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 is also a long process. Children continue to develop their social-emotional skills well into their teenage years, or even young adulthood.

Below are some of the typical developmental milestones for social-emotional skills. After each age group, you can find some “red flags” that might indicate a concern.

Please also see Communication Skills for more information about early development because speech and language skills are so important for effective social development.

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 bedtime and other requests

  • 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 centre 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

  • Share a piece of food

  • 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

Red Flags for Social-Emotional Development (2 years)

If you notice some of the following things by the time your child is 18-24 months old (2 years), you may want to talk to your doctor, or to another health professional such as a mental health clinician, a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, or a psychologist.

  • Doesn’t imitate other people

  • Constantly moves from one activity to another and is not able to stay at an activity for brief periods

  • Requires constant attention to stay at an activity 

  • Doesn’t show any interest in other children

  • Doesn’t “show” things to other people

  • Extremely “rigid” about routines, becoming extremely upset when they are changed

  • Too passive, and doesn’t want to try things other children her age are doing

  • Has extreme difficulty waiting for items he wants