Social/Emotional Development

The domain of Social/Emotional Development includes Preschool Benchmarks in: Self-Management Skills, Social Awareness and Interpersonal Skills, and Decision-making Skills and Responsible Behaviors

Social/emotional competence of young children is an important predictor of success in school. There is solid evidence that children need to achieve minimal social/emotional competence by about the age of 6 (Katz & McClellan, 1997) to have a positive experience in the early elementary grades. The basic competencies of social/emotional development help not only in the preschool and kindergarten years but also in the long-term—affecting lifelong trajectories related to schooling and employment. The inclusion of social/emotional development in the IELDS is essential to promote children’s growth in all domains. And there is much that preschool teachers can do to take advantage of natural as well as planned opportunities to support this important aspect of early development.

Social/emotional development includes learning to

  • identify and understand one’s feelings,
  • accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others,
  • manage strong emotions and their expression in a constructive manner,
  • regulate one’s behavior,
  • develop empathy for others, and
  • establish and sustain relationships. (Boyd, Barnett, Bodrova, Leong, & Gomby, 2005, p. 3)

Young children are gradually developing an understanding of the consequences of their actions. Part of this development is learning to understand rules and their purposes. In addition, the early years are an important time to develop self-regulation—the ability to postpone acting on one’s first impulse, which might be anger or aggression or not following the teacher’s directions—and gradually learn how to develop constructive strategies that lead to conflict resolution. For children to become successful learners in a classroom, they must begin to self-regulate. Preschool teachers can work with children to help them focus on the task at hand and “begin to think ahead, to plan their activities, and to think about and use strategies to solve social problems” (Boyd et al., 2005, p. 4).

Approaches to learning are another important area addressed in the social/emotional domain (under Goal 30, Learning Standard C). Preschool children are learning how to be a learner at their early childhood program. They are developing executive functions, “the brain functions we use to manage our attention, our emotions, and our behavior in pursuit of our goals. … Executive functions predict children’s success as well as—if not better than—IQ tests” (Galinsky, 2012). When preschool teachers help children develop their approaches to learning and executive functions, they are building the foundation for academic success in kindergarten and beyond. In the IELDS, approaches to learning include

  • eagerness and curiosity as a learner;
  • persistence and creativity in seeking solutions to problems;
  • initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions; and
  • engagement and sustained attention in activities.

Preschool experiences can be ripe with opportunities to develop children’s approaches to learning and build toward their future school success. As children play, they explore and investigate new items, materials, and ways of using them. They stay with tasks that are interesting and rewarding to them, solving problems as they arise with creativity and critical thinking. Play fosters independence and self-direction. As preschool children become more competent players, their ability to engage and sustain attention spills over into other activities that are interesting to them, including teacher- led small and large groups that include active participation, hands-on exploration, movement, and challenging exploration of a topic, an experience, or a long-term study.

Teachers have a large role to play in the development of social/emotional competence. A positive foundation in these skills will serve children well throughout their lifespan, helping each child to accept and benefit from education and experience in every domain.

Tamika knows that preschool children’s social/emotional development is the foundation for all of their learning. In her park district preschool program, she focuses on building strong relationships with and among the children. She respects the ways each child shows and receives affection, giving big hugs to some and shaking hands with others. And she recognizes the budding friendships children are developing and tries to support each child in those relationships. She encourages children’s expression of feelings and empathy for others. She is proactive rather than reactive, helping children learn ways to talk about and label their feelings to prevent physical expressions of anger or frustration. She guides them as they try to work out disagreements and come to mutual understanding, recognizing how their actions affect others. She has even set up a “Peace Table” where children can go and negotiate with each other. Most of them have become so successful at it that she’s not even needed in the discussion much of the time, except to recognize them when a solution is reached. Tamika uses many strategies to help children develop self-regulation. She gives them plenty of notice when transitions are about to occur. She encourages them to make plans for their play activities and helps them to follow through. She invites them to pretend in ways that help them control their behaviors, such as being as quiet as butterflies when they have to walk past the park offices on their way to the playground. She also plans for ways to develop children’s focus, attention, engagement, curiosity, and initiative. She knows these approaches to learning will build toward academic success in kindergarten and beyond.


Goal 30
Develop self-management skills to achieve school and life success and develop positive relationships with others.

Learning Standard 30.A
Identify and manage one’s emotions and behavior.

Example Performance Descriptors

Begin to label own basic emotions with teacher assistance (e.g., Teacher: “How does that make you feel when they don’t let you play here?” Child: “That makes me mad.”). Identify the emotions of characters in a storybook (e.g., “How do you think that made her feel when...”?). Use language to express feelings when playing with or negotiating with another child (e.g., “Don’t yell so loud. That scares me.”).
Begin to increase ability to follow early childhood environment rules and procedures (e.g., accept need to wait when interested in playing at the sand table when it is already “full”). Increase ability to control impulses and follow rules (e.g., wait for teacher approval before opening the early childhood environment door to the outdoor play area). State rules as reasons for own behavior and for what other children should do (e.g., “You shouldn’t run in the classroom. You can run outside.”).
Begin to respond appropriately to teacher intervention when not following early childhood environment rules (e.g., stops throwing sand when asked most of the time). Can discuss with teacher reason for teacher intervention when not following classroom rules (e.g., Teacher: “You need to come off the slide now. Do you know why?” Child: “Because I’m climbing up the slide instead of the stairs.”). Accept, with minimal frustration, consequences for not following the rules (e.g., being removed from the water table after repeatedly and intentionally splashing another child).
Begin to use materials safely and with purpose. Use materials safely and with purpose (e.g., put away things in designated locations at cleanup time). Recognize unsafe use of materials and tell an adult.
Learning Standard 30.B
Recognize own uniqueness and personal qualities.

Example Performance Descriptors

Express likes and dislikes, including favorite foods, colors, or activities. Show confidence in abilities, (e.g., “Look what I can do.” or “Look how far I jumped.) Describe him or her self (e.g., talk about self in terms of looks, gender, family, and interests; complete a self-portrait and describe the picture to the teacher).
Learning Standard 30.C
Demonstrate skills related to successful personal and school outcomes.

Example Performance Descriptors

Show excitement about new items in the early childhood environment (e.g., express delight over new blocks or science materials or the addition of bubbles in the water table). Ask questions about new items in the early childhood environment (e.g., “How does this work, teacher?”). Ask questions using “who”, “what”, “how”, “why”, “when”, and “what if” to learn about the indoor and outdoor classroom environment.
Use materials or props in novel ways (e.g., use a block as a cell phone or a banana as a microphone). Persistently work toward completing challenging activities and ask for assistance from peers or an adult if needed (e.g., when trying to complete a difficult puzzle or build a complex block structure). Independently seek out solutions to problems (e.g., use tape to combine materials to create new objects for dramatic play or to make a block structure more stable).
Begin to make choices for play activities and follow through with self-direction and independence. Make choices for play activities regularly and follow through with self-direction and independence. Suggest new ideas for play activities and follow through with self-direction and independence.
Stay with one or two tasks that interest him or her for at least 10 minutes each. Stay with more than two tasks that interest him or her for at least 10 minutes each. Sustain engagement with a task that interests him or her for long periods of time (at least 30 minutes) and begin to sustain attention in tasks that are not based on his or her interests (e.g., in a teacher-led small or large group).

Goal 31
Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.

Learning Standard 31.A
Develop positive relationships with peers and adults.

Example Performance Descriptors

Ask about another child’s feelings (e.g., “Is she sad that her Mom left?”). Demonstrate sympathy and caring (e.g., comfort a friend who has fallen on the playground). Describe how others are feeling based on their facial expressions, gestures, and what they say.
Greet teachers upon arrival and say goodbye to family members upon departure. Demonstrate affection for familiar adults through hugs, kisses, or making gifts. Engage in reciprocal conversations with familiar adults.
Choose to play with another child more frequently than with others. Develop friendships with peers. Accept that others may have different preferences, such as foods they like, favorite colors, or activities they like to do.
Learning Standard 31.B
Use communication and social skills to interact effectively with others.

Example Performance Descriptors

Acknowledge another child through a smile or wave when she enters the early childhood environment. Talk with another child in play or other daily activities. Engage in reciprocal conversations with other children throughout the day.
With teacher assistance, communicate with another child to determine roles and activities during play (e.g., Teacher: “Can you tell your friend that you want to help him build his road?” Child: “Can I build with you?”). Communicate with another child to determine roles and activities during cooperative play (e.g., talk with classmate to decide who will be the nurse during dramatic play, talk with classmate to come up with a plan for setting the table together). Follow through with cooperative actions after communicating with another child to determine roles and activities during cooperative play (e.g., act out roles in doctor/nurse play, set the table together).
Respond to teacher request to help or share (e.g., responding to request to help teacher and children clean up the block area). Interact in socially appropriate ways with peers, such as helping and sharing (e.g., assist another child with a puzzle, share blocks with a classmate). Interact in socially appropriate ways with peers and adults, such as helping and sharing (e.g., offer help to adult in getting the paints cleaned up).
Learning Standard 31.C
Demonstrate an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

Example Performance Descriptors

Respond positively to teacher reminders to share materials and take turns most of the time. Keep play going with another child by sharing materials most of the time. Take turns with another child when materials are limited (e.g., share microscope with classmate, each taking turns to look at objects).
Respond positively to teacher assistance in solving a conflict with another child. Attempt to resolve conflicts to keep play going with another child. Suggest solutions to conflicts (e.g., propose to classmate: “You play with these cars, and I can use these trucks.”).
Begin to accept adult help when needed to resolve conflict. Accept adult help when needed to resolve conflict. Ask an adult for help when needed (e.g., seek out a teacher when another child is being physically aggressive).

Goal 32
Demonstrate decision‐making skills and behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.

Learning Standard 32.A
Begin to consider ethical, safety, and societal factors in making decisions.

Example Performance Descriptors

Accept reminders from teacher about why rules exist. Participate in a discussion about how throwing objects in the early childhood environment is dangerous. Discuss how hitting others is not allowed because it can hurt others.
Follow an early childhood environment rule with teacher reminder. Follow more than one early childhood environment rule with teacher reminder. Follow simple early childhood environment rules independently much of the time.
Learning Standard 32.B
Apply decision‐making skills to deal responsibly with daily academic and social situations.

Example Performance Descriptors

Stop actions and listen to teacher discuss alternative solutions to hitting someone. Participate in a discussion with a teacher about alternative solutions to hitting someone who has taken a toy. Offer solutions to problems (e.g., “I am using these; you can use those.”).
Learning Standard 32.C
Contribute to the well‐being of one’s school and community.


  • Standard 30.B: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 1.B reads, “Recognize personal qualities and external supports.”
  • Standard 30.C: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 1.C reads, “Demonstrate skills related to achieving personal and academic goals.”
  • Standard 31.A: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 2.A reads, reads, “Recognize the feelings and perspectives of others.”
  • Standard 32.A: In the K-12 Illinois Learning Standards, Standard 3.A reads, “Consider ethical, safety and societal factors in making decisions.”