Home icon

This Q&A gives educators answers to questions about teacher-child relationship building in the early childhood classroom.

Why are strong teacher-child relationships important?

Children thrive when their teachers have strong, warm, and sensitive relationships with them. When children feel secure in their relationships with adults, they feel empowered to explore their environment with support as they learn and grow. Children who feel connected to their teachers and caregivers:

  • are more engaged and involved in classroom learning activities
  • have more positive social interactions throughout the school day
  • have a better self-image
  • can communicate effectively with adults when they need help or support

What can teachers do to build strong relationships with young children?

There are things you can do every day to build strong relationships with the young children in your classroom.

Learn more about the children in your class. Who are the people in this child’s life? What are their favorite games and activities? What are their cultures and home languages? Could you learn a few key words in a child’s home language to communicate with them and comfort them? For more information on welcoming students from a variety of families and cultures, see the Diversity-Equity-Inclusion tip sheet series.

During meals or snack time, sit with the children and have conversations. Talk with individual children about their family, their pets, and their friends. Talk about what you are eating.

When giving directions or reminders to children, remind yourself to give five positive statements (“nice job pushing in your chair!”) for every one correction (“get back in line, please”). Children need to hear that positive feedback as often as possible as they build a relationship. Encouraging Words provides great suggestions on how to provide positive feedback.

For more information, explore the resources in: Teacher-Child Relationships

Is there anything unique that infant-toddler teachers can do to build strong relationships with young children?

There are two unique relationship-focused practices that infant-toddler teachers can implement: primary caregiving and continuity of care.

Primary caregiving is when one teacher is given the primary role for a certain small group of children in their classroom. This prevents a child from being handed off to multiple teachers throughout the day.  For example, the same adult will help them during toileting, napping, and mealtimes. This aligns with what we know about attachment theory. Primary caregiving allows the teacher to build a strong relationship with the child because the teacher spends extended time with a smaller group of children consistently. This extended time allows for deeper relationships to grow. For more about primary caregiving, read the article: Including Relationship-Based Care Practices in Infant-Toddler Care: Implications for Practice and Policy

Continuity of care is when an infant/toddler teacher remains with the same group of children for two to three years continuously.  This allows for the care a very young child receives to be continuous and not be broken up by new teachers and relationships. Teachers using this approach often develop strong relationships with both the family and the children in their care due to their extended time together. For more about continuity of care, read the article: Rocking and Rolling. The More We Get Together: How Continuity Nurtures Relationships in the Infant-Toddler Setting

How can I make time to build relationships with such a busy classroom schedule?

It can be hard to dedicate time to relationship-building, but using some time each day to build relationships may decrease time spent later addressing challenging behavior or misbehavior.

Focus on small daily steps such as having individual conversations with children and using every child’s name when greeting each child at the door or asking for questions after a storybook reading. That personal connection makes a real difference in how young children feel welcome and supported in the classroom.

Who can I turn to for support with my teacher-child relationships?

You can always reach out to a child’s family to connect and gain support in strengthening your relationship with their child. Set up a meeting or phone call to talk more. Family members may have ideas on how to better understand and relate to their child, perhaps through a special interest or a favorite food. Get more ideas in our resource list: Family Engagement in Early Childhood Programs.

Connect with your school or childcare administrator if you are struggling to form relationships with the children in your class. School leaders may have additional ideas for you to try or professional development opportunities for you to attend. Fellow educators in your school or center often have ideas and experiences to share.

IEL Resources

Web Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program
  • Family Child Care

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2024