Social and emotional development

Your child’s early years aren’t just a time for taking their first steps or learning their first words. Through their relationships with you and other family members, your child is building expectations about themselves, their world and the people in it.

Your child is figuring out their sense of self, including feeling good about themselves and their abilities. They’re also developing social skills to get along in life with others, and emotional skills to help them recognise and express a wide range of feelings.

These first skills form the foundations for children’s ongoing development and their mental health and wellbeing – both now and into the future.

Stages of development


Your baby is a born communicator – you’ve probably already noticed them expressing a wide range of emotions. Through their interactions with you and other supportive adults, they learn to feel good about themselves and to enjoy relating with others. They also learn how to communicate what they need from you.


Toddlers want to please adults, but also want to be themselves. They do this by imitating others and build their self-confidence by ‘helping’ with everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping. They also adapt their behaviour according to their caregivers’ responses and are able to learn ways of coping with conflict and solving problems.


As their language, thinking and planning skills develop, preschoolers are more able to wait for things they want, negotiate solutions to everyday problems and make decisions for themselves and with others.

Supporting social and emotional skills development

It’s important to recognise that social and emotional skills develop over time, and that they may develop differently for different children.

You can help your child build their skills by:

  • talking about feelings – describing and labelling emotions; helping children manage their feelings.
  • being a role model – talking with children about your own mistakes, saying sorry and trying to make things better shows them that these are a part of life and can be learning opportunities for everyone.
  • providing security by being consistent and predictable.

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