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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.

Example Performance Descriptors can be found on the List of goals, standards, and benchmarks page.

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.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 30.A.ECa: Recognize and label basic emotions.
  • 30.A.ECb: Use appropriate communication skills when expressing needs, wants, and feelings.
  • 30.A.ECc: Express feelings that are appropriate to the situation.
  • 30.A.ECd: Begin to understand and follow rules.
  • 30.A.ECe: Use materials with purpose, safety, and respect.
  • 30.A.ECf: Begin to understand the consequences of his or her behavior.

Learning Standard 30.B: Recognize own uniqueness and personal qualities.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 30.B.ECa: Describe self using several basic characteristics.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 30.C.ECa: Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
  • 30.C.ECb: Demonstrate persistence and creativity in seeking solutions to problems.
  • 30.C.ECc: Show some initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions.
  • 30.C.ECd: Demonstrate engagement and sustained attention in activities.

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.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 31.A.ECa: Show empathy, sympathy, and caring for others.
  • 31.A.ECb: Recognize the feelings and perspectives of others.
  • 31.A.ECc: Interact easily with familiar adults.
  • 31.A.ECd: Demonstrate attachment to familiar adults.
  • 31.A.ECe: Develop positive relationships with peers.

Learning Standard 31.B: Use communication and social skills to interact effectively with others.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 31.B.ECa: Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
  • 31.B.ECb: Engage in cooperative group play.
  • 31.B.ECc: Use socially appropriate behavior with peers and adults, such as helping, sharing, and taking turns.

Learning Standard 31.C: Demonstrate an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 31.C.ECa: Begin to share materials and experiences and take turns.
  • 31.C.ECb: Solve simple conflicts with peers with independence, using gestures or words.
  • 31.C.ECc: Seek adult help when needed to resolve conflict.

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.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 32.A.ECa: Participate in discussions about why rules exist.
  • 32.A.ECb: Follow rules and make good choices about behavior.

Learning Standard 32.B: Apply decision‐making skills to deal responsibly with daily academic and social situations.

Preschool Benchmarks

  • 32.B.ECa: Participate in discussions about finding alternative solutions to problems.

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.”
Reviewed: 2013