Social and emotional development involves a child’s ability to identify, express, and manage emotions. During social and emotional development, children learn and master the ability to recognize and understand feelings, to correctly respond to other people’s emotions, handle strong emotions, and learn emotional control.
Social and emotional development also includes the ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with others and to develop the skills of empathy, impulse control, and social understanding.
Having the knowledge of your child’s social and emotional developmental milestones will enable you to nurture your child’s growth and to help them reach their development potentials. Besides, early detection of potential developmental delays in this aspect of your child’s development will help you to act early and address possible issues on time.
Social-Emotional Development Milestones 0 – 4 Months
Short after her birth, you will notice that your baby is beginning to smile at people. Your two-month-old baby will probably try to look for your face and smile spontaneously. He will manage to calm himself briefly when upset. You may notice that he brings his hands to his mouth and sucks on his hands – these are self-soothing reactions. Your four-month-old infant likes playing with people, and she is able to copy some of your movements and facial expressions like frowning and smiling.
To sum up, here are some of the signs that your infant 0-4 months old has reached his social-emotional milestones:
Moves his head to the sound of voices
Smiles and laughs
Preoccupied with faces
Makes eye contact when close to an adult
Begins to bond
Cries when hungry or uncomfortable
Stops crying when held
Social-Emotional Development Milestones 4 – 8 Months
At six months of age, typically developing babies can recognize familiar faces and distinguish them from strangers. Your baby smiles spontaneously to family members, but can be shy in front of strangers, or even afraid of them.
She will show great satisfaction when you play with her and may cry when you stop playing or leave the room. You will notice that your baby now properly responds to other people’s emotions and seems overall happy. If you give your infant a mirror, you will see that she enjoys looking at her reflection in it.
An infant 4-8 months old has reached her milestones if:
She responds to her own name
Reacts with attention to the presence of another young child
Recognizes familiar people
Stretches arms to be picked up
May soothe herself when upset
Begins to fear strangers
Cries when you leave parents to leave the room
Happy to see familiar faces
Social-Emotional Development Milestones 8 – 12 Months
Around the age of nine months, you may notice that your child shows a preference for some of his toys and pleasure when he is playing with them. Around his first birthday, your child will most likely be shy or nervous in the presence of strangers. He will also cry when parents leave.
One-year-old children love playing games such as peek-a-boo, hide and seek, and pretend games. They often repeat sounds or actions to get the adults’ attention.
Signs that an 8-12 months old baby has reached his milestones:
Actively plays and explores when a parent is present
Actively seeks to be close to a parent or a caregiver
Shows signs of anxiety if parents leave the room
Shows anxiety and wariness at the presence of unfamiliar people
Delays in Social and Emotional Development
It is not always easy to spot social and emotional development delays in young children. However, there are some red flags that suggest possible delays. For example, if your baby doesn’t smile at people or show affection for you and other caregivers, this may be a sign that your infant lags in the domain of social and emotional development.
Also, if your six-month-old doesn’t laugh or make squealing sounds, doesn’t respond to his own name, fails to look where you point, or doesn’t seem to recognize familiar people, bring this to your health provider’s attention.
Keep an eye out if your 12-months old child doesn’t respond to other people’s emotions, doesn’t show interest in toys and books, and doesn’t engage in any games that involve back-and-forth play. Bring this up to your doctor at the first-year checkup.
The Importance of Early Relationships
Research shows that a warm, responsive interaction between a child and his/her caregiver is critical for healthy development in the early years and the most important factor for a young child’s well-being.
Your baby’s brain is designed to gather information on the environment through experiences. A young child develops and grows through talk, sight, smell, and touch – every new experience creates new connections in your infant’s brain. This shows the importance of regular stimulation and intimacy between a child and parents for normal development.
Engaging with young children encourages them to use most of their brain. This, in turn, helps build new neural connections. In other words, the baby needs to be emotionally attuned to the person who cares for her in order to successfully learn and grow – simple learning doesn’t count without the intimacy and positive attachment between you and your child.
Make sure to encourage the learning environment in which your child will feel safe, supported, and motivated to learn and explore. Such an environment enables children to develop and reach their milestones.
Also, your infant will begin to develop trust when you begin to fulfill her needs, whether it is feeding her when she is hungry or holding her when she is upset. Your child’s social and emotional development will increase as she becomes more aware of other people that are around her and starts bonding with them.
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About the author:
Natasha is a psychologist with over sixteen years of experience in psychology-related research and practice. She was awarded a Certificate of Youth Counselling by USAID and was graduated with a bachelor degree in Psychology at University of Novi Sad, Serbia.