Social Emotional Development In Infants & Toddlers

Social Emotional Development In Infants & Toddlers (0 – 3 Years)

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. These specified areas of knowledge or activity help your child gain independence. This is why social emotional development in infants, toddlers, and in early childhood is so crucial.

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.

Why is Social Emotional Development Important?

The earliest years of a child’s life are not just a period of incredible physical growth, but also a time of extraordinary emotional and social blossoming. During this phase, children are exceptionally receptive to the emotional tones and behaviors around them, absorbing and mirroring the social cues of caregivers. This stage is crucial for establishing a ‘blueprint’ for emotional responses and social interactions in their later life. It’s a time when the seeds of self-esteem, confidence, and emotional resilience are sown. These years are pivotal for developing the ability to form secure attachments, which research shows is fundamental for healthy emotional and psychological development. The experiences of infants and toddlers in navigating emotions and relationships don’t just impact their current well-being; they set the trajectory for how they will engage with peers, handle stress, and adapt to new challenges in the future. Thus, nurturing social emotional development in the 0-3 age range is about more than fostering immediate skills; it’s about shaping the very foundation of a child’s emotional and social identity.

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

The Importance of Social Emotional Development in Infants ( Birth to 12 Months)

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

Social Emotional Development Activities for Infants:

  • 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

The Importance of Social Emotional Development in Toddlers (1-3 Years)

Supporting toddlerhood emotional development is key to fostering healthy social and emotional skills. This stage is marked by toddlers:

  • 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

 Social Emotional Development Activities for 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

For more information, check out our guides on cognitive development, physical development, and language development!

Other important resources for social emotional learning activities:

  • 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 based explanation on how to build high-quality classrooms.
  • Finally, if you have questions or concerns about your child’s development or behavior, check out Help Me Grow Inland Empire for developmental screening information.
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