Suzie’s story

Suzie, aged three, had just started child care and was having a hard time saying goodbye to her mum Vesna in the mornings.

Alexia, one of the childcare staff, met Suzie and Vesna in the morning and suggested that they choose a family photo to bring in so that Suzie could have a reminder of Mum and Dad when she missed them during the day.

At home, Suzie picked a photo from the family album and put it in her backpack, Vesna also picked a photo and put it in her bag. “When I miss you during the day I will look at your photo to feel better,” said Vesna. “Me too,” said Suzie.

The next morning at child care, Vesna noticed Suzie starting to get upset. “Mummy has to go now, I am going to miss you, but remember we both have our photos to look at to make us feel better until I come back in the afternoon.”

Alexia noticed what was happening and came over to Vesna and Suzie, “Can I please have a look at your photo?” she asked. Suzie excitedly took the photo out of her bag to show Alexia. “Ooh how happy you all look together! Let’s make a pretty frame for your photo.” 

What early childhood educators can do

Effective support for social and emotional skills development builds children’s understanding and abilities by starting from what they can do and encouraging them to take the next step. Early childhood services can assist children in their social and emotional development in a number of ways, including:

  • building relationships with families so that children feel safe, secure, and comfortable with early childhood staff
  • getting to know each child
  • being warm and responsive with children
  • arranging developmentally appropriate experiences that promote social and emotional development (e.g., helping toddlers to begin taking turns and sharing)
  • having conversations and storytelling with children about emotions and social situations
  • talking with children about events, their feelings and the feelings of others and how they relate to behaviours.
  • helping children maintain a sense of connection with their families whilst at the service (e.g., using photographs and items from home)
  • being with children and acknowledging their feelings when they separate from their parents or carers and arranging strategies with children and their families to ease separations (e.g., setting up a ‘goodbye’ routine)
  • sharing information and ideas about the child’s experiences at the service with the child’s family
  • inviting parents to share family stories and building them into the child’s experiences at the service
  • helping children learn how to get along with others  (e.g., encouraging children to join in group experiences)
  • arranging opportunities for children to play together, and supporting their relationship-building efforts.

Warm, responsive and trusting relationships help children to understand how positive relationships work and what to expect from them. Children learn social and emotional skills and are motivated to go on to create their own positive relationships with others as they grow and develop.

How school staff can help

Formal classroom teaching shows children what the skills are all about and encourages them to think about the kinds of situations they can use skills for. To get the most benefit out of this classroom learning, children need to apply their skills in all sorts of situations.

Set the tone for positive, supportive relationships

Establish a trusting relationship with students and make the classroom an accepting environment by demonstrating respect, listening to students, and conveying positive expectations about respectful and caring behaviour. Show your students that everyone needs help occasionally by modelling this behaviour yourself and asking them for help. 

Normalise social and emotional learning

Make talking about feelings, managing friendships, handling confl icts and thinking through problems part of the everyday conversation in your classroom and around the school. This sets an expectation that social and emotional learning is a normal and valued part of school life and that everyone benefi ts from applying the skills learned. 

Support self-confidence

Children build self-confidence through seeing that they are capable and that their contributions are valued. Provide opportunities for all students to undertake responsibilities through special roles and tasks, ensuring that everyone gets a turn. Build their sense of capability as well as their motivation by appreciating effort and persistence, not just outcomes.

Appreciate individual and group differences

Promote inclusiveness by recognising and responding to the individual needs and cultural differences of students and families. Help children to appreciate diversity by talking openly and positively about differences and encouraging mutual respect and positive valuing of one another. Ensure that cooperative learning activities are well structured to enhance inclusive values and behaviour.

Foster emotional awareness

Learning to manage emotions first requires being aware of them. School staff can encourage children to notice body signals and to name or describe the associated feelings. Provide safe, supportive opportunities for children to notice how their bodies tell them about different kinds of feelings. Ask children to refl ect on the feelings as well as the thoughts they have in response to different learning activities and events. Prompt them, when necessary, to think of coping strategies they might try. 

Teach empathy

Model caring and compassion through your own behaviour and encourage students to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. Promote discussion of others’ feelings and emotions when reading books to the class. For example, ask the class, “How do you think character X is feeling? How can you tell?”

Communicate effectively
Encourage students to use effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills while interacting inside the classroom by modelling this yourself. Demonstrate the use of appropriate body language and posture, eye contact and tone of voice, and provide students with practise opportunities to try out the skills for themselves.

Require cooperation

Tasks that require students to work in pairs or small groups are a good way of building and reinforcing important relationship skills. To maximise the effectiveness of cooperative group work, the required communication skills and strategies should be taught in advance, and the group task needs to be made very clear. When allocating group membership, it is important to be alert to pre-existing student confl icts that can interfere with classroom cooperation and that may require extra support and intervention. Rotating group composition, so that students work with different group members, helps to build a range of social skills and fosters inclusiveness.