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8.10: Let’s Take a look at the Social-Emotional Environment

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    According to the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, “s ocial development refers to a child’s ability to create and sustain meaningful relationships with adults and other children, whereas, emotional development refers to a child’s ability to express, recognize, and manage his or her emotions, as well as respond appropriately to others’ emotions.” Not only is the social-emotional environment important for a child’s health and well-being, but it also provides a solid foundation for lifelong learning and interactions with others. [94]

    A Closer Look at the Social Environment

    The social environment is comprised of all the interactions that occur throughout the day. A well-designed social environment fosters trusting relationships by creating opportunities for children to interact with their peers and with their teachers. Effective teacher-child interactions are one of the most crucial ingredients for both social and whole child development. Experts in the field of early childhood education have long understood that effective teacher-child interactions are key predictors of student success.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Warm Interpersonal Interaction [95]

    To create a classroom environment that supports positive social interactions Gordon and Browne (2016) suggest that teachers evaluate the quality of their interpersonal interactions. Take a moment to review the self-check questions.

    Self-Check: Questions to ask yourself about your social-emotional environments

    • Is there a feeling of mutual respect between the adults and children?
    • Are the children interacting with one another?
    • Am I modeling cooperative behavior?
    • Am I planning activities that encourage peer interactions?
    • What are my facial expressions, and what tone do I use when I talk to the children?
    • Do I give genuine feedback and praise for their achievements?
    • Am I spending quality time with all the children?
    • When I’m feeling frustrated, do I take it out on the children?
    • Do I allow the children to solve their own problems, or do I try to fix everything myself?
    • When I need to talk to a child, do I get down to their level?
    • Do I greet families with a smile and do I make an effort to connect with each family?
    • At the end of the day when the child is being picked up, do I share a pleasant anecdote about the child’s day or do I focus only on challenging moments?
    • Do I provide opportunities for the children to help with daily tasks?
    • Do I have opportunities for families to volunteer and be involved? [96]

    The Emotional Environment

    Young children are just learning how to regulate their emotions and behaviors and they need your guidance and support. Exactly what kind of support can you give a child? Co-regulation is defined as warm and responsive interactions that provide children with the support, coaching, and modeling that they need to express their feelings, wants, needs, actions, and behaviors. Co-regulation is an interactive process where teachers must know when to step in and when to step back. Teachers must pay close attention to each child’s cues so that they can respond in a consistent and sensitive manner. [97]

    To develop caring and responsive relationships with the children in your classroom, it is helpful to learn about each child’s unique temperament and communication styles, their likes and dislikes, their strengths, and the areas where they need further support. Only through on-going observation and documentation will you truly discover what makes each child so special.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Teacher displaying a warm interpersonal tone [98]

    Once you know each child’s unique cues and personalities you will be able to address their individual needs and meet them where they are at developmentally. Additionally, you will be able to plan learning experiences that will help children develop their “self-regulation skills.” Self-regulation is having the ability to control your behavior, actions, and emotions in response to a particular situation. In other words, it’s having the power to calm yourself down when you get upset because things didn’t quite go your way. When children can share their toys with their friends, wait their turn to ride the bike, and can use their words to express their feelings, they are practicing self-regulation.

    Take a moment to review the self-check questions and think about ways you can support a child’s emotional development.

    Self-Check: Questions to ask yourself

    • Are there cozy spaces for children to take a break?
    • Are their puppets, dolls, and other activities that encourage children to express feelings?
    • Do we sing songs and read book about feelings?
    • Do I provide verbal prompts that help children express their wants and needs?
    • Am I aware of each child’s temperament?
    • Am I aware of my own feelings and reactions when I am stressed?
    • Have I taught children effective strategies to help calm them down when upset?

    Creating Your Social-Emotional Environment 

    Research suggests that for children to thrive, they must first have their “basic needs” met. These “basic needs” are highlighted in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Chapter 2 (Developmental and Learning Theories). Once a child feels safe, secure, loved, and that they belong, they will be ready to learn. As an intentional teacher, it is up to you to create a social and emotional climate where children are comfortable enough to develop meaningful relationships and safe enough to explore their environment. In the article, Creating an Emotional Safe Classroom, Dr. Bruce Perry states, “Optimal learning is driven by curiosity which leads to exploration, discovery, practice, and mastery. In turn, mastery leads to pleasure, satisfaction, and confidence to once again explore. The more a child experiences this cycle of wonder, the more they can create a lifelong excitement and love of learning.” [99]

    A well-planned learning environment starts with you. When you create a positive social and emotional environment, children will feel secure. Once they feel secure and can trust that you will meet their needs, they will begin to explore the materials and interact with one another, and ultimately they will enjoy the environment you have prepared for them. Your classroom environment plays a critical role in helping children develop their social and emotional skills. Designing a welcoming classroom that promotes cooperation, mutual respect and tolerance will help children connect with you and with each other. To integrate responsive caregiving practices here are some teacher tips to help you set up an engaging social-emotional environment:

    • Be responsive to children’s needs. To help children feel more confident and secure, first meet their basic needs. Provide each child with warm, caring interactions that can be later modeled.
    • Provide Prompts. Partner with children to manage their feelings and frustrations. Give them the words to express their feelings and to solve their own problems.
    • Use your positive personality as a teaching tool. Your smile, your voice, and your touch, along with direct eye contact can make children and their families feel safe and cared for.
    • Be predictable. Establish clear expectations and follow through. Children need consistent boundaries and need to know they can count on you for guidance.
    • Find time for quiet moments. Solitude allows the brain to "catch up" and process the new experiences of the day. This leads to better consolidation of new experiences and better teaming.
    • Praise when possible. Confidence and pleasure come from success. Everyone succeeds at something. Those with challenging behaviors need to know they can be successful too. Be observant. As you watch and listen you will gather useful information about each child. Watch to see what the children are curious about: What types of activities interest them? How are they feeling? What are their pressure points? When you follow their cues and respond to their needs, you can then plan for meaningful learning opportunities.
    • Celebrate diversity and help all children feel included. Encourage children to communicate and express themselves. At times, they may feel more comfortable using their home language, body movements, gestures, signs, or drawing a picture. Plan activities that provide opportunities for children to work together as partners or in small groups. Assign a buddy to assist children that are new to the program or that may be struggling to stay engaged and on task. Encourage families to share.
    • Include both teacher-initiated and child-initiated activities. Teacher-initiated activities are planned and led by the teacher, while child-initiated activities are inspired by the children’s own interests and abilities. Materials are set out and children are encouraged to explore and create using their own ideas. [100] [101]


    Pause to Reflect

    How would you promote social-emotional well-being for each age group?

    1. Infant
    2. Toddler
    3. Preschool
    4. School-age

    The skilled and intentional teacher creates a classroom climate that promotes cooperation, mutual respect, and tolerance. The Teaching Pyramid Framework for Supporting Social Competence provides a model for promoting social competence and preventing challenging behaviors. [102]

    Pyramid Model

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): The Teaching Pyramid [103]


    Pause to Reflect

    How does “Spiritual Development” or the concept of “me-ness” and “you-ness” for children fit into the Social-Emotional environment?

    Assessing Teacher Interactions 

    In ECE 103 (Observation and Assessment) you will look more closely at The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), developed at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning as an assessment tool to improve teacher-student interactions and, ultimately, enhance student development and learning. It is used in many early childhood programs to support teacher’s growth. The CLASS tool describes three broad categories focusing on the way teachers are providing emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support to meet the needs of the children they work with. The tool looks at the following:



    Pause to Reflect

    You are an important part of the social-emotional environment and you need to take time for you. Every job has stress factors and being an early childhood teacher is no different. To have the positive energy you will need to manage a classroom, you should find healthy outlets to help manage your own needs and emotions.

    What do you do to manage stress and maintain your emotional well-being?

    Experiment and discover what works for you. Ideally, you will be able to model these techniques to the children. By providing children with a calm, peaceful, and nurturing atmosphere they will feel safe and secure in their social-emotional environment. And, you will have peace of mind.