Social-Emotional Growth

Support Your Child’s Social-Emotional Growth

It’s never too early to support your child’s social and emotional growth, and doing so is just as important as supporting his physical development. Social and emotional intelligence is necessary for children to understand the feelings of others, as well as control his or her own behavior while building relationships and getting along with their peers.

Social and emotional development emphasizes skills that increase self-awareness and self-control. It is the root for fostering:

  • Self-confidence
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Cooperation
  • Awareness of one’s own feelings
  • A sense of right and wrong
  • Self-control
  • Meaningful friendships
  • Trust
  • Ability to follow directions and pay attention

How can you support your child’s healthy social-emotional development? Young children learn how to treat others based on the care they receive. By providing your child with a positive, consistent, responsive and nurturing environment which includes lots of physical and emotional closeness, you will help him understand how he feels about himself and others.

If your child is in child care, make sure your provider encourages the social-emotional growth of infants and toddlers by nurturing a special relationship with your child, that curriculums are well-planned and implemented, and includes an engaging physical space. Talk with your care provider to see how else the program supports social and emotional development in your child.

Tips to help you support your child’s social-emotional intelligence:


  • Play infant “I Spy” while you are feeding or changing your baby. Include your child’s name and special characteristics: “I spy a little girl named Lucy in a blue shirt. Lucy has brown hair and brown eyes.”
  • Tummy time can be for you too. Lie beside your baby. Describe to him what he is doing: “Jack is lifting his head. Now you are looking at mommy.”
  • Babies love mirrors! Find a space to attach one securely to the wall so your baby can play. Try pointing to your baby’s image in the mirror and asking who that baby is. Then say, “I see you, Tyrese.”
  • Hold your baby close and let him mimic your facial expressions, asking “Can you do this?” Try raising your eyebrows, sticking out your tongue or making an “o” with your mouth.

AGE 1 TO 2

  • Spend some time helping your child learn his parts. Say “here are your toes” while grabbing his toes and so on.
  • Your child loves to hear your voice and to be snuggled. Try singing a song quietly while swinging your child in your arms, then bringing her in for a snuggle before doing it again.
  • Incorporate a song to help your child with transition times, such as when it is time for snack or a nap. Make up your own song to a familiar tune or find a rhyming song that goes with the activity.
  • Help your child name his emotions by making a sad face and saying “Daddy is sad.” Then make a happy face and say “Daddy is happy.”

AGE 2 TO 3

  • Show your child how to give a high five. Explain this is good for letting someone know they did a good job. High five your child when they do a great job.
  • Join in on the pretend play games with your child. “Playing house” is always fun when you can be the kid and he can be the parent.
  • Teach your little one how to meditate. Lie down and place a stuffed animal on their chest. Show them how to breathe deeply and watch the animal move up and down.
  • Be sure to give your child lots of praise and attention throughout the day.

AGE 3 TO 4

  • Enlist your child to help with every day chores around the house.
  • Make a feelings meter and label the sections: happy, sad, mad, sleepy, or worried. Have them indicate how they are feeling during the day.
  • Read books that discuss how characters feel. Ask your child to think of a time when they felt the same way as the character in the book.
  • Encourage your child to play more in small groups. Organize play dates at your house or meet other friends at the park for an afternoon of play.

AGE 4 TO 5

  • Discuss table manners at meal time. Talk about how to take turns being served food and how to engage in conversations with others.
  • Talk to your child about her feelings, and acknowledge those feelings.
  • Give your child more choices and chances to make decisions. For example, “Grace, you can play outside or inside at your art table. What would you like to do?”
  • Give your child clear and consistent rules. Be kind but firm.

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