Supporting Social-Emotional Development

Self-regulation (self-control) skills are one aspect of social-emotional development. Children start developing these skills during the first five years of life. Self-regulation includes a child’s ability to control their immediate urges and not act impulsively, manage emotions, and maintain focus and attention. There are ways to support the development of such skills at home:

  • Managing Emotions

      • Help Build Their “Feeling Vocabulary”

        • Read books to your children. Point out emotions of the characters or have your child guess what a character may be feeling. Read books about specific emotions.
        • When your child is experiencing an emotion, name it for them, without judgement. Verbally praise them when they do name their feelings.

        Teach By Example

        • Children often learn by the example of adults. Let your child hear and see you managing your emotions calmly by using good coping strategies.

        Provide a Plan

        • When they are calm, talk to children about how to manage their feelings. “When you are frustrated, you can ask for help.” “When you are angry, you can take three big breaths and tell someone how you feel.”
        • Create a “calm down” area in the home where your child can go to take time to get control of their emotions. This is not a time out or punitive area, but a calming place. Consider putting calming activities in this area such as coloring, silly putty, books, as well as visual reminders about how to relax and become calm.

        Temper Tantrums

        Even when providing the emotional supports listed above, tantrums are still likely to happen. They are a typical part of child development and commonly occur between the ages of 1 to 3. The following sites offer information about tantrum behavior and how to respond:

    In addition to self-regulation, social-emotional skills also involve social and play abilities needed to engage well with adults and peers.

    • Social Skills

      • A child’s social development, the ability to interact with adults and children, is another critical aspect of a child’s development. Parents are their child’s first relationship and children learn about social skills through observing and interacting with their parents.

        In infants and toddlers, social development is observed in a child’s ability to smile and jointly engage with parents, take an interest in and copy the actions and language of others, and be affected by the emotions of parents and others around them. In preschool age children, social development is observed in a child’s ability to cooperate with other children, become increasingly aware of the emotions in others, express affection, and learn to self-soothe. Aspects of social skills that are important are empathy, friendships, and social problem solving.

        What are the developmental expectations for social skills and how can I support them?

    • Play

      • Playing with your child is such an important way in which you can support the development of your child’s language (e.g. commenting, labeling, requesting), social skills (e.g. turn taking, sharing), imagination, and problem solving skills. Preschoolers learn best through play. Children at play are solving problems, creating, experimenting, thinking and learning all the time, which all support a child’s cognitive development. Playing with your child is also a great way to continue to build your loving relationship.

        How can I support my child’s play?

    The CDC provides information about what to expect in terms of social and emotional development by age.