Promoting Social-Emotional Development At-Home

Explore how to promote social-emotional health in your child's everyday routines!

Responsive Caregiving

  • From birth, babies learn about the world through the relationships they develop with their primary caregivers - parents, grandparents, care providers.  These relationships build the foundation and teach babies and young children that the world is a safe place and adults will respond to their needs.  
  • Caregiving relationships give infants and toddlers a sense of comfort and safety and builds their trust in the world.  The caregiver becomes the child's safe place from which to explore the world.  Safety promotes exploration.  And when exploring becomes scary, the child can return to his caregiver for comfort and reassurance.
  • Strong, positive relationships also help children develop trust, empathy, compassion, and a sense of right and wrong.  "How you are with your child is how your child will be with others."
  • Reading your infant or toddler's cues, understand what their behavior is communicating and respond appropriately as best as you can.  
  • Sometimes we get it wrong! We may not always know what our child needs or wants, and we can get it wrong - but we can always let them know we are sorry we couldn't figure it out and we will try again!


Consistent Predictable Routines

  • Humans need and want routines and predictability, especially in early childhood.  Predictable routines act as a warm security blanket and help children feel safe.   
  • Try to have regular awake times, play times, meal times, nap times, play, and bedtime routines each day
  • Involve your child in your routines - toddlers love to be "helpers" and so giving them "jobs" when you cook, clean, shop, etc. will foster independence in them and help them feel a part of your world.  
    • Teaching your child through daily routines how to "wait," "take turns," "help" and "stop" and giving them praise for their efforts and help during these routines can be powerful ways to teach social skills 

      • For instance, when you are making a meal, have your toddler stand next to you at the countertop and have him "take turns" stirring the water with you - this  teaches turn-taking and independence 

      • Tell him to "stop" with a word and hand signal when it you are done stirring and tell him what happens next


Validating Experience and Feelings

  • Name and narrate feelings, even for babies as it gives you practice and also you convey understanding and babies can feel that validation - When a person has his feelings validated, it calms the nervous system down and can help your child feel safe and heard.  
  • When baby cries, "Oh, I see you are crying and upset, let me help you" (feed you, hold you, change you)....
  • When your toddler is upset someone took a toy, "You are so mad right now that he took your toy, aren't you?" and match your face with his feeling
  • Praise your child's efforts and positive behaviors - not just successes
    • "You get more of what you focus on" - if we focus on what our children are doing well and reinforce that we will get more of it!


Understanding and Labeling Feelings

  • Help your toddler make sense of her feelings by using pictures and words to describe emotions 
  • Draw "feeling faces" and show your toddler what she is feeling and name it - this gives her a stairstep into being able to eventually tell you independently how she's feeling next time 
  • Explore feelings and emotions through play
    • Use puppets, dolls, stuffed animals - anything your toddler likes to play with - to create a story about his frustrations or fears
    • You can draw pictures of "sad or mad" faces and ask your toddler how he feels by pointing to the pictures - if he is able to draw suggest that he draws a "feeling face"  
    • Pretend play with toy figurines, stuffed animals, or puppets and have them use “feeling words.” 
    • Read books about feelings and talk about the people or animals and what they might be feeling



  • Let your child know what they CAN do, not what they CAN'T do 
  • Focus on predicting for your child what happens next throughout the day
  • Try to let your child know what he can do and avoid using the word "No" unless it is around risk or safety
    • For instance, instead of saying "don't take your sister's cup" try saying "that is sister's cup, here is your cup"  or instead of saying "share with your brother" try saying "it's brother's turn with the truck, when I count to five it will be your turn with the truck"  
  • List out on paper all the "Don'ts" you tend to say and write out the "Do's!" 
    • "Don't touch that!" ...... could be "Do be safe, so touch this!"


Sleep and Naptime Routines

  • Regular sleep promotes healthy social emotional development.  Sleep can be challenging especially in the first year.  Ensuring babies can get regular naps and have established nighttime routines are important.  Check out the Sensory Strategies page on this site for suggestions!  
  • Greeting your child when they awake helps them start the day and let’s them know you are ready for them!
  • Narrate what is going to happen next - “it’s time to wake up and get dressed and have breakfast!


Meal & Snacktime Routines

Eating is a social routine as well as necessary for nutrition!  Try and sit together with your child and eat along with them.  You can work on adaptive feeding skills and language skills during mealtimes which all promotes social skills.  

  • Taking Turns - building in turn-taking at meal times - for instance, have your toddler “take turns” pouring cereal into a bowl with you, or take turns putting items on the plate, etc. 
    • Have your older baby “take turns” feeding you then you feed them for fun and turn-taking practice
    • Patience 
      • When baby is crying for her bottle, tell her “I know you are hungry, it’s coming” - this helps you let baby know what is happening next and she will learn by your voice and rhythm that even though she is hungry she can wait for a bit and will be fed!
    • To help your toddler learn how to “wait” tell him that “lunch is coming” and/or "when I count to 10 it will be there" 
  • Making Choices and Requests - this builds in language and independence 
    • give your toddler a small amount of food so he can request for more either with gestures or words 
  • Give your toddler a choice between “2 items” such as an apple or banana so he can make a request 
  • Clean-Up Time - ending a meal and having your toddler help put the dishes in the sink and “clean up” teaches family cooperation and gives them a “cue” for the next transition


Dressing Routines

For babies - 

  • When dressing them give them some gentle massages on their legs and feet - this calms the body down and builds bonding  
  • Label their body parts - "here's your arm, put your arm through!" - this helps them develop a sense of self
  • Have a mirror nearby so they can see themselves 


For toddlers - 

  • Give them 2 choices on what pants, socks or shirt to put on to give them a sense of independence and also it will build gestural communication into the routine - make sure they are “helping” to get dressed.  
  • Toddlers have emerging needs to be independent so the more "control" they have over their environment, that is safe and reasonable, helps them develop autonomy and may reduce power struggles



Bathtime is a wonderful opportunity to have structured face-to-face playtime with you infant or toddler.  Ensure the child is safe and supervised at all times.  During bathtime you can sing together, engage in turn-taking with bath toys, and work on labeling body parts.  Allow them to learn some independent skills and let them "wash" themselves and use cups or bowls so they can "pour" water over their head.  


  • Play, play play! 
  • Play is how children learn and can be as simple as narrating what you are doing to your child as you go through your day.  
  • Encourage your child to imitate what you do during your daily routines and make it fun and silly!
  •  Get face-to-face throughout the day with your child and have short "play" sessions where you are completely focused on what your child is doing.
  • Allow your child to "play with" household items such as pots, pans, spoons, bowls and help them use these objects the way they are intended or make them be something else - such as banging a spoon on a bowl for a drum set!  This builds "representational thinking" and helps with learning and it is a novel experience for your child.