Social Emotional Development

This development refers to a child’s capacity to:

  • Express and regulate a range of positive and negative emotions

  • Develop secure relationships with others in their environment

  • Comfortably explore their environments to learn and grow


A range of skills obtained during this development impacts a child’s:

  • Self-confidence

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Communication Skills

  • Strength with Interpersonal relationships


Social Emotional Development is important because it lays the foundation into adulthood, impacts school readiness, and impacts a child’s ability to regulate emotions throughout their life. Social emotional milestones are linked to positive childhood mental health and children who miss these milestones are at a higher risk for problems later in life.

What are Milestones?

Social emotional and developmental milestones are benchmarks to help us evaluate if children are gaining skills during expected timelines. You can track development within a child by how they play, speak, learn, and act. All children are unique and this will lead to some variation in milestone development. Outlined below are some typical social emotional milestones children will experience according to the CDC:


Birth to 12 months (Babies)

  • Begins to smile at people

  • Can briefly calm himself (may bring hands to mouth and suck on hand)

  • Likes to play with people and might cry when playing stops

  • Copies some movements and facial expressions, like smiling or frowning

  • Knows familiar faces and begins to know if someone is a stranger

  • Responds to other people’s emotions and often seems happy

  • Likes to look at self in a mirror

  • May be afraid or shy and nervous with strangers

  • May be clingy with familiar adults

  • Has favorite things and people

  • Repeats sounds or actions to get attention

  • Puts out arm or leg to help with dressing

12 to 36 months (Toddlers)

  • May have temper tantrums

  • Shows affection to familiar people

  • May cling to caregivers in new situations and be fearful of strangers

  • Explores alone but with parent close by

  • Copies others, especially adults and older children

  • Shows more and more independence

  • Shows defiant behavior (doing what he has been told not to)

  • Plays mainly beside other children, but is beginning to include other children, such as in chase games

  • Shows affection for friends and shows concern without prompting

  • Understands the idea of “mine” and “his” or “hers”

  • Shows a wide range of emotions

  • Separates easily from mom and dad

  • May get upset with major changes in routine


3 to 5 years (Preschoolers)

  • Enjoys doing new things

  • Is more and more creative with make-believe play

  • Would rather play with other children than by himself

  • Cooperates with other children

  • Talks about what she likes and what she is interested in

  • Wants to please friends and be like friends

  • More likely to agree with rules

  • Likes to sing, dance, and act

  • Shows more independence (for example, may visit a next-door neighbor by himself [adult supervision is still needed])

  • Is sometimes demanding and sometimes very cooperative


Learn more about specific developmental milestones from the CDC here.