Social Emotional Development: Early Childhood

If you’re raising a young child, you’re probably well aware that their social and emotional development is crucial early in life. In fact, it’s arguably more important than their cognitive development. This is because the foundation for all future relationships and social interactions is laid during these early years. This article will discuss critical aspects of early childhood social-emotional development and ways to help your child grow and thrive in this area.

What exactly is social-emotional development?

Social-emotional development is how children learn to build their social-emotional skills. But then what exactly are social-emotional skills? Social-emotional skills are the abilities we use to interact with others, both verbally and non-verbally. They include empathy, self-esteem, self-regulation, communication, and cooperation. These skills are undoubtedly necessary in every stage of life, but they are vital for young children, as they are just beginning to navigate the social world!

Why is social-emotional development essential for your child?

Helps the child to be respectful to others

Respect for others is one of the essential social-emotional skills your child can develop in early childhood. It’s the ability to see others as individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and needs – just like you. And it’s something that needs to be learned, as children are naturally egocentric (i.e. they typically think only of themselves). If you can teach your child to be respectful of others, it will go a long way in helping them to develop positive relationships with their peers and even earn the same respect in return. Think of it as a two-way street. You can help your child develop respect for others by modelling yourself and teaching them to consider other people’s feelings. We’ll explore more about this in the next section of this article.

Developing a sense of empathy

When we talk about empathy, we’re referring to the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. It’s an essential social-emotional skill, as it helps us build strong relationships with others. After all, how can we truly connect with someone if we can’t empathize with them? A child who can empathize with others is not likely to be exhibit bullying behavior, as they are compassionate and kind, two traits essential for positive social interactions. They are also more likely to succeed in their future relationships and career.

Be flexible in their thinking

While most children lean towards being more naturally egocentric, this is a perfect time in which we can train them to develop some flexibility in their thinking. This means being able to view things from another person’s perspective, even if it’s different from their own. An excellent example of this is sharing. Children who are flexible in their thinking might have little difficulty sharing toys with others, as they can see things from the other child’s perspective (i.e., the other child also wants to play with the toy). A flexible child responds, “it’s okay, you can play with it for a while, and then I’ll have my turn.”

Be able to regulate their emotions

Social-emotional development also involves learning how to regulate emotions. This is the ability to control one’s emotions and reactions, especially in challenging situations. It’s an essential social-emotional skill for children to develop, as it helps them manage their reactions and stay calm in difficult situations. A child who can self-regulate is less likely to throw tantrums or lash out at others, damaging relationships. When a child can stay calm and positively handle their emotions, they are more likely to have successful social interactions.

Helps Develop a positive self-image

Social-emotional development also helps children to develop a positive self-image. Self-image is the way we see and feel about ourselves, and it’s an integral part of our overall wellbeing. A child with a positive self-image feels good about themselves and is confident in their abilities. They believe they are capable and worthy individuals, which leads to healthy relationships with others. A positive self-image also leads to increased resilience, as children feel capable of handling difficult situations. It also helps the child stand up for themselves if needed. So, if you want your child to be confident and have positive social interactions, help them develop a positive self-image.

Being able to delay gratification

The ability to delay gratification is another important social-emotional skill for children. It’s the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a more significant reward later on. For example, a child who can delay gratification might resist the urge to eat all their candy immediately to save some for later. This skill is essential for children to develop, as it can help them resist peer pressure and make healthy choices. When children can delay gratification, they are more likely to succeed in life.

So there you have it. These are just some of the social-emotional skills necessary for children to develop. By teaching your child these skills, you can help them to build strong, positive relationships with others.

Tips for promoting social-emotional development in early childhood

Read them stories that have empathy content

Many children’s books focus on characters displaying empathy towards others. It’s a superb action if you can set aside time to read some stories with your child. It will be a bonding experience, but it will also help your child understand the importance of empathy while expanding their vocabulary. The main point is that through these stories, your child will be able to see empathy in action and how it can positively affect relationships. For example, the book “The Lion and the Mouse” by Jerry Pinkney is an excellent story that displays empathy well. In the story, a lion spared the life of a mouse, even though he could have easily eaten him. The mouse later repaid the favor by freeing the lion from a trap.

Play puzzles together

You can help improve your child’s social-emotional development by playing puzzles with them. While puzzles are known for building cognitive skills, they also help develop social-emotional skills, such as patience, cooperation, and self-control. To get started, you can get them a simple, age-appropriate puzzle. Next, sit down with them and work on the puzzle together. If they get frustrated, try to encourage them to take a break and come back to it later. You can say something like, “I know you can do it. Let’s take a five-minute break and come back to it.” Working on the puzzle together will teach your child the importance of cooperation and patience.

Positively complement and reinforce them

We want our children to feel confident and good about themselves, and one way to do that is by complimenting them. A good example is if your child is wearing a new shirt, you can say something like, “I love that shirt. It looks beautiful on you.” Or, if they did an excellent job on a project, you can say, “Great job. I’m so proud of you.” This simple act can help build your child’s self-image and make them feel good about themselves. Remember to be genuine when you give compliments, as children can usually tell when we’re not being sincere.

Model social-emotional behaviors yourself

You can help improve social-emotional development in your child by modelling the desired behavior yourself. It’s as simple as telling them “thank you” when they do something for you or displaying patience when you’re cooking or working on a project. Alternatively, you can also talk about your own emotions and feelings. For example, you might say, “I’m sorry for the little cat; she looks so sad.” By modelling social-emotional behaviors, you’re teaching your child how to express and healthily deal with their emotions. Children learn best by observing and imitating the behavior of those around them, so it’s essential to set a good example! If you model positive social-emotional behaviors yourself, your child is more likely to develop these skills.

Invite their friends over

One way to help your child develop social-emotional skills is by inviting their friends over for some fun time. This can help them to practice cooperation, sharing, and communication. It’s also an excellent opportunity to get to know their friends better. To get started, you can plan a simple activity that everyone can enjoy, such as baking cookies or playing tag. Then, let the kids take charge and see what happens! Other than supervising, try to resist the urge to get too involved. This is a time for them to practice their social-emotional skills independently. If things get too chaotic, you can always step in and redirect the kids to more constructive activities.

Enroll them on a sport or activity

Enrolling your little one in a sport or activity is a great way to help them develop social-emotional skills. This is especially effective if the child is highly energetic, as they will be able to burn off some of that energy while having fun with their peers. Activities like karate, dance, and soccer are great for helping children develop cooperation, self-control, and empathy. And not to mention, they’ll make some great friends along the way!

So there you have it. I hope you found these tips helpful. Social-emotional development is an integral part of early childhood development. By teaching your child these skills, you can help them to develop into well-rounded individuals.

We hope you found this blog useful. Thank you for reading!


Pathways. (2020). What are social emotional skills. Retrieved from;

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