Social-emotional development is a child’s ability to express their emotions effectively, follow rules and directions, form positive relationships with others, and build confidence. Many things affect social-emotional growth, such as a child’s biology, home environment, school environment, and life experiences.
To learn in a classroom, children must be able to manage their feelings, pay attention to directions, and play and work well with others. Children who learn how to do these things are more likely to
- Establish friendships with other children their age
- Develop stronger speech and problem-solving skills
- Follow rules at home and at school
- Concentrate and work through a challenge
- Have confidence to try new things
Click on the tabs below to learn by which age most children reach certain social-emotional milestones according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
BY 2 MONTHS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Begin to smile at people
- Can briefly calm themselves (may bring hands to mouth and suck on hands)
- Try to look at parents
BY 4 MONTHS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Smile spontaneously, especially at people
- Like to play with people and might cry when playing stops
- Copy some movements and facial expressions, like smiling or frowning
BY 6 MONTHS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Know familiar faces and begin to know if someone is a stranger
- Like to play with others, especially parents
- Respond to other people’s emotions and often seem happy
- Like to look at self in a mirror
BY 9 MONTHS, MOST CHILDREN...
- May be afraid of strangers
- May be clingy with familiar adults
- Have favorite toys
BY 1 YEAR, MOST CHILDREN...
- Are shy or nervous with strangers
- Cry when parents leave
- Have favorite things and people
- Show fear in some situations
- Hand books to adults when they want to hear a story
- Repeat sounds or actions to get attention
- Put out arm or leg to help with dressing
- Play call and response games such as “peek-a-boo” and interactive games like “pat-a-cake”
BY 18 MONTHS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Like to hand things to others as play
- May have temper tantrums
- May be afraid of strangers
- Show affection to familiar people
- Play simple pretend, such as feeding a doll
- May cling to caregivers in new situations
- Point to show others something interesting
- Explore alone but with parent close by
BY 2 YEARS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Copy others, especially adults and older children
- Get excited when with other children
- Show more and more independence
- Show defiant behavior (doing what he has been told not to)
- Play mainly beside other children but are beginning to include other children, such as in chase games
BY 3 YEARS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Copy adults and friends
- Show affection for friends without prompting
- Take turns in games
- Show concern for a crying friend
- Understand the idea of “mine” and “his” or “hers”
- Show a wide range of emotions
- Separate easily from mom and dad
- May get upset with major changes in routine
- Dress and undress themselves
BY 4 YEARS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Enjoy doing new things
- Play “mom” and “dad”
- Are more and more creative with make-believe play
- Would rather play with other children than alone
- Cooperate with other children
- Often cannot tell what is real and what is make-believe
- Talk about what they like and what they are interested in
BY 5 YEARS, MOST CHILDREN...
- Want to please friends
- Want to be like friends
- Are more likely to agree with rules
- Like to sing, dance, and act o Is aware of gender
- Can tell what is real and what is make-believe
- Show more independence (for example, may visit a next-door neighbor by themselves with adult supervision)
- Are sometimes demanding and sometimes very cooperative
The first five years of life have a big impact on a child’s overall social-emotional health. Here are some ways that parents/guardians and caregivers can support this area of development.
- Provide lots of playtime with other children. This helps your child practice sharing, cooperating and making new friends.
- Focus heavily on your child’s good behavior. Praising your child regularly (3 times more often than you correct mistakes) helps him or her become confident.
- Stick to a routine. A daily schedule of mealtimes, playtimes and bedtime helps your child more easily transition from one activity to the next.
- Create a visual set of rules. Make a list of 3-5 rules with pictures to hang somewhere in your home. This helps your child learn boundaries.
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