What to Expect: Understanding the Stages of Socio-Emotional Development in Children

child socio-emotional development

What to Expect: Understanding the Stages of Socio-Emotional Development in Children

Understanding the different ages and stages of behavior is important for two reasons. First, it helps us to better understand ourselves and others. Second, it provides us with a roadmap for how to best support children as they grow and develop. 


Children go through different stages of socio-emotional development as they grow and learn.  One of the most important aspects of effective parenting is understanding the different stages of child development. Each stage presents new challenges and opportunities, and it’s essential to be prepared for them in order to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child.

The three major stages of socio-emotional development in children are:

1) Infancy to Age 2 – This stage lasts from birth to about 18 months, and is characterized by the emergence of emotional expressions and the beginnings of social interaction.  During the first year of life, babies undergo rapid growth and development. They learn how to interact with their environment and the people around them, and start to develop a sense of self.

They learn how to interact with others through imitation and copying the behaviors they see around them.  Facial expressions become more interactive, where a baby might smile in response to a positive interaction.  Self-soothing techniques through sensory experiences via touch, taste and sounds develop at this stage of development.

2) Early Childhood Age 3-6 – This stage is marked by enhanced emotional expression and increased social interaction.  In early childhood, between the ages of 3 and 6, children start to develop a sense of morality and ethics. They are also slowly learning how to handle their emotions and interact with others in a more mature way.  It is not uncommon for children at this age to struggle with impulse control and will need assistance in making appropriate choices. 

At this stage of brain development, nerve cells are still forming connections and myelination is occurring, which means that while your child may be able to access more logical reasoning, this is still in development.  It is normal at this age to experience whining, impulsivity issues and challenges with compliance.  At this stage it is appropriate to model behavior, reinforce positive behaviors being exhibited, and setting clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

3) Middle Childhood – This stage lasts from 6 years old to 12 years old, and is highlighted by the development of a sense of self, increased emotional regulation, and more complex social interactions.  During this stage of brain development, children are continuing to develop efficient brain connections that contribute to effective learning and retention of and accessibility to information.  At this stage in development, children are able to better understand connections between their actions and consequences that may result from those behaviors. 

At this stage, it is not uncommon for children to struggle with lying, impulse control, defiance, and disrespect via name-calling or throwing things.  It can be important at this stage to establish clear rules and identify the consequences that will result if certain boundaries are crossed or behaviors persist.  It can also be important to provide selective choices to children, in which you clearly establish the benefit of choose one choice over the other and the consequence for choosing an alternate behavior.

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