The term social and emotional development refers to the following components: development of the capacity of the child from birth through five years of age to form close and secure adult and peer relationships; regulation, and expression of emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways; and exploration of the environment and learning—all in the context of family, community, and culture.
Early childhood mental health consultants promote healthy development by working to support social and emotional wellness in all young children and make every effort to prevent the occurrence or escalation of social and emotional problems in children at-risk. They identify and work to remediate problems that surface, and, when necessary, refer children and their families to appropriate services. Early childhood mental health consultants also support parents of young children around social and emotional development. (Adapted with permission from ZERO to THREE’s definition of infant mental health, 2001.)
Although development is unique to each individual, there are milestones of social and emotional development that children typically achieve during certain age ranges. These indicators are summarized briefly below. These are based on guidelines set by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP).
- Children between birth to three months should: follow moving objects, recognize familiar objects and people at a distance; start using hands and eyes in coordination; begin to develop social smile; enjoy playing with people; show more expressions with face and body; as well as imitate some movements and expression.
- Children between four to seven months should: enjoy social play; be interested in mirror images; respond to expressions of emotions; explore with hands and mouth; and struggle to get objects that are out of reach.
- Children ages eight to twelve months should: be shy or anxious with strangers; cry when parents leave; enjoy imitating people in play; prefer certain people and toys; explore objects in different ways; find hidden objects easily; look at correct picture when the image is named; imitate gestures; and begin to use objects correctly.
- Toddlers ages one to three years should: imitate behavior of others; be aware of themselves as separate from others; be enthusiastic about the company of other children; find objects even when hidden 2 or 3 levels deep; sort by shape and color; and play make-believe.
- Preschoolers ages three to five years should imitate adults and playmates; show affection for familiar playmates; take turns in games; understand “mine” and “his/hers”; make mechanical toys work; match an object in hand to picture in book; play make-believe; sort objects by shape and color; complete 3 – 4 piece puzzles; and understand concept of “two.”