Social Emotional Development: Supporting children ages zero to three

Supporting Social Emotional Development

It is amazing how much children grow and learn in their first five years! Parents and caretakers may feel at times that they’re looking at and caring for a new little person every day! This is because your child is developing at an incredible rate- mentally, physically, and emotionally- gaining greater cognitive, language, physical and social emotional skills. Together these specified areas of knowledge or activity help your child gain independence.

What is Social Emotional Development?

Social emotional development is the progress made by a child to manage their emotions and handle social interactions. High-quality interpersonal relationships are a vital part of this area of development. It is through relationships with parents, caretakers, and peers that children learn how to identify and regulate emotions. Relationships also teach children empathy, impulse control, and where they fit into and how to interact with the world.

The following information was provided by Lauren Olivas, a Cal State San Bernardino Masters in Child Development student.

Social-emotional development for infants and babies

Social-emotional development can be involved in everything you do with your baby; everyday interactions support their needs and growth! Here are some examples of how your baby may demonstrate their growth:

  • Beginning to smile at people
  • Starting to self-soothe, or calm themselves when upset
  • Looking at or trying to look at familiar faces
  • Enjoying their interactions with people, and possibly crying when interactions stop

Activities to support babies:

  • Cuddling, talking, and playing every day, especially during routines such as feeding and diapering
  • Letting your baby suck on their fingers, a self-soothing strategy
  • Learning to understand your baby’s likes and dislikes so that both parent and child feels comfortable and confident
  • Placing a baby-safe mirror in their crib so they can see themselves
  • Staying close so that as your baby begins to move and explore they know you’re close
  • Playing games that involve taking turns
  • Establishing and implementing routines
  • Naming your baby’s emotions and talking to them about what they’re feeling and why

Social-emotional development in toddlers

As with your baby, daily interaction with your toddler will support their development. Some ways toddlers may illustrate their social-emotional skills include:

  • Being able to recognize and distinguish familiar people from unfamiliar people
  • Enjoying looking at themselves in the mirror
  • Being clingy with familiar adults and actively afraid of strangers
  • Showing a preference for certain toys, having favorites
  • Starting to show more extreme emotions, such as having tantrums, and engaging in defiant behavior
  • Becoming more independent
  • Starting to explore on their own while ensuring parents are close by

 Activities to support toddlers:

  • Allowing your child time and space to get to know new caretakers; bring a favorite toy or blanket to help
  • Give lots of hugs, kisses, and praise for desirable behavior
  • Provide a safe and loving environment with as much consistency as possible
  • Praise your child and redirect them more often than punishing them
  • Encourage pretend play
  • Encourage empathy
  • Actively and frequently use words to describe feelings and emotions
  • Encourage them to help with household chores and praise them for being a good helper
  • During play dates, give children lots of toys to choose from; keep an eye out for any disagreement, and intervene using guidance versus punishment

Last month we covered cognitive development and language development is up next, stay tuned!

Other important resources:

  • If you are interested in more ways to support your child, Vroom is an excellent source, and free app, to help turn every day moments into skills-building moments. Learn how to simply integrate five actions scientifically proven to grow your child’s brain: take turns, follow, look, chat, and stretch.
  • For social-emotional development in the classroom, deep dive into the California Infant/Toddler Learning and Development Foundations, an in-depth, research and evidence backed explanation how to build high-quality classrooms.
  • Finally, if you have questions of concerns about your child’s development or behavior, check out Help Me Grow Inland Empire for developmental screening information.
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