Strategies for Building Affiliation

Affiliation is a child’s ability to join and contribute to a group. Affiliation stems from the emotional bonds of attachment we form in our earliest years. When children feel included, connected, and valued, they can be more engaged in their social environment. This is not a skill children innately possess; rather, it requires that they have formed attachments and have established at least some basic self-regulation skills. While you continue to focus on strengthening your relationship with children, you can focus on these key areas to support children’s development of affiliation:


  • Belonging to different groups (i.e. family, foster/resource family, friends, class, gender group, sports teams)
  • Friendship
  • Waiting, taking turns, and sharing
  • Conflict resolution
  • Play skills


For children who have stressful relationships within their family system, it is important to find those trusted individuals in children’s lives. Include families, extended families, friends, and neighbors in the process. Here are some activities that can promote belonging.

  • Create a family wall or invite families to create family banners: inviting them to provide family photos (for foster families: provide photos of themselves if photos of the child are prohibited). Or create collages of family and culturally specific images that children can relate to. Display these in the environment at the child’s eye level.
  • All About Us/Me Books: Create books together by having children dictate answers to questions and then illustrating or adding photos related to their answers. Read these books during story times and make them available for children to independently access. Focus questions can be:
    • Who lives in your house?
    • Who are the people that care for you?
    • What is your favorite food?
    • What is your favorite thing to play?
  • Morning meetings/circle time: This is an opportunity to establish and maintain group rituals that promote belonging such as
    • “Good morning to you” song to the tune of happy birthday. “Good morning to you. Good morning to you. Good morning dear (child’s name), good morning to you.”
    • The We Wish You Well routine: Song by Becky Bailey to the tune of Farmer in the Dell. “We wish you well, we wish you well. All through the day today, we wish you well” have children write or draw a note for each person who is absent and put it in their cubby.
  • Transition objects: Special objects from home like blankets, special dolls, a piece of significant adult’s clothing, or picture of a trusted adult. These objects can provide a child with comfort and remind them that they belong. In the same way, you can provide transition objects from your care environment that they can take home and be reminded of their belonging to their group at school/daycare. Be prepared to determine a set of rules that work for your program to keep transition objects protected and to a minimum.

Support Friendship

As children develop, their play naturally evolves. Take note of the level of play children independently engage in (solo, adult-child, parallel -side by side with a peer or peers, small group, and large group). It is important to always invite children to join in group play but never force them to engage in a pay level that they are not yet ready for.  You can support children’s development of friendship by engaging in the following:

  • Verbally recognize friendly behavior.
  • Identify with children what they have in common.
  • Identify and celebrate what makes them unique.
  • Specify the number of children allowed in different play spaces. You can do this by creating visual borders or signs that designate the number of children allowed. Children can even be taught to “check-in” and “out” of these spaces with their name or picture.
  • Family-style meals: Sitting together around a table and offering opportunities for self-serving.
  • Assign daily or weekly jobs for individuals and buddies.
  • Read-aloud and provide access to books about friendship.
  • Model friendly actions and words while engaging children in play.


As children develop relationships with each other you can help them develop key social skills that will serve to promote success in other environments as they grow. Teaching children to wait, take turns, share, resolve conflict, and play collaboratively reinforces their sense of affiliation. The following strategies can promote growth in those social skills.

  • Directly teaching problem solver strategies for resolving conflict (problem solver curriculum available through the SEED program at TCSOS and ICES).
  • Provide visual and/or auditory timers.
  • Read-aloud and provide access to books about targeted social skills.
  • Model the skills you want children to learn.
  • Create waiting lists for preferred activities.
  • Provide children with turn-taking scripts.
  • Use trays and other visual barriers (craft trays, carpet squares, colorful tape, hula hoops) to designate personal space.
  • ‘My turn, your turn’ games.

Contact ICES for access to resources and materials for teaching social skills.

Bilmes, J. (2012). Beyond behavior management: the six life skills children need. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Williams, C., Kurtz, J., Juarez, A., & Benitez, D. (2019). Module One: Instructor Guide. In Understanding Trauma and Strategies to Promote Healing. San Francisco, CA: California Child Care Resource & Referral Network.

Perry, Bruce. Six Core Strengths for Healthy Child Development. 2002,

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