Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development - Online Childcare Summit

Continuing Personal & Professional Development

Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development – Online Childcare Summit

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Ahead of her Online Childcare Summit on Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Well-Being, childcare author Kathy Brodie reflects on what she has learned on the subject by listening to the interviews from a range of childcare speakers and professionals as they discuss PSED in children. 

By Kathy Brodie:

Children’s personal, social and emotional development (PSED) is an incredibly complex area of development, with lots of different perspectives and components. Research and advances in neuroscience are illustrating how babies are learning, socialising, experiencing emotions and making connections from birth, and possibly even before birth. With such a range of development occurring simultaneously and so closely intertwined, being able to support children effectively may seem an almost impossible task.

However, during research and recording of the online childcare summit interviews I’ve started to see some common threads. In this article, I’ve discussed three of these, in order of how often they occur. Firstly, outdoor play, being outdoors or being with nature is mentioned again and again. Secondly, having an adult or significant person ‘there’ for children is mentioned in many contexts, from anxiety to transitions to independence. Thirdly, how positive (and sometimes simple) changes to our own behaviour or attitude or standpoint, including our own well-being, can make supporting children’s PSED more effective.

Firstly, being outdoors is essential for the good development of children’s personal, social and emotional development. The really fascinating thing for me was that we normally associate outdoor play with physical development or possibly creativity, or risky play, but rarely is it directly linked to PSED. It may be that self-esteem or self-confidence is noted as a secondary development, after your child has achieved a piece of risky climbing, say, but not as a main reason for going outdoors.

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Yet many of the Summit speakers list the benefits of the outdoors, from reducing anxiety (and we can often feel that as adults too) to changing behaviour and altering the way that children learn. Another great benefit is being outdoors with someone and having interactions with no expectations of outcomes. For example, going to the park is an open-ended activity that holds no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, as does doing a drawing. In addition, you may have social interactions with people who you meet, even if it is the brief exchange of a smile.

Secondly, having a significant person or persons in their life can make a significant difference to children’s PSED. For many children this will be their main parent or carer, however, this relationship could also be between siblings, especially if there was a large age gap, or with the practitioner at a setting. For some children who may have chaotic home lives, the early years setting is a place of order, predictability and calm. This enables them to make good connections with practitioners and gives them a safe place to return to, emotionally, when it is needed. The relationship can be improved further if the practitioner understands the children’s needs and can respond to these appropriately (see page 37 in the free SEN e-book).


Special Educational Needs in the Early Years – Download Free eBook

Special Educational Needs in the Early Years


Interesting, part of having a significant person was that he or she didn’t take over the children’s decision making, but supported their independence, scaffolded learning (emotional and cognitive) and gave children a framework for self-regulation. These types of skills are especially important during times of transition – whether this is at drop-off time, moving through the setting or moving from Reception class to Year 1. Having someone else (and in some circumstances, this was another child within their own peer group) who could give support in a sensitive way during these times could make notable differences between a successful transition or one that set the children back in their PSED and other cognitive areas too.

Finally, there is a strong feeling of positivity running throughout all the interviews. In times of budget cuts and other external influences, it would be very easy to be gloomy and despair for the future. However, many of the strategies and top tips can be achieved with little or no expenditure because they are changes in practice or changes in attitudes. Sometimes it is as simple as changing the language. For example, ‘challenging behaviour’ by the child is turned round to ‘behaviour that is challenging the adult’. It is the adult who is being challenged, so maybe it is the adult’s perspective that needs re-evaluating.

Similarly, in the High Achieving White Working Class boys (HAWWC) research, the focus is not on the family lives, (which may not fit a ‘standard’ family model or may be considered ‘troubled’) but on the children who have achieved so well as to be in the top 5% of children in England in the Foundation Stage profile results. It feels very optimistic to focus on the children who are doing well, and then replicating this, rather than highlighting where there are deficits, especially if some of the strategies are easily implemented.

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Several speakers touch on the practitioners and educators own well-being. Specifically, having an awareness of how our own feelings may have an effect on the children. For example, if the emotional environment between adults in the room is negative, this will affect the children’s emotions. Or it could be that, as a teacher, you are feeling ‘top down’ pressure to reduce the amount of play-based learning and this is affecting your pedagogy. Being able to recognise this, and then manage it, may be necessary before you can effectively support the children.

Although I have discussed some of the main common threads here, the biggest revelation for me was that there was any commonality at all. All the more surprising when you realise that the speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, work in a variety of job roles, have researched with different age groups and live in countries right around the world. Even though the focus of their work is diverse, and their pedagogy may be very different, it does underline how fundamental personal, social and emotional development is for children.

It has certainly made me reflect on my own practice. I will be encouraging children and practitioners outside more, considering emotional connections with children and also keeping an eye on my own emotional well-being. Most importantly, I will be ensuring that personal, social and emotional development is a prime concern when working with children.

The Personal, Social and Emotional Wellbeing Summit is free to join and is high-quality training for your continuing professional development.

Here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect from the summit:

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