8 Factors That Influence Emotional Development In Children

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Children go through different developmental stages as they grow into adults. It is no different when it comes to emotional development, and children’s social and emotional development proceeds in phases. These are two of the most important milestones determining a child’s future perspectives.

A child’s social interaction is influenced by several factors, including the surrounding environment and the type of people they get exposed to. Similarly, for them to grow emotionally strong, they need to be taught to control and understand their emotions. These skills should be inculcated in them as they go through the different years of childhood (1). Therefore knowing the distinctive social and emotional characteristics of different ages is important for parents (2).

Read through as we provide you with information about children’s emotional and social growth.

Definition Of Emotional Development In Children

Emotional learning begins at a young age and the learning grows with their age. In infancy, infants express their feelings through non-verbal communication and depend on caregivers to recognize their cues. Their expressions are related to their ability to regulate their emotions.

Emotional expression is closely related to both social and cultural influences of family and the surroundings. A child’s relationship with the caretaker gives it the ability to express both positive and negative emotions in a socially and culturally acceptable manner (1) (3).

From Baby To Adulthood: Overview Of The Stages Of Social Emotional Development In Children

The development of social and emotional skills is extremely important for your kid (4).

  • It helps them behave in an appropriate way later, gives a good understanding of the life they live, and helps them gain control during the transition stage to reach adulthood.
  • Social and emotional development helps a kid to shape his future. This allows him to decide his ambitions while having proper control over his emotions.
  • Development of social skills allows a child to cooperate and play with peers, pay attention to the instructions offered by parents or teachers and obtain good transition while indulging in one activity or another.
  • Development of emotional skills allows your child to undergo a learning process which would educate him about the ways he can understand and control emotions.

The social and emotional development of a child is categorized into different phases to help parents determine which stage your child is in now. You must look out for the following milestones in your child to know how well he or she has developed so far (5).

1. Emotional Development From 0-6 Months

Babies begin to learn many things in an active way almost from birth. They learn about the people in their homes and about themselves. During this age, your baby would:

  • During this age, your baby would:
  • Look at his hands or suck his fingers.
  • When you touch any part of his body, he will try to look where he is being touched.
  • Gain an understanding about his hands and legs.
Babies start observing their hands and legs

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  • Realize that he is separate from the rest.
  • Begins to learn that he needs the comfort of adults and loves being soothed.
  • Enjoys socializing and smiles at you.
  • Responds to your touch.

Social interaction is an important factor to be considered during the 3 to 6 months stage. If your baby is between 3 to 6 months, he would (6):

  • Respond to you when you call his name.
  • Smile or laugh when you make some noises.
  • Love to play peek a boo.

2. Emotional Development From 6 Months -1 Year

As your baby grows, he would begin to show liking towards family members. If you have babies who are aged between 6 months to 9 months, lookout for signs of social and emotional development such as (7):

  • Expressing a variety of emotions like happiness, anger, sadness and fearfulness.
  • Will be able to differentiate between strangers, family and others.
  • Exhibits frustration when you take a toy away from his hand.
  • Shows response to the words or gestures you do.

During the 9 months to1 Year of age stage, your baby tends to become very social, performs certain actions like elders, and becomes a bit responsible. Self-regulation is an important factor to be considered at this stage. By now, your baby would be able to:

  • Holds a cup while drinking from it.
  • Imitates simple actions.
  • Try to eat by himself by putting small pieces of food in his mouth.
  • Show anxiety when separated from you.

3. Emotional Development From 1-2 Years

When your kid is within this age group, he will tend to spend a lot of time in exploring things around him, observing people at home and also developing a sense of self-awareness. By this age, your kid can:

  • Recognize his reflection in the mirror.
  • Take the initiative while playing.
  • Imitate the actions of adults.
  • Play separately.
  • Is pleased when you appreciate for accomplishing something.
  • Tries to help you.
  • Puts toys away after playing.
  • Negative emotions such as frustration or anger surfaces.
  • Becomes very self-assertive and would try to direct you to perform few actions.

4. Emotional Development From 2-3 Years

This is known as the toddler stage when your kid would become very creative and would have loads of confidence in all his actions. After your child is 2 years old, he will begin to:

  • Be aware of whether he is a boy or girl.
  • Try to put the dress on and remove it on his own.
  • Show his tastes while wearing dresses, eating food, choosing toys and playing games.
2-3 year olds express their preferences, Social and emotional development in children

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  • Learn to say no to your requests.
  • Enjoy the company of other kids and play with them.
  • Show a defensive attitude about the toys he owns.
  • Use various objects to play.
  • Have frequent mood swings.

5. Emotional Development From 3-4 Years

Your 3-year-old toddler would be able to perform various activities physically which would improve his self-confidence levels. It will also help him become very independent during this stage. From 3 years of age, your kid would be able to:

  • Follow the directions you give him.
  • Perform a few activities without any assistance.
  • Begin to share the toys with siblings or friends.
  • Create some new game ideas and invite friends to join in.
  • Become much interested in pretend play.

6. Emotional Development From 4-6 Years

When your child is four years old, he would begin to gain awareness about his individuality. When he is interested in physical activities, he will tend to develop his motor skills and reasoning skills. This would help him achieve good levels of confidence and feel proud of himself. At this age, your kid would try to (8):

  • Differentiate between good behavior and bad behavior.
  • Create friendships with other kids.
  • Make a comparison between himself and the rest.
  • Try to understand others’ feelings.
  • Enjoy an imaginative game that is a bit dramatic with other kids.
  • Like to involve in competitive games.
  • Try to lead a group of friends while playing.
  • Cooperate with other people.
  • Follow instructions correctly.
  • Show interest in creative drawing.

7. Emotional Development From 7-12 Years

This stage is known as the age of going to school. This stage would make your kid experience lots of emotional outbursts and learn a number of skills such as (9):

  • Blend well with peers.
  • Follow rules well.
  • Follow a well-structured playstyle with rules.
  • Form a team in a formal way.
  • Show interest in learning major subjects like maths, social studies, etc.
  • Have a self-disciplined approach while learning.
  • Take the initiative to do some activities.
  • Feel pride when bestowed with new responsibilities.

8. Emotional Development From 12-20 Years

This is the stage of psychological crisis, as your child would experience lots of confusion about his gender, the opposite gender, and will face other issues related to the teenage stage. During this adolescent stage, your kid would (10) (11):

  • Learn to answer your questions in a satisfactory manner.
  • Begin to know more about him.
  • Face some role identity issues.
  • Rebellious nature surfaces when confronted with an issue.
  • Have many doubts about himself.
  • Become self-conscious about appearance.
  • Seek true intimacy.
  • Prefer to be isolated.
  • Look out for a long-lasting and genuine friendship.
Teenagers look out for a long-lasting friendships

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As a parent, making a note of this social and emotional development among your kid in each stage is important. It helps in the development and well-being of your child.

Factors That Influence Social And Emotional Development In Children

First, it is important for you to remember that the development of each child is unique and complex. There might be slight or huge differences in the social and emotional development of your child, as it is associated with a number of factors. Many factors affect the way children express their social and emotional competencies. Some of them are (3):

  • Some similarities are found between the emotional development of parents and children. These are the hereditary factors.
  • As your child develops mentally, she also becomes emotionally mature. Psychologists say that the child’s emotions depend upon her maturity level.
  • John B. Watson, an American psychologist, has stated that children learn from conditioning. An experiment was conducted on a nine-month-old baby, who was shown a rat to the child and a lot of noise was made in the background. Later it was observed that baby started crying by merely looking at the rat (12). Likewise, if there is an expression of physical love in the family, the baby also expresses her love by contact, kisses, or hugs.
  • Likewise, if there is an expression of physical love in the family, the baby also expresses her love by contact, kisses, or hugs.
  • Children who have sound health can control their emotions in a better way while those who remain weak show irritability, excitement and unstable emotions.
  • Intelligent children are also emotionally stable. Those with low intelligence are low in stability as well (13).
  • Relations in the family and the way they express their emotions affect the emotional development of a child. If the parents have stability in their behavior and express their feelings in a balanced manner, the children also follow in their footsteps. Modeling good behavior is much more important than just talking about good behavior. Children are watching everything you do as a parent.
  • If parents are violent, children also adopt the same. If you over pamper your children, there are chances for them turning indiscipline and obstinate. On the contrary, if you do not show any affection, they become introvert and submissive.
Family influences social and emotional development

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  • Just like family, society, too, influences a child’s emotional development. If the environment is emotionally charged, the child becomes emotionally unstable. If people are stable and have control over their emotions, the child also remains so. They learn to control their emotions and try to conform to socially acceptable behavior.
  • Managing emotions for sound physical and mental health is necessary. When your child is emotionally charged, several changes, like a change in pulse rate, blood circulation, stretching of eyes, an effect on the digestive system, and more, occur in the body.

Why Is Social Development In Children Important?

Your kids need to develop healthy social and emotional skills. It is very important you help them do so, as it would help them to (4):

  • Nurture relationships
  • Master the qualities of initiating, discovering, learning and playing
  • Create attention and persistence
  • Control and regulate their behavior
  • Develop control over their emotions

How To Enhance Social and Emotional Skills?

Social and emotional development in early childhood is most essential for your kids to know that they can trust you and be dependent on you completely (1) (14).

  • This feeling can be created only by you. Stay consistent and be responsive towards your kids.
  • Remember to place some rules to discipline your kids as they grow bigger.
  • When your child realizes what you expect from him or learns what would happen if the rules are not followed or broken, they would learn that being orderly is the right thing to do.
  • This would also offer your kid a good sense of self-control.
  • To help your kids develop social and emotional skills, you have to create the opportunity to let your kids play with others. You can do this by taking them to a park, enrolling them in a playschool, helping them to learn about their abilities, and helping them in expressing their feelings well.
  • You can also try to offer limited options to help your child make their own decisions regarding simple everyday things like what they need for dinner, which color dress they wish to wear, etc.
  • These choices would help your kids to form their own decisions and offer them greater levels of confidence.
  • In a social environment, your kids must be able to express their feeling with the right kind of emotions and in the right way.
  • If you feel that your kid is highly emotional or jealous, motivate your child to talk about what they feel without throwing any temper tantrums.
  • This would help your kid to refrain from any emotional outbreak during such occasions as it would prevent them from hurting others.
  • Sometimes, when kids don’t have control over their emotions, they tend to hit or yell at their friends or younger siblings.
  • During such occasions, it is essential for you to tell them that it is not acceptable and suggest an alternate response.
  • Another important thing you need to remember as a parent is to never shout or yell at your kids. You also need to refrain from doing so at anyone in front of your kids, as they might tend to follow your actions.
  • This can influence the social and emotional development of your kid and would spoil the character of your kids while he grows.

Essential Points To Remember About Your Kids

Your baby tends to start relationships with the members around him from the time of birth. The process of development, such as controlling the emotions or behaving properly might take a few years to develop.

  • The process of social and emotional development in children tends to continue until they reach their last teenage years.
  • This is why you will notice a difference in your kids while they are sharing things, taking turns, or making friends as they grow.
Children making friends and learning new cultures

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  • The emotional view of development allows your kid to understand or control his or her internal emotions. The social aspect of development helps balance the external elements like interacting with family and friends.
  • As a responsible parent, it is important for you to know which social and emotional skills your kids lack right from birth to help them accomplish it as they grow.

Practicing good emotional development enables a child to create lasting friendships and boost self-confidence. Note that children’s emotional and social development varies with their age. Understanding the child’s emotional stages and the factors that influence them could help you nurture their relationships in the right direction. This development begins from infancy and toddlerhood, maturing as the child grows older. Remember that each child is different and develops at their own pace. Parents can help them progress towards their growth by engaging in good practices daily.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Social Connection on Child Development, Children’s bureau.
  2. Parents’ views of early social and emotional development, UC Davis.
  3. Influences on Childrens Health, NIH.
  4. Social and emotional development in early learning settings, NCSL.
  5. Social and emotional milestones, Help me grow.
  6. Your baby’s developmental milestones at 6 months, UNICEF.
  7. Your baby’s developmental milestones at 9 months, UNICEF.
  8. Child development 4-5 years, Government od Western Australia, Department of Health.
  9. Middle Childhood (9-11 years of age), CDC.
  10. Growth and development, ages 13 to 17- what parents need to know, Advocates for youth.
  11. Growth and development, ages 18 and over- what parents need to know, Advocates for youth.
  12. Little Albert Experiment, Wikipedia.
  13. How to cultivate the emotional intelligence in children, UNICEF.
  14. Understanding the stages of emotional development in children, Rasmussen University.


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Mitha Shameer

Mitha is passionate about writing on topics related to women and children. She loves to present the brighter side of life to her readers in the form of her articles. She writes on games, stories, arts & craft, celebrations and more for MomJunction. When she isn't glued to online shopping websites, she loves reading books and watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Dr. Misha Yajnik

Dr. Misha Yajnik is an American Board Certified general pediatrician practicing in the US. She did her undergraduate studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio and obtained her MD degree from Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica. With over a decade of experience with children from newborns to adolescents, her special interest lies in helping parents navigate the difficulties...
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