Supporting Social-Emotional Growth in Toddlers


Local Programs and Ideas

The other day I was at the park with my daughter, Callen, pushing her on the tire swing when an enthusiastic child with pig tails and a bomb pop mustache jumped right on there with her. My daughter immediately searched for me with worry although I was practically touching her.  The little girl asked Callen if she wanted to play with her new baby doll. My daughter was ready to dig a callenhole in the sandbox and hide right in it. I responded with “what a pretty baby doll it looks just like Callie’s doll that she has at home. Callen cracked a smile. I find it more effective to respond to other children the way I would want my daughter to respond instead of making a big deal about her refusal to interact. I’ve decided to show her how to respond instead of telling her how to.  The pig-tailed, bomb mustached faced little girl’s mother jumped right in, intercepting my teachable moment by exclaiming, “Oh sweetie she’s just a little shy it’s okay.” While well intentioned, this response to my 2 year old being uncomfortable in a new situation really bothers me. I always quickly respond with a “she’s a little uncomfortable in new situations.” She’s not shy and I don’t want her to be labeled as such.

You may say I’m a little sensitive about this topic but as a child hears something over and over again she will believe it and start to label herself as these complete strangers do, these strangers  that don’t know how silly, loud, and two she just really is.  

With a background in educational psychology I know the importance of social emotional growth and the impact this development has on school readiness. What is social emotional development? 

How do we provide our toddlers with the experiences and environment to develop in the social emotional domain in a way that prepares them for school? 

Social-emotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen and others 2005).  Callen may be “uncomfortable in new situations” but it is my job to guide her on her journey of becoming an interactive peer and student. It is my job to teach her to identify her own feelings and to be able to manage those feelings as she becomes older and is able to do so.  There are several local organizations and activities that I truly believe can take your toddler from a wobbly new walker to a confident runner in the park in the world of social connections. Here are some I have had first hand experience with:

World Class Gymnastics:

Last summer I signed Callie up for a toddler gymnastics class at World Class Gymnastics in Clifton Park. My goal for such a class worldclasswas for Callen to develop physically. However, she gained great social skills in this setting. She was enrolled in a tumbling tots class where toddlers learned basic gymnastic skills (tumbling, jumping, hanging, swinging, walking the balance beam, etc.) However, these skills were all practiced with patience by waiting your turn, sharing by sharing the class equipment, and building first peer relationships by meeting with the same group of children for several weeks. It was the first time Callen had to listen and follow directions, a huge skill necessary for school readiness. It was the first time as a toddler where I could tell she felt determined. Determined to walk across the balance beam, determined to tumble, and determined to please her teachers and her parents. This class offered Callie the skills needed to become a student. I can’t wait to sign her up for the next class this summer.

The Wonder Room:

wonderroomI enrolled Callen in a toddler play group at The Wonder Room for eight weeks. The class met once a week for an hour and a half. The class offered an open play environment where children could engage in play with the many different manipulatives, books, dolls,
dramatic play materials and sensory materials. It was a great opportunity for Callen to interact with peers, have her first teacher/student relationship, and still have the security of me being there.  When the opportunity presented itself I would distance myself whether she was engaging in solitary play, (playing alone), parallel play (playing beside a peer without interacting) or interactive play.  She would occasionally search for my face but that happened less and less as the weeks went by. I’ve enrolled Callen in The Wonder Room School for the fall. She will be in a multiage class two days a week for two hours a day without mom by her side. I know the first few classes will be hard when I leave but I feel confident she will thrive socially in this environment. I am so glad she is already used to it and has positive feelings about going.

Public Outings:

Take your toddler to the grocery store and let them be part of the checkout process. Take them to the post office and show them what you do to send a package out, go in to the bank and make a deposit with them and explain to them what you’re doing. I have always explained everything to my daughter, whether it’s what I am doing, what I am eating, why we’re going to a certain place even when she was very young. I have tried and try every day to support her curiosity with questions and answers.  Our children are always trying to make sense of the world we live in. Explain everything to them. As hassle-free as it can be to run to the grocery store alone, try to look at it as a teachable moment for your little one to learn a little bit more about how the world works, how she and her  parent play a role in it and how she feels about it.

Other Local Programs: 

It is our job as caregivers to foster heathy social-emotional growth in our children by asking questions, exposing them to several different types of surroundings, and being sensitive to the age group where the bounds of comfort lay between the walls of their house and their Mama’s arms. Choose your words wisely around your children and others’.  Remember how fast these years go by. We may have days where just hearing the word “Mama” again may want to send us to the market alone but we’ll soon miss the days where we are our children’s’ main source of security. Embrace this process. It will go much faster than we think.



gardenHi! My name is Jenny Baisley. I am from Troy, NY but have found solace living in town of Schaghticoke.  I am happily married and a stay at home mom to a curious, mischievous, beautiful 32 month old girl, Callen. I hold a Masters in Educational Psychology and I love to write. I’m always looking to learn more about parenting and to meet other Moms. I am so excited to be a guest blogger on SaratogaMama.


Cohen, J., and others. 2005. Helping Young Children Succeed: Strategies to Promote Early Childhood Social and Emotional Development. Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislatures and Zero to Three.

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