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Everything you need to know about social-emotional milestones

Everything you need to know about social-emotional milestones

The early years of a child’s life are a period of incredible growth. Children don’t just grow physically but also emotionally and socially. Social-emotional development is the ability of the child to understand, express and manage their emotions and form positive relationships with others. 

Is your child reaching their social-emotional milestones?

Throughout the first five years of a child’s life, there are certain social-emotional development milestones that children hit at every age. These milestones are greatly affected by the environment the child grows up in, their own experiences and their opportunities therefore they are not universal milestones nor do they apply to every single child. 

Children who have experienced trauma, are autistic or have any kind of special educational need, might not meet these milestones at the same age as most children. So instead of focusing on their age, try to focus on the characteristics of the milestone they’re at and how to help them grow from there.

Social-emotional development milestone:

  • By 2 months, most children:

    Show feelings by crying or smiling
    Begin to smile at people other than their parents
    Start to follow their parents with their eyes
    Can self-soothe by sucking on their hands or fingers

  • By 4 months, most children:

    Smile spontaneously at people
    Enjoy playing and might cry when it stops
    Imitate expressions like smiling and frowning
    Show excitement by waving their arms and legs

  • By 6 months, most children:

    Make sounds to express happiness or displeasure
    Can recognise faces and tell if someone’s a stranger
    Respond to other people’s emotions by smiling, laughing or crying
    Like to look at themselves in the mirror

  • By 9 months, most children:

    Can be clingy to their parents & cry when they leave
    Get attached to certain toys
    Show anxiety when strangers are present
    Can respond to their name

  • By 1 year, most children:

    Show clear favouritism among the people they know
    Can show fear or anxiety around new people or places
    Can repeat sounds or actions to get attention
    Enjoy games like ‘’peek-a-boo’’

  • By 2 years, most children:

    Begin to have temper tantrums
    Start to copy adults and older children
    Get excited when other children are present
    Show more independence and like to explore
    Show defiant behaviour and do what they’re told NOT to do

  • By 3 years, most children:

    Show affection and concern without prompting
    Show a wide range of feelings but can’t articulate emotions (QuadEmo can help them!)
    Can separate from parents easily
    Can take part in cooperative play (Take turns)
    Like routine and might get upset if it’s disrupted

  • By 4 years, most children:

    Prefer to play with other children than playing alone
    Are good at cooperative play
    Can negotiate solutions to problems
    Are creative with make-believe and can confuse them with reality
    Seeks and enjoys new experiences
    Can express likes and dislikes clearly

  • By 5 years, most children:

    Are more aware of rules and how to follow them
    Seek the acceptance of their friends
    Are more conversational and independent
    Are aware of gender and might prefer to play with their own
    Can differentiate between reality and make-believe
    Are eager to please adults and help out but might test boundaries
    Begin to understand and express embarrassment

Having a sense of where your child is in their social-emotional development journey will help you decide when to start teaching them new words and vocabulary, emotion regulation strategies or social skills. But, it’s very important to be aware that these milestones differ from one child to the other and even if your child doesn’t reach their milestone at the same age as other children, they can still get there at their own time and pace with your help or with professional help if needed. 

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