Personal, social and emotional development

Relationships

Learn more about relationships as part of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) including advice from experts and suggested activities.

Why relationships are important

Children go to childcare providers with ideas about relationships, influenced by their own experiences. If an adult regularly considers a child’s needs, attachment feelings will develop. If rejected, the child may feel unlovable, unworthy or flawed.

Research shows that carer-child relationships build over time, and that this attachment is important for children’s learning, development, wellbeing and future success.

Children must have a ‘key person’. This will either be the childminder or a specific person at a nursery. As a child’s key person, you will provide a special relationship for the child and their parents or carers. This does not mean replacing parents and carers, but having a close ongoing relationship together.

Video

In this video, an early years expert explains the importance of numbers in the early years foundation stage framework. There are also some tips on how to support children in this area.

What the EYFS framework says

Through supported interaction with others, children learn how to make good friendships, co-operate and resolve conflicts peaceably. These attributes provide a secure platform, from which children can achieve at school and in later life.

Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage, page 9.

What this means in practice

A ‘key person’ is someone a family goes to, who is their advocate and ‘holds them in mind’. Having a good setup process for this secures trusting, ongoing relationships.

Meet parents and carers to decide how best to sensitively settle a child. Put them first, asking them to share all they can about themselves. Value them as the child’s first educators, so they feel able to contribute at any point during their child’s journey.

Children may still need considerable support to feel secure and manage their feelings after the settling in period. You also need space and time to talk about the issues which may arise as you develop close and supportive relationships with children. Discuss it with your colleagues or other providers.

Induction plans should build on a child’s interests. For example, if you know they love dinosaurs, set some dinosaur toys up on their first visit. If possible, invite parents and carers along while you settle their child, to build trust while personalising their induction.

Make transitions easier by including personal objects, like family books or photo boards. Let children bring comforters if they have one, like a favourite blanket or toy. Share your philosophy, values, routines, procedures and policies with parents and carers, so they understand how and why things happen. Allow them to contribute or give feedback.

Once a child is settled, maintain relationships with them, their parents and carers. As you get to know them all better, you’ll gain confidence when sharing developments you have noticed, perhaps during a daily chat. Reflect together about the child’s learning. This will allow you to give a responsive ongoing learning environment.

Suggested activities

Family board

Display of child's family

You’ll need:

  • photographs of the child’s special people, these could be gathered on a home visit, when parents and carers first visit your setting, or could be sent in
  • a board to attach them to
  • a way to attach and remove them, such as sticky tape
  • pens, pencils, craft materials
  • laminating tools (optional)

Display the photos attractively but simply across the board. Consider laminating family photos. Use reusable attachments such as velcro, so children can carry their special people around, but photos won’t be lost.

Get parents and carers to help create the board. Ask them to think about what they want to share about themselves and their child or what their hopes and aspirations are for the nursery or childminder experience.

Display the board at the child’s height, near where the child spends most of their time, and together with other family boards. Allow children to approach and observe their own board as much as they want. Supporting them to talk about their special people. This reassures them, while prompting ongoing chat that deepens the relationship between a child and their key person.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Children will be able to talk about their community and special people (understanding the world), including parents, carers, extended family members and other special people (sense of self). They will be able to go into detail about related aspects such as who drops them off, who picks them up, who they are friends with (communication and language). They will help to physically make the family boards (expressive arts and design).

Relational timeline

A relational timeline provides an opportunity for a young child to share with you their personal relationships.

You’ll need

  • card
  • photographs
  • sticky fasteners
  • laminated sheets

Collect photos of the important people in the child’s life, their family, friends and other significant people. For younger children, ask the family to share with you their day and what happens through the day, for example, who drops them at the setting, who picks them up.

You can find out who they have been with in the day, for example who has changed their nappy, who has rocked them to sleep, who they have had lunch with. Older children will be able to represent this themselves. Display the timeline on the wall. Give time for the children to talk to you about the significant people in their lives and their connections to them. Observe the children’s gestures, ask questions and listen to their responses.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

The focus is on the children’s relationships to others. Through the process you will be questioning, describing and widening their technical vocabulary, as well as technological vocabulary (communication and language). Handling the objects develops the children’s fine motor skills (physical development). Mathematical language will also arise to describe comparative words such as older than, oldest, new and newest (mathematics). Children will develop a sense of self in relation to others. It also helps develop their understanding of the world.

Other activities

Ten tips on how to develop positive relationships with parents, National Day Nursery Association.

Parental engagement early years toolkit, Education Endowment Foundation.

How to build positive relationships in the early years, TES.

Positive relationships, Early Years Educator.

Tips on supporting positive relationships in the moment, Nursery World.

What other nurseries and childminders are doing

“Developing a secure relationship between myself, children and their parents or carers is at the heart of my practice. Children learn best when they feel safe and secure, with their relationships displaying mutual trust and respect. I recognise that parents are a child’s first educators, the information they share builds a picture of each child. I use this picture to cater to each child’s interests and curiosities, allowing secondary attachment to occur. A secure relationship like this allows for solid learning understanding. Without such attachments, children may feel insecure, impacting their development.”

Sam, childminder, Kettering.

Summary

  • Solid key relationships are fundamental to well-being, cognition and learning.
  • A child’s key person sustains a trusting relationship between child, parents and carers.
  • Engaging families as equal, active partners helps maintain these relationships.
  • Emotional availability and presence promote trust within these relationships.
  • A structured relationship setup system allows these relationships to thrive.

Next steps

Consider:

  • how does each individual child inform your planning for transitions and how do you personalise your offer?
  • do your policies and procedures for home visits and settling facilitate parental engagement and voice?
  • what systems do you have in place within your team that supports reflection on relationships with individual children, personal responses and pedagogy?