Social-Emotional Milestones

Social-Emotional Milestones Explained

Social & Emotional Development

This area of development involves learning to interact with other people and to understand and control your own emotions. Babies start to develop relationships with the people around them right from birth, but the process of learning to communicate, share, and interact with others takes many years to develop. Developing the ability to control your emotions and behavior also referred to as self-regulation, is a developmental process.  Children continue to develop their social-emotional skills well into their teenage years and even into young adulthood.

Social-Emotional Developmental Milestones

Between the ages of 0-3 months, your baby will:

  • See clearly within 13 inches from her face and she will most enjoy her caregiver's face!

  • Be comforted by a familiar adult when held, talked to, or sung to

  • Respond positively to touch and quiet when picked up - being held regulates the nervous system and helps the baby calm

  • Listen and look towards voices

  • Smile and show pleasure in response to social stimulation such as being smiled at, sung to, and snuggled

Between the ages of 3-6 months, your baby will:

  • Give warm smiles and laughs

  • Recognize faces of familiar people and start noticing the difference among caregivers

  • Cry when upset and seek comfort - crying is a signal that baby needs something 

  • Show excitement by waving arms and legs - often referred to as "anticipatory excitement" 

  • Smile at herself in the mirror

  • Enjoy looking at other babies

  • Pay attention to her own name

  • Laugh outloud 

Between the ages of 6-9 months, your baby will:

  • Express several different clear emotions such as joy, fear, frustration

  • Play games like Peek-a-boo, "so big," and other familiar games

  • Show displeasure at the loss of a toy by crying, frowning, showing frustration with her body

  • Respond to you when you talk to her or make gestures

  • Start to understand your different emotions (for example, your baby might frown when you speak in an angry tone of voice)

  • Show more comfort around familiar people, and anxiety around strangers - commonly known as "stranger anxiety" - this shows that baby is most comforted by a known caregiver and is attached to the caregiver

  • Possibly comfort herself by sucking thumb, or holding a special toy or blanket

Between the ages of 9-12 months, your baby will:

  • Show happiness to see her parents’ face, her toys, or a mirror

  • Know strangers from his family, and cry when his parent goes away

  • Give affection and love by hugging, wrapping arms around caregiver when held, smiles, kisses

  • Pay attention to simple commands such as "no" and "give it to me"

  • Respond by turning to look when you call her name

  • Imitate some of your actions (e.g. waving, pretending to talk on the phone)

  • Have fear with new situations

  • Understand the word “no”, but will not always obey

Between the ages of 1-2 years, your child will:

  • Recognize herself in the mirror or photograph and smile or make faces at herself

  • Begin to say ‘no’ to caregiver requests - a sign of emerging independence 

  • Imitate adults’ actions and words (e.g. chores)

  • Understand words and commands, and respond to them

  • Hug and kiss parents, familiar people and pets

  • Bring things to “show” other people

  • Begin to be helpful around the house

  • Begin to feel jealousy when she is not the center of attention

  • Show frustration easily

  • May play next to another child, but will not really share until 3 or 4 years of age

  • Be able to play alone for a few minutes

  • React to changes in daily routines

  • Develop a range of emotions (may have tantrums, show aggression by biting, etc)

  • Start to assert independence by preferring to try do things “by myself”, without help

Between the ages of 2-3 years, your child will:

  • Be assertive about what he wants, and say no to adult requests

  • Start to show awareness of her own feelings and others’ feelings

  • Show more fear in certain situations (e.g the dark)

  • Possibly become frustrated easily

  • Want independence, but still need security of parents

  • Need an ordered, predictable routine (ie: when saying good-bye to parents) and can begin to follow social norms and routines

  • Watch other children in play, and join them briefly

  • Defend his possessions

  • Begin to engage in more complicated play with themes of daily  living - playing “house"

  • Begin to separate more easily from parents

  • Begin to show empathy to other children (respond to their feelings)


Social-Emotional Development in the Early Years - Resources

MSU Extension - Building Early Social Skills 

CS Mott Children's Hospital Parenting Guide 

A Guide to Your Child's Social/Emotional Health 0-8 

ASQ Social Emotional Fun and Easy Activities 0-5