Children begin to form emotional and social connections with the adults who care for them in the first moments of life.

Early relationship experiences with adult carers form the basis for the child’s ideas about themselves and connections with others. Children use the social ideas and communication skills they have learned in connection with adults, in their relationships with other children.

In the first days and weeks of life, a child learns that they are not alone – they learn that they share their new world with others. Baby and carer practice getting to know each other. They engage in the simple back and forth process of connecting and engaging. Interactions between a baby and adult include a rich interplay of pausing, paying attention and responding. In this way the infant begins to develop ideas of being together and practices basic skills for interaction.

Adults continue to shape a child’s ideas and skills for social and emotional competency. Circle of Security explains how children move out to explore their world, returning to supportive adults for connection and comfort. Adults pay attention and welcome children in when they return. They wait to see what the child has to share. They look and listen while the child shares their joy or sorrows. They respond with delight and support. In this way children build ideas about the value of relationships. They practice skills for initiating connection, participating in conversation and seeking help. They develop trust and understanding that relationships are positive places where they can share their joys and receive comfort and support.

Toddlers begin to realise that they share the world – not only with adults, but with other children. They are socially curious. They are learning how to initiate connection with other children, however they often need adults to scaffold interactions to practice the skills of paying attention, listening and responding, sharing and taking turns. In this way, they experience early friendships as positive and mutually satisfying.

Supporting adults do a lot of the work - moment by moment in everyday interactions to help children develop a tool kit of positive and effective social communication skills. This work continues as children begin to seek out each other for connection and company, but the shape of that work gradually changes. As children’s competencies develop, it is time for adults to see how much a child can manage for themselves and to know when to offer guidance and support.

Adults need to watch and listen to children engaging with each other – to value children’s efforts and emerging skills for co-operation and negotiation. They need to wait and allow children time to practice, to falter, to problem solve and repair connections. It’s also important for adults to stay close and be ready to support when a child’s tool kit runs out – to know when they are needed and be ready with their own tool kit, to step in and support.

Adult’s need to trust children’s competencies and help them to build skills to manage connections with each other even when the going gets tough. Children need to develop ideas that relationships do not always go smoothly, interactions do not always happen the way they expect or want – that sometimes they will be disappointed, frustrated – maybe even angry but also that they can work things out together. In this way children develop adaptability and resilience. They build ideas that friendships will endure the ups and downs.

Knowing a child well happens when adults dedicate time to observing children closely during play and during their interactions with play partners. Supportive adults pay attention – they see and hear a child’s ideas and competencies. They recognise when a child’s tool kit is running out and begin to scaffold in the moments when the child needs support. In this way, the child is able to use the skills they have and is supported to practice new skills moment by moment in the context of interactions with other children.

Children gradually become the builders of their social skills in connection with each other. It is the adult’s job to provide the scaffolding. Scaffolding demands a lot from supporting adults – most importantly the process of staying connected and being with children while making space for children to be the best of themselves. Scaffolding supports the builders while they get on with the job.

Being with children in positive connection, knowing children well, helping them to develop positive social communication skills and to build good ideas about themselves and their relationships are cornerstones of our work as early childhood educators.

KU provides educators with training and mentoring support to build their tool kit for connecting with children and for supporting children’s social emotional wellbeing. Educators have opportunities to explore theory of attachment relationships, develop their understanding of children’s social emotional development and build their tool kit for scaffolding children’s social communication skills and positive social behaviour.

  • Why Mindset Matters: See the Meaning in Children’s Behaviour is a KU workshop that explores the nature and importance of relationships, with particular reference to the concept of inclusion. This training invites educators to consider the importance of knowing children well, of seeing and responding to children’s competencies and understanding and responding to their individual support needs.
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  • Understanding Behaviour: Functional Behaviour Assessment is training that gives educators the tools to explore the function of behaviour and the strategies to develop plans to support children to develop the skills for positive communication with others.
    Click here to register
  • KU Guiding Children’s Behaviour – policy and practice references all of these elements, and more. It is a comprehensive and practical guide to understanding and responding to children’s support needs.
    Click here to purchase resources


  • Circle of Security: The Circle of Security Model https://www.circleofsecurityin...
  • ECA Research in Practice Series 2017. The Circle of Security: Roadmap to building supportive relationships. Robyn Dolby
  • Harvard University Centre on the Developing Child: Resource Library.
  • Maria Aarts: Marte Meo Developmental Support Program
  • KU Learning and Development: One of the Kids/ Why Mindset Matters
  • KU Guiding Children’s Behaviour:
    • Promoting relationships and responding positively to challenging behaviour
    • Guiding Children’s Behaviour in Practice – A Team Approach