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Social and Emotional Development:
From Birth to 7 Years

This page presents an overview of ages and stages of social and emotional development of children from birth to 7 years.
social and emotional development
Social development is the growth of a child's ability to relate to others and become independent.

Emotional development is the growth of a child's ability to feel and express an increasing range of emotions appropriately.

At Birth
Babies begin to learn as soon as they are born, but at this stage their behaviour and communication with adults are limited. Babies cry to make their needs known and are peaceful when those needs are met.

Social and Emotional Development

At this stage babies...

  • depend on parents/carers
  • sleep a lot
  • likes to be undisturbed
  • have rooting, sucking and swallowing reflexes
  • cry when hungry, unattended to or in pain
  • startle to noise, and turn to light, providing it is not too bright.

1 Month
At this stage babies smile spontaneously, but they begin to smile in happenings outside themselves from 4-8 weeks. They learn to smile to your voice and face and are also attracted to the movement of your face.

Social and Emotional Development

At this stage babies...

  • cry for their needs to be attended to
  • will turn to mother's breast
  • briefly looks at a face
  • sleeps most of the time when not being handled or fed
  • grasp a finger if the hand is opened and the palm is touched
  • will quieten or smile in response to your voice.

2 Months
From 2 months babies have less primitive reactions and gradually learn a range of responses and behaviour. These are the results of both physical maturation and the beginning to explore the environment.

At this stage the baby is capable of having 'conversations' with the carer. These are a mixture of gestures and noises, but follow the pattern of a conversation in that one person is quiet while the other speaks.

Social and Emotional Development

At this stage babies...

  • explore using their five senses
  • sleep less during the day and more during the night
  • stop crying when they are picked up
  • differentiate between objects, and begin to tell one face from another
  • follow your face when it moves
  • smile and become more responsive to others.

3 Months
At this stage babies take a lot of interest in their environment. Physical maturation continues rapidly.

When they hear different sound babies turn their heads in response to see what people are doing. They are rapidly beginning to learn new social skills from the people around them.

Social and Emotional Development

Around this stage babies...

  • use sounds to interact socially and reach out to human face
  • respond to friendly handling and smile at most people
  • become more oriented to their mother and other carers
  • looks at mother's or carer's face when feeding
  • are able to show an increasingly wide range of feelings and responses including pleasure, fear, excitement, unhappiness and contentment
  • have some awareness of the feelings and emotions of others
  • begin to connect what they hear with what they see.

6 Months
Development at this stage is very rapid. Babies are awake for much longer periods by 6 months. Babies laugh, show excitement and delight and will also show likes and dislikes.

Social and Emotional Development

Around this age infants...

  • reach out for familiar people and show a desire to be picked up and held
  • begin to be more reserved with, or afraid of, strangers
  • show a marked preference for their main carer(s)
  • like to play peek-a-boo
  • smile at their own image in a mirror
  • become more aware of themselves in relation to other people and things
  • look at their hands and feet with interest
  • stop crying when communicated with.

9 Months
By this age, infants will have formed strong attachments with their main carer(s). They will also usually have begun to move around independently.

They take pleasure in playing with their carers and learn a great deal from this interaction.

Social and Emotional Development

Around this age infants...

  • show fear of strangers and need reassurance when in their company, often clinging to the known adult and hiding their face in them
  • play peek-a-boo, copy hand clapping and pat a mirror image
  • clearly distinguish familiar people and show a marked preference for them
  • cry for attention to their needs, but also they use their voice to attract people to themselves
  • put hands around a cup or bottle when feeding
  • show pleasure and interest at familiar words
  • understand 'No'
  • begin to respond to their own name.

12 Months
By this stage, most children have started to stand independently and possibly have begun to walk. They can pick up small objects and to explore their environment around them.

Social and Emotional Development

By this age infants...

  • can distinguish between different members of the family and act socially with them
  • will wave goodbye
  • like to be within sight and hearing of a familiar adult
  • show rage when thwarted
  • know their own name
  • will obey simple instructions
  • may be shy with strangers
  • copy actions and sounds of adults or children.

15 Months
At this stage toddlers use their main carer as a safe base from which to explore the world. They are anxious and apprehensive about being physically separated from them, and tend to be very much 'under the feet' of their carers.

They are very curious about their environment and their exploration of it can lead to conflicts with their carers.

Social and Emotional Development

By this stage children...

  • begin to distinguish between 'you' and 'me', but do not understand that others are individuals just like themselves
  • can point to members of the family
  • tend to show off
  • have a sense of 'me' and 'mine' and begin to express themselves
  • throw toys when angry
  • show interest in other children
  • show jealously of the attention given by adults to other children
  • have an interest in strangers, but can be fearful or wary of them
  • are emotionally changeable and unstable
  • hold a cup and drink without assistance
  • help with dressing and undressing.

18 Months
Children are very egocentric at this stage. They are often defiant and resistant at this stage. They have only recently discovered themselves as separate individuals.

Their defiant behaviour can be seen as an attempt to protect themselves and their individuality.

Social and Emotional Development

At this s stage children...

  • show intense curiosity
  • tend to follow their carer around, be sociable and imitate them by helping with small household tasks
  • are trying to establish themselves as members of a social group
  • imitate and mimic others during their play
  • show some social emotions, for example sympathy for someone who is hurt
  • cannot tolerate frustration
  • have intense mood swings, from dependence to independence, eagerness to irritation, co-operation to resistance
  • are still dependent on familiar carer and also often return to a fear of strangers.

2 Years
Children at this stage are capable of a wide range of feelings and able to empathise with the feelings of those close to them. For example if their carer is upset, they are capable of trying to comfort them.

They are able to use symbols in language and these newly acquired linguistic skills enable children to achieve new levels of social development.

Social and Emotional Development

At this stage children...

  • will try to be independent
  • will ask for food
  • demand their carer's attention and want their needs to be met immediately they make demands
  • sometimes have tantrums if crossed or frustrated
  • are capable of being loving and responsive
  • can point to parts of the body and other features when asked
  • are possessive of their own toys and objects, and have little idea of sharing
  • tend to play parallel to other children, engage in role play, but are beginning to play interactive games
  • join in when an adult sings or tells a simple story.

3 Years
Children are usually happier at this stage of their development and are more contented than during their previous years. They have gained a certain amount of physical and emotional control.

This can lead to more settled feelings and more balance in the way they express them. They are generally friendly and helpful in their manner to others.

Social and Emotional Development

At this stage children...

  • can wait for their needs to be met
  • can feel secure when in a strange place away from their main carers
  • are less rebellious and use language rather then physical outbursts to express themselves
  • enjoy make-believe play both alone and with other children
  • have an ability to share things and to take turns
  • can show affection to younger siblings
  • want the approval of loved adults
  • project their own experiences onto dolls and toys
  • may have imaginary fears and anxieties.

4 Years
At this stage children are constantly trying to understand and make sense of their experiences and of the world around them.

Social and Emotional Development

By this age children...

  • may have one particular friend
  • are capable of being very sociable
  • play with groups of children
  • can take turns but are not consistent about this
  • are developing a strong sense of past and future
  • are able to cope with delay in having their needs met
  • can be confident and self-assured
  • may be afraid of the dark and have other fears
  • turn to adults for comfort when overtired, ill or hurt.

5 Years
At this age children achieve a level of balance, self-containment and independence. They are usually friendly, willing to talk to anyone, and are able to be polite.

Social and Emotional Development

By this age children...

  • want approval of adults
  • prefer games of rivalry to team games
  • enjoy brief separations from home and carers
  • show good overall control of emotions
  • show a desire to excel, and can be purposeful and persistent
  • boast and show off
  • enjoy co-operative group play, but often need an adult to arbitrate
  • still respond to discipline based on bargaining
  • are developing a sense of shame
  • argue with parents when they request something.

6-7 Years
At this stage children grow steadily more independent and are sociable. They are generally self-confident and friendly; they are able to co-operate in quite sophisticated ways with adults and children.

Their peer group becomes increasingly significant to them.

Social and Emotional Development

At 6 years children...

  • may have spells of being rebellious and aggressive
  • are often irritable and possessive about their own things.

At 7 years children...

  • are more aware of gender characteristics
  • may be so enthusiastic for life that carers have to guard against them becoming overtired
  • become very self-critical about their work
  • may be miserable and sulky, and give up trying for short periods.

Click here to learn more about Young Children's Personal, Social and Emotional Development


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