Early Social Development: Important Milestones for Children

Categories: Social Wellbeing / Friendship

Interacting with other people is a integral element of our society. Like any other skill, social skills need to be learned, practiced and mastered. Human social development actually starts from infancy, being closely tied to cognitive and emotional development.

Healthy social development enables a child to interact in appropriate ways with others and regulate their own behaviour.  When a child has healthy social development, they are more likely to have a good self esteem, confidence and be able to deal with conflict more effectively.

Here are some key milestones of social development in early childhood:

First Two Years

Basic communication – Pointing and vocalising are an infant’s main form of communication. It may feel like that vocalisation is often crying, but remember coos, smiling and laughing are forms of communication too! Sometimes it can be hard to determine exactly what your child is trying to communicate at this stage but it is important to interact with them by responding to their babbles and talking to them about what is going on around them. Remember to make eye contact when you interact with them.

Learn more about early communication and language milestones here.

Differentiate between familiar faces and strangers – Your child may react strongly to being left in the care of an unfamiliar person or, conversely smile when their parent comes home from work.

Learn more about separation anxiety in babies here and older children here.

Imitate others – Whether it is copying their older siblings or imitating what they see caregivers doing during play, children learn a lot from what others do, even at this early stage.

Try to engage others in play – Although the concept of sharing is a still a way off, at this stage an infant may hand or throw you a toy to indicate they want to play.

Parallel play – Infants and toddlers are more likely to play alongside each other rather than with each other but it is still important for your child to have time with other children in a social setting.

Learn more about play based learning here.

Ages 3 to 4 Years

Play with others – Kids of this age will seek out peers to interact with and engage in games of imagination such as dress-ups, pretend play etc. They can also understand the concept of taking turns and can follow simple rules in a game. Their capacity to share and cooperate with others will have increased, and while there will still be conflicts, they will be better equipped to negotiate with peers thanks to increased language skills and self-awareness.

Learn how to help your child make friends here.

Understand emotions – By this stage children have a greater awareness that other people don’t think or feel the same as them. However, it is still important to talk about feelings and name them so your child can develop an awareness of their own emotions, as well as those of others. Your child will start to express empathy when a friend or family member is hurt or sad.

Learn about sharing and empathy here.

Express affection – Expect lots of smooshy kisses and hugs around this stage as your child begins to understand the concept of love. They may also develop an attachment to one friend in particular.

Learn how to relate to your child in a way that makes sense to them and lets them know that you love them here.

Increased independence – Your child will become more aware of her individuality and personal preferences and start to exert their will more strongly.

Learn about what to do when children become defiant here.

By the time your child has reached school they should be enthusiastic about friendships and be keen to interact with their peers. They will also have a better understanding of right and wrong behaviours. It is important to continue to model healthy relationships and social interactions for your child, as well maintaining open communication with them so they feel comfortable talking to you about any issues they may have.