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Part Two: Social-Emotional Development

As part of CalTrin’s Nurturing Parent and Child Development training, we take 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.

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 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. 

Social-Emotional Development

Administration for Children & Families Office of Early Childhood Development

California Department of Education

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP)

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University 

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:

First 5 California

For young children to thrive, we must support their social-emotional health—and the social-emotional health of those who care for them—in home, child care, and health care settings.

Head Start │ ECLKC 

Social and emotional development is a domain in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF). The resources featured under the Social and Emotional Development topic focus on children’s ability to create and sustain meaningful relationships with adults and other children. They also explore the ways children learn to express, recognize, and manage their own emotions, as well as respond appropriately to others’ emotions.

The Office of Early Childhood Development (ECD)

The Administration of Children and Families (ACF) Office of Early Childhood Development(ECD) and the federal government are committed to advancing the integration of behavioral health that support services for children and early childhood programs. The ECD has curated resource collections aimed at early childhood mental health and social and emotional development for the following audiences:


Understood is a nonprofit dedicated to shaping the world for difference. Parents and caregivers of children who learn and think differently can access expert-vetted resources on

Sesame Street Workshop


Additional Resources:

Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors: Raising Emotionally Resilient Children: Mental Health Resources for Parents (en Español)

Early Stages: Social-Emotional Milestones (en Español)

Feel Your Best Self: Educational toolkit for school-age children to learn strategies to calm themselves, catch their feelings, and connect with others.

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 Social-Emotional Tools and Social-Emotional Development Brochure

Urban Child Institute: What Do We Know About Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood?

Verywell Mind: Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood: How Kids Learn to Share and Care

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, that 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.

Brookings: Talking About Emotions: How to Support Children’s Social and Emotional Development Through Language

Child Trends: Dual Language Learners and Social-Emotional Development: Understanding the Benefits for Young Children

Expressable: How Communication Issues Can Impact a Child’s Social and Emotional Well-being


Up Next: Emotional Regulation + Extended Learning Opportunities

In part three of this blog series, we explore the areas of temperament, emotional regulation, and attachment styles. Read Part Three: Emotional Regulation now! This post highlights information and resources shared by Dr. Gidwani in the CalTrin-hosted webinar, Nurturing Parent and Child Development.  

Watch the replay and access materials from this webinar online here (scroll to bottom). 

Here’s what participants said about this training and their plans to apply what they learned:

  • [This training] gave me a stronger understanding of how I can engage caregivers and help them understand their child’s development and behavior as well as ways to enhance attachment and the parent/child relationship.
  • Having an understanding of reasons why it is important to reach baby’s milestones. How providing the appropriate level of nurturing is important.
  • During home visits, we work with parents with intellectual and developmental disabilities who will benefit from the information provided during the webinar.
  • I am better prepared to support families in speaking with PCPs and School Districts so children can receive the assessments and support they need to achieve their full potential.

Additional training on child development and social-emotional development is available through CalTrin’s Protective Factor of the Month series. This learning series is designed for anyone who works with children and families and focuses on concrete ways you can support the building of Protective Factors in your work. Each month, CalTrin will present one Protective Factor in an engaging lecture-style presentation, and learners have the ability to register for individual sessions of interest. Each session will be presented with optional Spanish interpretation (con interpretación en español). Click here to view the current schedule and register for the sessions that meet your learning needs and schedule.



*Last updated June 4, 2024