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Positive Relationships:
Early Years Foundation Stage

Positive Relationships...

In the Early Years Foundation Stage, children learn to be strong and independent from a base of loving and secure relationships with parents and/or a key person.

Positive Relationships

2.1 Respecting Each Other
2.2 Parents as Partners
2.3 Supporting Learning
2.4 Key Person

2.1 Respecting Each Other

Understanding feelings

  • At times we all experience strong emotions as we deal with difficult or stressful events.
  • Adults and children experience a wide range of feelings. Children gradually learn to understand and manage their feelings with support from the adults around them.
  • Recognising their own feelings helps everyone to understand other people's feelings and to become more caring towards others.
  • When each person is valued for who they are and differences are appreciated, everyone feels included and understood, whatever their personality, abilities, ethnic background or culture.


  • Friendships and relationships are an important part of children's development from birth.
  • As children develop socially they begin to choose best friends and show preferences for the children they wish to play with.
  • While friendships and relationships are a source of fun, they also offer children the chance to give and receive practical help and emotional support.
  • Remember that making friends is not easy for all children, particularly those who are shy or who find it difficult to cooperate with others.

Professional relationships

  • If you value and respect yourself, you will do the same to others.
  • Professional relationships focus on respecting and valuing the strengths, skills and knowledge of the people you work with and recognising the contribution made by everyone in your setting.
  • There should be open communication to ensure that everyone's views are listened to and considered fairly, always keeping the needs of the children firmly in mind.
  • Professional relationships are based on friendliness towards parents, but not necessarily friendship with parents.

Effective practice

  • Make time to listen to parents to learn about their feelings and identify any concerns.
  • Be aware that many factors will influence children's and families' sociability. They may be tired, stressed or trying to communicate in more than one language.
  • Help children who find it difficult to get on with others by showing them how to play and be friendly with other children.
  • Recognise the strengths of professional relationships in creating an approach that best meets the needs of individual children.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Having strong feelings about an issue which may be a barrier to supporting a child or their family if they encounter a similar event or experience.
  • Having strong relationships in the team which make other team members feel excluded or inadequate so they stop speaking up.
  • Maintaining a professional distance from parents while working closely in partnership with them.

Reflecting on practice

How does the setting support mutual respect between the following:
  • individual staff members or teams;
  • staff members and parents;
  • staff members and children;
  • parents and children;
  • children and children;
  • diverse groups?

2.2 Parents as Partners

Respecting diversity

  • All families are important and should be welcomed and valued in all settings.
  • Families are all different. Children may live with one or both parents, with other relatives or carers, with same sex parents or in an extended family.
  • Families may speak more than one language at home; they may be travellers, refugees or asylum seekers.
  • All practitioners will benefit from professional development in diversity, equality and anti-discriminatory practice whatever the ethnic, cultural or social make-up of the setting.


  • A welcoming atmosphere with approachable staff helps to create effective communication.
  • Effective communication means there is a two-way flow of information, knowledge and expertise between parents and practitioners.
  • All communication is important, including gesture, signing and body language. Actions can speak louder than words.
  • Posters, pictures and other resources on display will show the setting's positive attitudes to disability, and to ethnic, cultural and social diversity. They will help children and families to recognise that they are valued.

Learning together

  • Parents and practitioners have a lot to learn from each other. This can help them to support and extend children's learning and development.
  • Parents should review their children's progress regularly and contribute to their child's learning and development record.
  • Parents can be helped to understand more about learning and teaching through workshops on important areas such as play, outdoor learning or early reading. Some parents may go on to access further education at their own level.
  • In true partnership, parents understand and contribute to the policies in the setting.

Effective practice

  • Display lists of words from home languages used by children in the setting and invite parents and practitioners to contribute to them. Seeing their languages reflected in this way will encourage parents to feel involved and valued.
  • Find out from parents the greetings they use either in English or in other languages. Encourage staff, parents and children to use the greetings.
  • Make sure that everyone who enters the setting receives a friendly welcome.
  • Talk with parents about their children's progress and development, providing appropriate support for those who do not speak or understand English.
  • Ask parents for their views on the care and education you provide.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • How to get fathers involved. Think about planning events that are just for men. Some men may feel more comfortable knowing that other men will be there.
  • How to communicate with parents who are working or simply very busy. Ask them to let you know their preferred time and method of contact, and be flexible! This might mean getting in touch by letter, telephone, email, or by a message sent through a friend, relation or childminder.

Reflecting on practice

  • How do you open up opportunities for informal talk with parents?
  • How do you know parents understand the setting's policies on important areas such as learning and teaching, inclusion and behaviour? Have they been involved in drawing them up?
  • Do parents contribute to children's profiles? Do they regularly review their children's progress with you?
  • Do you really listen to and value what parents say?
  • Do you provide workshops and other sessions?
  • Do you run family learning courses or other opportunities for parents to access learning and continue to college and elsewhere if appropriate?
  • Does the documentation provided for parents in your setting explicitly recognise and value the hard job in which they are engaged and their role in children's learning and development?

2.3 Supporting Learning

Positive interactions

Effective practitioners work in the following ways.
  • They build respectful and caring relationships with all children and families while focusing on learning and achievement.
  • They observe children sensitively and respond appropriately to encourage and extend curiosity and learning.
  • By observing and listening they discover what children like to do, and when they feel confident, scared or frustrated.
  • They are able to tune in to, rather than talk at, children, taking their lead and direction from what the children say or do.

Listening to children

  • Babies, very young children and those with speech or other developmental delay or disability may not say anything verbally, though they may communicate a great deal in other ways.
  • Photographs of activities or a picture exchange system help children to record their likes and dislikes.
  • Talking with children may take place in English or in their home language, in signing or through body language and gesture.
  • Whatever form of communication is used, children need space and time to respond and to know that the practitioner is giving full attention and encouragement to their thinking.

Effective teaching

  • Teaching means systematically helping children to learn so that they make connections in their learning, are actively led forward, and can reflect on their learning.
  • The more practitioners know about each child, the better they are able to support and extend each child's learning.
  • Children need and will respond positively to challenges if they have a good relationship with the practitioner and feel confident to try things out. They shouldn't fear failure or ridicule.
  • Practitioners who really know the children are able to judge when they are ready to be taught new skills.

Effective practice

  • Motivate children to concentrate and to try several ways to make something work rather than giving up. Use encouraging, friendly and lively approaches to support children and increase their motivation.
  • Model active listening when listening to children; when supporting a child who is being called names or harassed; when taking turns in the conversation; and when showing respect for what a child has to say.
  • Help children build on prior learning by pitching activities, such as a play or a story, at a level that is demanding but still within the children's reach.
  • Model being a learner as you work with children. For example, “I am going to have to think hard about how to help my son get into our house because he has forgotten his key and nobody will be there to let him in the door. Can anyone help me think what I can do?”.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Making time to really listen to children's views and to act on them even when they do not match adults' views!
  • Putting into practice a written policy of listening to children who are non-verbal, or who use alternative communication systems or are learning English as an additional language, when time and resources are under pressure.
  • Identifying just the right moment to intervene and move children's learning on, by perhaps joining in or asking a question.

Reflecting on practice

Think about the children with whom you work.
  • Do they know that you are genuinely pleased to see them all each day?
  • Are there some children it is harder to get to know and build positive relationships with? What could you do to ensure that you get to know them better?

Set up a tape recorder when you are involved in a small group activity.

  • Who does the most talking and what sort of talk is it?
  • What messages does this give the children?
  • What are the messages for your practice?

2.4 Key Person

Secure attachment

  • A key person helps the baby or child to become familiar with the setting and to feel confident and safe within it.
  • A key person develops a genuine bond with children and offers a settled, close relationship.
  • When children feel happy and secure in this way they are confident to explore and to try out new things.
  • Even when children are older and can hold special people in mind for longer there is still a need for them to have a key person to depend on in the setting, such as their teacher or a teaching assistant.

Shared care

  • A key person meets the needs of each child in their care and responds sensitively to their feelings, ideas and behaviour.
  • A key person talks to parents to make sure that the child is being cared for appropriately for each family.
  • A close emotional relationship with a key person in the setting does not undermine children's ties with their own parents.
  • Careful records of the child's development and progress are created and shared by parents, the child, the key person and other professionals as necessary.


  • Babies and children become independent by being able to depend upon adults for reassurance and comfort.
  • Children's independence is most obvious when they feel confident and self-assured, such as when they are in their own home with family, or with friends and familiar carers such as a key person.
  • Babies and children are likely to be much less independent when they are in new situations, such as a new group or when they feel unwell or anxious.

Effective practice

  • Ensure that rotas are based on when a key person is available for each child.
  • Provide a second key person for children so that when the main key person is away there is a familiar and trusted person who knows the child well.
  • Plan time for each key person to work with parents so that they really know and understand the children in their key group.
  • As children move groups or settings, help them to become familiar with their new key person.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Reassuring others that children will not become too dependent on a key person or find it difficult to adjust to being a member of a group.
  • Meeting children's needs for a key person while being concerned for staff who may feel over-attached to a child.
  • Reassuring parents who may be concerned that children may be more attached to staff than to them.
  • Supporting children's transitions within and beyond a setting, particularly as children reach four or five years of age.

Reflecting on practice

Imagine what your setting seems like to a parent and their child when they first arrive. It may seem busy, friendly, noisy, lively, exciting and fun to you.
  • How might it seem to an anxious parent and their young child of 18 months who has just experienced a violent family break-up?
  • How might it seem to a five-year-old who has been living in one room with a parent who is depressed and makes little conversation?

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