What can I expect from my child in their progression of social-emotional development? Often, adults, even parents, tend to expect our child to act in a way in which they are not yet capable. I am totally guilty of this myself as a mom. EVEN though my education included childhood developmental information, when grappling with my OWN child’s abilities, I needed regular reminders of these age-appropriate facts to keep my expectations in check, to widen my perspective and increase my ability to teach what they were currently capable of learning, and lay the foundation for future learning. It truly helped me be a lot more patient and provide better support for my children to develop the skills that will benefit them most in life.
With all other factors being equal, children typically progress emotionally and socially through these basic stages, as determined by the development of their blossoming brain (and can differ age-wise to some degree without concern). As they grow older, different areas of the brain are activated and open to new experiences at different stages during early childhood (with wide variations on an individual level). I am grateful to the research team at Kindermusik International for providing this progression of social-emotional development by age in their STAVES project.
Other factor that may affect a child’s progression through these stages may include neurodiversity (genetic differences) and experiential (living conditions and emotional connection with primary caregiver). So, pretty much, both nature and nurture contribute to WHEN a child enters the next stage, what that child is focused on practicing, and how they go through mastering these skills. I’m sure this is not a surprise to you as you read this. But all of the variants of what we should consider in what we expect of our children… is mind boggling.
“Parent” can mean any ONE person who chooses to dedicate themselves to being that child’s primary caregiver. A child’s progression is critically determined by the security and unconditional love that is experienced and felt with this one person. The more adults who choose to fill the child’s need for love and security, the better, and more diversely they can progress.
“Parent” can mean any ONE person who chooses to dedicate themselves to being that child’s primary caregiver. A child’s progression is critically determined by the security and unconditional love that is experienced and felt with this one person. So much so that longitudinal research shows relationships “which are supportive, affectionate and allow appropriate autonomy may promote good psychological functioning across life.”
Single parents, please know that you alone can give your child what they need to progress. Even just ONE person dedicated to meeting a child’s emotional needs keeps them on the right track.
AND… The more adults who CHOOSE to fill the child’s need for love and security, the better, and more diversely they can progress. This could include grandparents, relatives, or even close family friends. Socially-emotionally speaking, We are ALL better together with those who build these kind of relationships.
Social-Emotional Development: 0 – 4 months:
Emotional Neural Connections are made when Baby is secure in knowing needs will be met by a parent. Does not seek socialization outside of Parent (may be open, or anxious, with others).
- recognizes familiar faces / voices
- makes eye contact
- smiles at caregivers and laughs when tickled
- cries to communicate needs
- quiets when held / rocked
- begins to self-sooth
- reacts to interactions with music (both soothing and stimulating).
Social-Emotional Development: by 10 months:
Connections are tested for security as baby begins to recognize self as separate from parent. Socializing with others is interesting, but not necessarily sought after.
- exhibits strong attachments and may show separation anxiety
- initiates / enjoys interactions and seeks comfort from caregivers
- shows interest in own and other reflected images
- communicates own and attends to others emotions
Social-Emotional Development: by 16 months:
Child is expanding their idea of self as separate from Parent, and Desparately needs Connection & Emotional Co-regulation with parent. MORE interested in socializing with other loving adults, fascinated with those close in age and slightly older.
- gives hugs / kisses to show affection
- has outbursts, but shows some ability to calm self
- seeks assistance / encouragement from trusted adults
- develops attachment to objects / strong feelings of ownership
- engages in parallel play beside other children
Social-Emotional Development: by 25 months:
RUSH of emotional awareness. Bounces back & forth: fiercely exploring independence & NEEDS for strong connections and Co-regulation with parent. More intently interested in exploring connections and interacting outside the immediate family.
- identifies and expresses feelings
- begins to show concern for others’ feelings
- engages in parallel and cooperative play; shows preference for friends
- imitates behaviors of others
- says NO and might display defiance
Social-Emotional Development: by 36 months:
Gradually gravitates toward more independence and opportunities for social interactions outside the family, while still needing their “SAFE” person for support and unconditional love, sometimes even while interacting with others.
- identifies and expresses own preferences / abilities / characteristics
- recognizes needs of others and empathizes
- displays sense of humor
- begins to exhibit some impulse control
- engages in prolonged play with other children
Social-Emotional Development: During Age 3:
Becoming more insistent with independence and social interactions with others their age, seeks connection, validation & help from parent and other caregiver (teacher).
- exhibits strong sense of self / self-confidence
- coordinates cooperative play with other children
- begins to notice social problems and suggests solutions
- manages most emotions, seeking help for stronger feelings
- displays compassion, appreciation, and connectedness to communities
Social-Emotional Development: During Age 4:
Independence is evolving cognitively, beginning ability to generalize and problem solve in personal explorations and and social interactions, seeks connection and validation from a wider variety of people, connection with parent is critical to support this.
- displays some awareness of moral reasoning / right vs. wrong
- shows increasing ability to share, take turns, and delay gratification
- expresses feelings, needs, and opinions
- enjoys joint and imaginative play with other children
- interacts in prosocial ways with adults
- describes self as unique but also identifies group affiliation
Social-Emotional Development: During Age 5:
Confidence and resilience in their own independence grows along with their skills and positive experiences with both success and failures. Social interactions gain depth both emotionally and cognitively. Seeks parent and teacher for guidance and connection.
- shares feelings through speaking, writing, and drawing
- begins correctly interpreting others’ feelings
- develops and follows classroom rules and expectations
- shows persistence and creativity in solving problems
- recognizes own abilities / accomplishments
- recognizes and accepts differences of other cultures / ethnicities
- recognizes appropriate touch; avoids inappropriate touch
Social-Emotional Development: During Age 6:
Begins to recognize self as part of social group (both IN Family and outside of family) and how their actions affect the group dynamics. Connection with parent remains critical, regardless of their perceived interest in seeking it.
- resolves conflicts in socially acceptable ways such as talking and asking adults for help
- shows increased concern for social acceptance
- demonstrates increased determination, attention span, and pride in accomplishments
- increasingly responds to verbal reasoning
- displays empathy; comforts others
Social-Emotional Development: During Age 7:
Developing desire for a more defined sense of self (recognizing what their talents are) and for a stronger role within each social group. Connection with parent remains critical, regardless of their perceived interest in taking over that role. ; )
- decides and articulates what is fair in a given situation
- identifies and describes situations that trigger emotions
- distinguishes among intensity levels of an emotion
- shows increased interest in the perspective of others
- can role-play different perspectives
- distinguishes between nonverbal and verbal cues / messages.
You may find the following articles on Social-Emotional Development to be helpful for you and your family.
Music for Celebrating Seasons
- One Saturday each month
- Register for one or more
9:30 – Babies up to 20 months
10:30 – Mixed ages: 1 – 5 years
This could be your first Kindermusik experience to enjoy together, or… This could become an anticipated monthly family ritual.