Areas of Development

Physical Development

Social, Emotional and Behavioural Development Theories:


Social Discipline





Language Development

Cognitive and Creative Development


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find out more about Attachment

visit kidspot for more on social & emotional development for:

5 - 6 year olds

10 to 12 year olds


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leap frog Social, Emotional & Behavioural Development

Emotional and psychological development involves the child’s personal identity and self-concept; (who am I and how do I fit into my world?) as well as the development of a sense of self worth, confidence and self-esteem; (why I am lovable).

Social development is closely related to emotional development and directly impacts on a child’s behaviour in relation to other people.

Children need to develop skills in expressing feelings towards other people. They also learn behaviour appropriate to their culture.

Children can learn many skills that will increase their self-awareness and self-regulation. The level of a child’s emotional development and social skills is reflected in behaviors such as the ability to pay attention, make transitions from one activity to another, and cooperate with others.  Sufficient development of these skills indicates school readiness.

Emotional and social development are vital to a child’s overall development.  A healthy self-esteem makes it easier for a child to learn about the world, to be creative, to communicate and interact with others. 

The development of attachment between the child and caregiver is very important. Explore the link to find out more.

cooperative play

Developmental Norms
Social and Emotional Development from Birth to Five Years 


Birth to three months

  • observes own hands
  • sucks fingers
  • looks at the place on the body that is being touched
  • learns how parts of the body work together
  • shows stronger preferences for familiar people  
  • expresses several different emotions 


Three months to six months

  • enjoys ‘peek-a-boo’ game
  • laughs aloud
  • initiates social interaction
  • smiles spontaneously
  • responds to name  


Six months to nine months

  • expresses a range of emotions
  • distinguishes friends from strangers
  • responds actively to language and gestures
  • shows displeasure at the loss of a toy


Nine months to twelve months

  • holds out arms and legs while being dressed
  • mimics simple actions
  • shows anxiety when separated from primary caregiver


One to two years

  • recognizes self in pictures or the mirror, smiles or make faces at self
  • shows intense feelings for parents and show affection for other familiar people
  • begins to play by self
  • imitates adult behaviors in play



Two years to three years

  • initiates independent play
  • shows pride and pleasure at new accomplishments
  • imitates adult behaviors in play
  • shows a strong sense of self through assertiveness and directing others
  • helps others, such as picking up toys



Three years to four years

  • follows a series of simple directions
  • completes simple tasks with food without assistance, such as spreading soft butter with a dull knife and pouring from a small jug
  • washes hands unassisted and blows nose when reminded
  • Shares toys and takes turns with assistance
  • initiates or joins in play with other children
  • makes up games
  • begins dramatic play, acts out whole scenes such as traveling or pretending to be animals


Four years to five years

  • compares self with others
  • interested in relationships with other children
  • develops friendships
  • expresses awareness of other people's feelings
  • shows some understanding of moral reasoning, explores ideas about fairness, good or bad behaviour
  • enjoys imaginative play with other children, such as  “dress ups” or “house”
  • brings dramatic play closer to reality by paying attention to details such as time and space


Guiding social and emotional development

Education and child care professionals need to model appropriate language, attitudes and behaviour.  It is very clear that the way adults talk to children and respond to their needs from an early age, influences children’s emotional and social development.  Role modeling is one of the most important ways to assist children to learn social skills. 

Communication with children must be clear, aimed at the level of understanding of the child and always respectful.

Acknowledging, valuing and respecting diversity

Diversity can be acknowledged and valued when child care professionals work thoughtfully with all children.

Social awareness begins very early and can be observed in the preschool years.  Preschoolers may notice differences between gender and race and reflect this understanding in their dramatic play.
At this age, the nature of play may be different for boys and girls. Traditionally, boys tended to do more rough and tumble physical play, whereas girls took on quieter, fine motor activities or social play. It was not uncommon in a kindergarten to see the girls in the home corner and the boys enjoying outside play. These old gender divisions have become less evident in more recent times. It is important that all children feel free to choose to engage in a wide range of play opportunities.

Young children are curious and interested in the differences between people but do not judge these differences as good or bad.  They are naturally fascinated by things such as skin, colour, size, shape and features of people. Child care settings provide rich opportunities for adults to help children to learn about differences through a range of learning activities and by modeling inclusion and respect for others.