Areas of Learning and Development: Prime area: Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Ann Langston explains the changes to Personal, Social and Emotional Development in the revised framework


'Personal, social and emotional development involves helping children to develop a positive sense of themselves, and others; to form positive relationships and develop respect for others; to develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings; to understand appropriate behaviour in groups; and to have confidence in their own abilities.' (Revised Statutory Framework, paragraph 1.6)

The learning and development requirements for Personal, Social and Emotional Development in the revised EYFS have not changed significantly on the surface. However, a further examination of the outcomes for this area shows that the early learning goals have changed substantially.

When we look at the relevant ELGs now, we see that most of the points within 'Dispositions and attitudes' have been reassigned to become part of the Characteristics of Effective Learning, while the points which focused on understanding of different cultures and beliefs have sensibly been changed to a more realistic emphasis on families, communities and traditions (now in Understanding the World).

The reason for this changed direction in PSED is because of the ever-growing field of global research that highlights the importance of this area for a child's optimum development in all other areas. The resulting emphasis on the aspects 'Self-confidence and self-awareness', 'Managing feelings and behaviour' and 'Making relationships' gives a much stronger steer to this area than the current document which is much broader, addressing as it does: dispositions and attitudes, social development and emotional development.

Effectively these changes mean that PSED has been strengthened, because by stripping out the often repetitious and sometimes unrealistic scale points of the current EYFSP, what is left are the cornerstones of self-actualisation.



The essential points for effective practice in future will be about focusing on increasing children's sense of confidence and independence, helping them to feel good about themselves and teaching them how to get along with other people. The key to these attributes lies within the domain of 'Managing feelings and behaviour'. Children who are helped to understand their feelings and who learn coping strategies to manage them can then relate to others effectively, since they are able to empathise with other people and imagine what it might be like to feel as the other child feels.

This is sophisticated stuff for five-year-olds, but there is good evidence to show that the window for developing empathy is quite narrow. There is evidence too that if children are to empathise with others, they need to have experienced relationships in which their own feelings are acknowledged and in which they are helped to recognise and label the physical sensations associated with feelings, for example 'butterflies' in the tummy.

At the same time, they need support to understand that feelings are transitory and that talking about feelings can make them more manageable.

If there is something new here, it is for practitioners to go beyond the 'top' level of acknowledging the child's feeling - to really helping the child through the feeling. This requires that the key person gives the child the time and space for the feeling to be recognised as an acceptable part of their experience, instead of something that is unacceptable and shameful.

In reality, it is what any adult who understands children does without thinking, most of the time. However, in the busy hustle and bustle of life in a group setting, it can sometimes seem quicker to deal with the behaviour than to focus on the feelings of the child who pushes another child to be first in the queue, or of the child who is upset at being pushed.

Healthy personal, social and emotional development comes from children experiencing consistent, warm, positive relationships in which adults help them to develop an understanding of their own feelings, a strong sense of identity and an awareness of and regard for the feelings of other people, as well as a sense of fairness and justice. Through this approach children learn about joining in and co-operating, because they understand why their behaviour and helping one another to feel happy are important.

Perhaps the biggest change that would help children to experience such well-being would be a greater investment of time from all of the key people in children's lives, both at home and in the EYFS setting. These key individuals should:

  • help children to talk about and understand their own feelings
  • teach them why each individual's feelings are important
  • help them understand that each person's behaviour can have a positive or negative impact on others.

If these 'lessons' were learned, many children could become more resilient and feel emotionally contained - secure in the knowledge that there is usually a way of living amicably alongside others.



Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Making relationships: children play co-operatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another's ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others' needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.

Self-confidence and self-awareness: children are confident to try new activities, and say why they like some activities more than others. They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don't need help.

Managing feelings and behaviour: children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others' behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable. They work as part of a group or class, and understand and follow the rules. They adjust their behaviour to different situations, and take changes of routine in their stride.


Personal, social and emotional development

By the end of the EYFS, children should:

Dispositions and attitudes - now in Characteristics of Effective Learning

  • Continue to be interested, excited and motivated to learn
  • Be confident to try new activities, initiate ideas and speak in a familiar group
  • Maintain attention, concentrate, and sit quietly when appropriate

Self-confidence and self-esteem - now in 'Self-confidence and self-awareness'

  • Respond to significant experiences, showing a range of feelings when appropriate
  • Have a developing awareness of their own needs, views and feelings, and be sensitive to the needs, views and feelings of others
  • Have a developing respect for their own cultures and beliefs and those of other people

Making relationships - now in 'Managing feelings and behaviour'

  • Form good relationships with adults and peers
  • Work as part of a group or class, taking turns and sharing fairly, understanding that there needs to be agreed values and codes of behaviour for groups of people, including adults and children, to work together harmoniously

Behaviour and self-control - now in 'Making relationships'

  • Understand what is right, what is wrong and why
  • Consider the consequences of their words and actions for themselves and others

Self-care - now in Physical Development

  • Dress and undress independently and manage their own personal hygiene
  • Select and use activities and resources independently

Sense of community - now in Understanding the World

  • Understand that people have different needs, views, cultures and beliefs, that need to be treated with respect
  • Understand that they can expect others to treat their needs, views, cultures and beliefs with respect


1st consultation Do you agree with the early learning goals relating to PSED? Yes (59%), No (7%), Partly (31%) and Not sure (3%)

2nd consultation Just under a third of respondents (from a total of 664) commented on the draft order, which listed Communication and Language ahead of PSED

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