & Friends—Vital Signs of Early Relational Health: Autonomic Emotion
- Social and Emotional Resource Library
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
- An Introduction to Early Childhood Development (ECD 1.0)
- Introducing ECD 2.0
- Executive Function & Self-Regulation
Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL)
CSEFEL is a national resource center for disseminating research and evidence-based practices to early childhood programs. CSEFEL provides resources for teachers/caregivers and families, with many resources available En Español. Sample topics include:
Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) Alliance
CTF Alliance offers free online training courses on each Protective Factor, which includes an overview and strategies for strengthening each factor. Get started with these courses:
- Knowledge of Parent & Child Development
- Social and Emotional Competence of Children
- All Seven Strengthening Families™ Courses
Sesame Street in Communities
ZERO TO THREE
- Podcasts, Videos, and Resources available in English and En Español
- Helping Young Children Succeed: Strategies to Promote Early Childhood Social and Emotional Development
- How Emotional Development Unfolds Starting at Birth
- 24–36 Months: Social-Emotional Development
Kiddie Matters Blog: Social Emotional Developmental Checklists for Kids and Teens
National Association for the Education of Young Children: Promoting Young Children’s Social and Emotional Health
National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI): Checklist of Early Childhood Practices that Support Social Emotional Development and Trauma-Informed Care
National Conference of State Legislatures: Social and Emotional Development in Early Learning Settings
National Library of Medicine: Developmental Stages of Social Emotional Development in Children by Fatima Malik and Raman Marwaha
Nurture Science Program at Columbia University: Reading Together to Strengthen Emotional Connection
Pathways.org: Social-Emotional Tools
Urban Child Institute: What Do We Know About Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood?
Speech + Language in Social-Emotional Development
Speech and language are vital for the development of emotional and social skills in children. This blog post from Speech Buddies, The Impact of Speech on Social and Emotional Development, provides good information about the importance of speech in a child’s everyday life, as well as emotional and social obstacles, which might arise if a child is struggling with self-expression. Explore these additional resources:
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA): Provides information and recommended resources for families raising multilingual children. Explore their Learning Two Languages page (En Español).
The Hanen Centre: A Canadian nonprofit that works to enable parents and professionals to transform their daily interactions with young children to build the best possible lifelong social, language, and literacy skills. Their article, Three Keys to Helping Your Child Learn Language, provides simple, concrete things that all parents can do during any activity to help their child learn language. Learn about The Power of Turn-taking: How Back-and-forth Interactions Help Children Learn Language from a new study that shows the more children are involved in back-and-forth exchanges with parents and caregivers, the greater the impact on their language skills.
Up Next: Emotional Regulation + Extended Learning Opportunities
Dr. Gidwani also discussed the role of temperament, emotional regulation and common problems, parent attachment styles, and self-regulation during his presentation. We will explore these topics and resources shared in part three of this series—stay tuned!
If you missed the Nurturing Parent & Child Development webinar with Dr. Gidwani, you can watch the replay in our Training Archive—which provides access to recordings and materials from prior CalTrin trainings. Here’s what participants said about this training and their plans to apply what they learned:
Interested in additional training on child development and social-emotional development? CalTrin’s Protective Factor of the Month training series kicks off in January 2023. Each month, CalTrin will present a Protective Factor in two training styles: webinar and workshop. Choose the option that works best for your learning preferences, including how much you enjoy high-interactive learning opportunities versus lecture-style presentations. This training series is facilitated by CalTrin Training Coordinator, Jessica M., who will share everyday strategies for building Protective Factors.
Click here to view all webinar and workshop dates in the Protective Factor of the Month series and register for sessions that best fit your schedule!
*Last updated February 3, 2023