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Linda Thornton

How to support personal, social and emotional development for the under-threes

Why is personal, social and emotional development so important for young children, and how you can make sure you are supporting the children in your setting?

Personal, social and emotional development (PSED) is possibly the most important of the prime areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for the under-threes. This is the age at which children learn the skills they need to become actively involved in the world around them.

  • Personal development is about how children come to understand who they are and what they can do.
  • Social development covers how children come to understand themselves in relation to others, how they make friends, understand the rules of society and behave towards others.
  • Emotional development concerns how children understand their own and others’ feelings and develop their ability to be empathetic – to see things from another person’s point of view.

In the EYFS, personal, social and emotional development includes three aspects of children’s learning and development:

  • making relationships
  • managing feelings and behaviour
  • self-confidence and self-awareness.

Find out how you can raise standards of provision in helping children make relationships with this bite-size training course: Personal, Social and Emotional Development: Making relationships

The importance of relationships

Relationships lie at the heart of all human experience and interaction, and it is vitally important that young children are helped to learn the social skills needed to interact successfully with other people and to form good relationships.

Children who have the skills to interact well with other people and form positive relationships can tap into a huge resource to support their learning. Socio-constructivist theories of learning and development, such as those of Vygotsky, place an emphasis on learning being a social experience where the individual learns from others who are more experienced than themselves – both children and adults.

Young children also need lots of opportunities and encouragement to begin to look at the world from the perspective of others and to develop empathy – which is not always easy for the under-threes to understand.

Helping children to manage feelings and behaviour

For practitioners, supporting young children to manage their feelings and behaviour involves helping them to:

  • develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings
  • understand appropriate behaviour in groups.

Young babies and children need support from others – parents, carers and family members – to regulate their feelings. This support, consistently given, helps them to understand basic emotions, begin to control their impulses and learn how to manage and display their feelings appropriately.

Children need to feel comfortable, both emotionally and physically, to allow them to learn effectively. Helping children to learn how to regulate and manage their feelings is therefore a vital stepping stone for success in learning and in life.

Nurturing young children's self-confidence and self-awareness

For practitioners, supporting young children to grow in self-confidence and self-awareness involves providing opportunities for them to:

  • develop a positive sense of themselves and others
  • have confidence in their own abilities.

During their early years, young children build their understanding of themselves as individuals, which increases their confidence to engage with the people, objects and experiences in the world around them.

As children grow in self-confidence and self-awareness, they extend their horizons and begin to see that what they do can make a difference. This ability to proactively engage with the world underpins all other aspects of a young child’s learning.

Working with babies

Practitioners working with babies will be well aware of the importance of being attentive to their social and emotional needs as well as their physical well-being. Taking time to talk to parents to find out about their baby – how they react in different situations, what they like and dislike – will build up a picture about a child. Listen carefully to the words a parent uses to describe their child as this will give you a very useful insight into the baby’s personality.

Provide praise and encouragement to build self-confidence and self-esteem, but give children plenty of time to try things for themselves to build their independence and sense of achievement and self-awareness. Mirrors, either fixed to the walls, placed on the floor or hand-held, can engage babies’ interest for long periods of time as they reflect on their own identity.

During the day, make sure there are times for one-to-one interaction between adults and children, but also plan times when babies can play together in a larger group, watching and learning from one another.

When sharing a baby’s day with a parent at the end of a session, remember to focus on the social and emotional highlights of the day as well as on the physical aspects of his or her care.

Ideas to use with toddlers

Understanding the different schemas displayed by children when interacting with the world around them will enable you to focus on individual interests and preferred ways of learning.

Providing open-ended resources that can be used in a wide variety of ways will encourage toddlers to try out their ideas and build their sense of achievement. These resources could include boxes, tubes, blocks, bags, small baskets, rings, wooden pegs, short lengths of chain, pine cones, pebbles, shells, fabrics, paper and card.

Children of this age are beginning to develop a wide range of physical skills: help boost their independence and self-esteem by giving them time to manage complex tasks such as putting on a pair of socks or shoes, or fastening a coat. This may take an inordinate length of time and may not always be entirely successful, but remember that it is the learning process that is important, not the end result!

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