Personal social and emotional development in the EYFS

Personal, social and emotional development (PSED) supports children to learn to get on with others and make friends, understand and talk about feelings, learn about 'right' and 'wrong', develop independence and ultimately feel good about themselves.

Children's early PSED has a huge impact on their later well-being, learning achievement and economic success too. So to help you support children in your early years settings, we've put together the following.

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Personal, social and emotional development and the EYFS

PSED is one of the three prime areas within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Each prime area is divided into early learning goals, for PSED these are:

  • Self-Regulation - Show an understanding of their own feelings and those of others, and begin to regulate their behaviour accordingly; - Set and work towards simple goals, being able to wait for what they want and control their immediate impulses when appropriate; Give focused attention to what the teacher says, responding appropriately even when engaged in activity, and show an ability to follow instructions involving several ideas or actions.
  • Managing Self - Be confident to try new activities and show independence, resilience and perseverance in the face of challenge; Explain the reasons for rules, know right from wrong and try to behave accordingly; Manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs, including dressing, going to the toilet and understanding the importance of healthy food choices.
  • Building Relationships - Work and play cooperatively and take turns with others; Form positive attachments to adults and friendships with peers; Show sensitivity to their own and to others' needs.

Best practice and activities

PSED doesn't happen in isolation and children need you to provide them with positive feedback and to model appropriate behaviour. Basically, you're the best resource in your setting to support children's PSED.

It's important to make young children feel secure in your setting. The key to this is creating a nurturing environment and tuning in by getting to know the baby, toddler or child well through having an effective key person.


Routines reassure children as they begin to understand the structure of the day and predict what is coming next. This helps to cut anxiety. You could use a visual timetable to support children who aren't able to understand verbal prompts yet.


Children need to learn to recognise their feelings and learn the words to label them. They will need help from you to do this and will need you to show them different ways to manage their feelings. For example you could say "I can see you are getting very frustrated with that toy - it's not working properly is it? Let's see if a cuddle might help and we can look at it together".

  1. Adult recognises the emotion.
  2. Adult names the emotion for the child.
  3. Adult provides some comfort.
  4. Adult offers solution.

By repeating this four stage approach every day the child can learn to manage their feelings themselves. You can start this approach with babies.

Using a feelings box helps children become aware of a variety of emotions and vocabulary to explain them. To play, fill a box with some favourite and unfamiliar objects. Talk to the children about what they like/dislike about each one and why they might be feeling like that.

You can find out about sharing stories on our Reading in the EYFS page.

Role model

Focus on reinforcing behaviour you like by acting as a role model and praising children who demonstrate wanted behaviours. This is much more effective than highlighting unwanted behaviours, as children often like the attention they're getting when you're cross with them.

Talking and listening

Talk to even the youngest of children, using their name, copying their babbling, so they understand you're listening to them.

Pay attention to babies' non-verbal communication too. If they turn their head away, it may be a sign that they are tired and have had enough.

Visit our Communication and language in the EYFS page for more on talking and listening. And take a look at Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics by the Department for Education as it links to PSED and has lots of activities to try.


Many children need adult input to play together. And you may need to help children take turns to play activities, like throwing bean bags into a box or building a tower and knocking it down. Start with games they can confidently play to boost their confidence. Once they have learnt turn taking, add a new skill such as playing a dice game that involves counting.

Children often need an adult to join in to encourage and extend shared play. This begins to develop around three years old but lots of children need help modelling how to take on board other ideas and how to share toys.


Encourage independence skills as soon as you think children are capable. Work with parents to agree on appropriate expectations such as feeding themselves or taking off and hanging up their coat. Give children time to practice independence skills. And remember to praise them when they try, even if they're not always successful.

To help children become confident in themselves, allow them the freedom to make choices. Provide open ended craft materials for children to explore and let them choose the materials and what they want to do with them. Build their confidence to tackle more complex activities as they grow.

Supporting children with additional needs

It's normal for a child to show how they're feeling through their behaviour. But if a child starts to excessively repeat the usual ways they show how they feel, they could be struggling with their emotional health. These signs may include an excessively short attention span, and aggressive or withdrawn behaviour.

If you have any concerns about a child's PSED, always discuss this with the child's parents or carers first and agree how you will work together. Be careful not to jump to conclusions about what is going on at home. There could be many reasons why a child temporarily struggles emotionally including moving house, parents changing partners, more children or babies in the home or the death of a relative or pet.

Working with dads, mums and carers

To help parents support their child's PSED at home, why not share these free Being, Belonging, Becoming leaflets with them? They're full of tips on how to help children become independent, sociable and happy. The sheets are split into sections and ages and are linked to the early learning goals:

  • Being - managing feelings and behaviour
  • Belonging - making relationships
  • Becoming - self confidence and self awareness.

Need advice?

If you'd like more advice or support, contact your area Early Years Educational Effectiveness Team: or subscribe to our Childcare professionals update e-bulletin

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