A Guide on Social & Emotional Development in Kids

Social And Emotional Development In Children

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
View more Psychologist/Psychotherapist Our Panel of Experts

Social and emotional development of children needs to be monitored along with their physical growth. These three aspects are of equal importance in ensuring the all-round development of your child. Physical growth is largely dependent on genetics and the child’s physical structure, and there is only so much that you can control here. However, the social and emotional development forms the basic foundation of your child’s life as an adult and can be moulded to a great extent in the early stages.

What Is Social Development?

A child’s social development is gauged by the manner in which he or she interacts with the people around him. It relates to how the child develops and nurtures relationships, friendships, and also the way in which he deals with conflicts that might arise with peers. As a child develops socially, they learn to respond to various influences surrounding them and these, in turn, have an impact on the way his relationships shape up.

Why Is It Important for Kids?

It is an integral part of kids’ overall development process and has a significant impact on other aspects of their growth. Only when a child has normal social interactions with peers and adults around him on a regular basis will he be able to build up his self-esteem, not to forget improving language skills and boosting learning skills.

What Is Emotional Development?

Learning to identify emotions, understanding why they happen, and learning to manage them is what emotional development is all about. This is a process that starts when your child is an infant and lasts till he is an adult. Emotions in little children start off as physical reactions to various situations such as a racing heart when scared or fluttering in the tummy when nervous and so on. As they grow, they start to recognise these feelings, and by the time they are adults, they begin to understand the feelings of others also.

Why Is It Important for Kids?

The emotional well-being of children, as well as adults, can be ensured only when they develop the skills necessary to manage their range of emotions. As children grow, the situations that provoke emotional responses will also vary as will the strategies required to manage them. Appropriate emotional development will help them face challenges in life, such as being successful in school and in relationships.

What Factors Influence Social and Emotional Development During Early Childhood?

What Factors Influence Social and Emotional Development During Early Childhood?

Parents and caregivers are the primary influences on young children. Apart from these, there are quite a few other factors that have an impact on kids’ social and emotional development in the early years, such as:

  • Hereditary Factors – There are bound to be a certain amount of similarities between your social and emotional development and that of your child.
  • Conditioning – If your child sees you being expressive when it comes to displaying affection through hugs and kisses, it is likely that the baby will also follow suit.
  • Good Health – Children who are healthy are seen to be able to better manage their emotions, whereas those who are weak tend to be irritable and display unstable emotions.
  • Family Equations – If parents have a steady relationship and display feelings in a mature way, children tend to imbibe it. Displaying violence, over pampering the child, and not showing any affection can make the child undisciplined, obstinate, or introverted and submissive.
  • Intelligence – Children who are intelligent are found to be more emotionally stable than others.
  • Societal Influences – If the parents’ income and standing in society are stable, children tend to be more confident than those who are not financially well-off.
  • Values and Beliefs – Behaviour that might be considered appropriate or inappropriate by parents, teachers, or caregivers.
  • Individual Temperament – Each child is different, and this will, to some extent, play a decisive role in their social and emotional development.
  • Religion and Culture – The dictates of the religion, followed by your family and the cultural atmosphere where your child is raised, will play a significant role in his overall development.
  • Media Influence – The kind of books your child reads, the type of television shows he watches, or the movies he sees will all influence the way he thinks and acts.

Stages of Emotional & Social Development from Birth to 12 Years

As children grow older, their mental growth will result in emotional maturity. According to psychologists, it is the maturity level which determines kids’ emotions. The greatest development and growth occurs in your child during the ages from birth to when he first starts school. It is these first skills that will form the foundation of your child’s social and emotional development. There are different milestones to gauge the social and emotional development of children from birth to the age of 12. Here is why they assume importance:

  • It gives children a sense of self and the life that they live, making the transition into adulthood easier later on.
  • Helps develop social skills that let children function in a society and interact with members of the community in an appropriate manner.
  • Developing emotional skills, such as recognition, expression, and controlling feelings is a learning process that is quite educating.
  • Through appropriate social and emotional development, your child will be able to realise his ambitions and thus shape his future.
  • Looking at the milestones set for various phases or ages, you can assess your child’s progress and help him if required.

Emotional Development From 0 – 6 Months 

Babies are like sponges; they start learning stuff right from the minute they are born, at home and from the immediate family. In the span of 0 – 6 months, your baby can:

  • Be comforted at the sight of a familiar adult from the family.
  • Indicate happiness by smiling.
  • Respond with joy to interactions with family members.
  • Look at his or hands and suck the fingers.
  • Realise that he is an individual and different from others.
  • Likes being soothed.
  • Responds to your touch.
  • Enjoy a game of peek-a-boo.
  • Reacts with excitement or joy when you make sounds or faces.
  • Turns to look when you call out his or her name.
  • Initiates social interaction.

Emotional Development From 6 Months – 1 Year

As kids grow older, they start to show their likes and dislikes for objects and persons in their own way. Some things you might notice in your little one at this age are:

  • Their emotional range expands.
  • Can differentiate between familiar people and strangers.
  • Ability to imitate simple actions.
  • Shows frustration or anger if you take away a toy.
  • Can hold a cup and drink from it.
  • Attempts to feed himself.
  • Might display anxiety when away from you or the primary caregiver.
  • Prefers to be with people he knows.

Emotional Development From 1 – 2 Years

As kids’ emotional development improves, their self-awareness increases and they realise that they can make things happen. Other changes you might notice in your child are:

  • He becomes more assertive and even gives directions on what he wants to be done.
  • Displays pride and pleasure on achievements.
  • Can identify his reflection in the mirror.
  • Takes lead during playtime.
  • Imitates elders.
  • Is more into independent play.
  • Likes to help you.
  • Puts away playthings when done.
  • Is more prone to displays of anger and frustration.

Emotional Development From 2 – 3 Years

At this age, kids’ confidence is sure to have increased significantly. Children at this age tend to be creative and love exploring. Some other milestones you might notice in your munchkin at this age are:

  • Likely to improve on his self-help skills.
  • Understand the notions of good, bad, etc.
  • Develops awareness of feelings he has and that of others.
  • Identifies as a girl or a boy.
  • Attempts to dress and undress on his own.
  • Indicates preferences in food, dress, games, and toys.
  • Likes the company of other children and wants to play with them.
  • Might have mood swings regularly.
  • Learns to say ‘no’ when asked to do something.

Emotional Development From 3 – 4 Years

Your toddler becomes increasingly independent during this time, and this also boosts his self-confidence levels significantly. In this phase, your child is likely to be able to:

  • Follow instructions.
  • Do quite a few tasks independently, such as washing hands or dressing.
  • Share toys with other children.
  • Come up with game ideas on his own.
  • Roleplay and pretend play become a favourite.
  • Use words to express anger or frustration rather than venting in a physical manner, such as hitting or throwing stuff around.
  • Knows his limits and will not hesitate to seek help from you or others if required.

Emotional Development From 4 – 6 Years

This is the age when your child’s social and emotional skills will scale new heights as he starts spending more time with children of his age. There is an increase in physical activity, and thus, motor skills and reasoning skills are honed better. Your child is also likely to:

  • Understand the difference between good and bad behaviour.
  • Make new friends.
  • Strive to be more like their friends and aims to please them.
  • Become a bully or fall victim to bullying.
  • Come up with comparisons between himself and others.
  • Interested in competitive games or activities.
  • Aim to be the leader of the group of friends.
  • Follows instructions correctly and willingly cooperates with others.
  • Develops an interest in creative drawing.
  • Attempts to understand the feelings of others.

Emotional Development From 7 – 12 Years

This is an age when your child spends a great part of the day in school and with friends. He picks up quite a few new skills and is likely to have emotional outbursts on a regular basis. Milestones are:

  • Developing the ability to stick to the rules.
  • Blending in with others of the same age group.
  • Involved in games that are well-structured and have rules.
  • Doesn’t hesitate to take the initiative in taking up new activities.
  • Ability to create teams.
  • A growing interest in various academic subjects like mathematics, science, etc.
  • Disciplined self-learning.
  • Willing to take on new responsibilities and feels proud to be chosen for it.

Enhancing Social and Emotional Skills in Kids

Each child is unique and is likely to have a different timeline for meeting various emotional and social milestones. Here are some ways in which you can help enhance your child’s skills without putting pressure on him:

  • Act as a guide by helping your child turn difficulties into opportunities for learning.
  • Be generous with praise for a task well done and ensure that you provide accurate feedback every time.
  • Do not shy away from talking about your feelings and encourage your child to open up too.
  • Make yourself a role model worth emulating by managing your emotions and apologising for times when you lose control.
  • Do not shout or yell at people, or become physically violent as this can have a significant adverse impact on your child’s mind.
  • Set a limit on the inappropriate expression of emotions that your child is likely to display. Make it clear that it is alright to have various emotions and feelings, but aggressive or unsafe behaviour or actions will not be tolerated.
  • Use every possible opportunity to talk to your children about emotions and teach them how to manage them.
  • Learn to identify the emotions going through your child by familiarising yourself with their body language and behaviour closely.
  • Create opportunities for your child to interact with other children and in various settings. You can do this by taking your child to public places like the park and library.
  • If you have a child who gets very emotional or jealous, try talking to your child about why this happens.
  • You can also teach your child how he can prevent emotional outbreaks in public by various techniques, such as breathing or counting to ten, etc.
  • Give your child the freedom to make decisions in simple daily matters such as the outfit he wants to wear or the game he wishes to play, etc.
  • Enabling children by giving them power over some aspects of their lives helps build their self-confidence.
  • At the same time, it is essential to have some rules in place and the consequences your child will have to bear when the rules are broken.

Points to Keep in Mind

The guidance you provide for emotional and social development during childhood should be in accordance with your child’s age and level of development. Starting off with social and emotional developmental activities for toddlers can ensure that you turn your child into a patient adult who is skilled at problem-solving and believes in cooperation.

  • You should act in coordination with your child’s teachers and any other caregivers towards this goal. This kind of collaboration can benefit your child to a large extent.
  • By staying tuned to your child’s behaviour and needs, you can identify if there is any kind of late childhood social development that your child is experiencing. If he lacks any specific social or emotional skills, you can help him gain them as he grows.
  • Helping your child understand and manage his internal emotions is what emotional development is all about. External elements, such as interactions with family, friends, and peers, make up the social aspect.
  • Social and emotional development in early childhood starts off with simple things like sharing toys or making new friends and continues up to the end of the teenage years.
  • Always emphasise the need for empathy and boost your child’s emotional intelligence by putting him in someone else’s shoes.
  • Stick to routines and some type of structure at home to help your child feel secure.

By learning to appreciate the strengths and efforts pf his own and also those of others, your child becomes emotionally resilient and can better manage the disappointments and frustrations he will encounter.

Points to Keep in Mind

The social and emotional development of a child is a long drawn out process which is also quite complicated. Being a parent puts you in a position to steer your child towards healthy relationships and positive interactions with people around him. This is essential in helping your child to develop good self-esteem along with strong communication skills. Let your child know that you love and support him no matter what; it will boost his morale like nothing else. And if at any point you suspect that your child is not able to develop as he should at a particular age, do not hesitate to seek the opinion of a qualified professional. Getting necessary help at the right time can make a world of difference to your child as an adult.

Disclaimer: This information is just a guide and not a substitute for medical advice from a qualified professional.

Also Read: Stages of Child Development

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