What are Social and Emotional Developmental Delays?
Social and emotional delays refer to conditions in which children have not reached expected interactive and perceptive milestones for their chronological age. These milestones include the social aspects of smiling, playing, and interacting with others as well as emotional necessities of expressing oneself and developing strong self-esteem. Social and emotional development typically begins at infancy with the bond between the child and caregiver, but it can also occur later in life (e.g. between a child and an adoptive parent).
How Common are Social and Emotional Developmental Delays?
Social and emotional developmental delays are common. Approximately 17 percent of children have some type of social or emotional delay. Alerting your pediatrician if you suspect this type of delay can pave the way for early childhood intervention (ECI) and related services (such as social skills training to help your child reach developmental milestones).
What are the Expected Social and Emotional Milestones?
Important social and emotional development takes place from birth to five years. Knowing what to look for is the first step to ensuring that your child progresses as expected.
The First Year:
- By 3 Months – Most babies develop their first social smile. This is the primary social and emotional milestone to look for at this age. Other milestones include enjoying play with caregivers and communicating with face and body.
- By 7 Months – The infant may respond to his or her name, the emotions in a parent’s voice, or reflection in a mirror.
- By 12 Months – A child should start to understand the concept of “strangers” and may appear shy around non-family members. The child can express preference for certain people, toys, foods, or activities. A child should also be able to imitate sounds (such as words) or gestures (such as waving) at this time.
The Toddler Years:
- By age 2 – Children may copy certain words or gestures, but children at this age begin to recognize themselves as separate. Self-concept develops along with distinctive personality traits.
- After age 2 – After recognizing themselves as separate beings, children begin to understand, enjoy, and look forward to playing with other children.
- After age 3 – By the end of the child’s third year, he or she should be able to understand the concept of a simple game, taking turns, and know concepts like “yours” versus “mine.”
The Preschool Years
- Age 4 – This year is both independent and imaginative. Children learn to play interactively with others and often pretend recognizable social roles (e.g. “mommy,” “daddy,” etc.) Children also learn to navigate through concepts like sharing and learn basic empathy and self-control.
- Age 5 – By this year, children may develop a preference for spending more time with friends as well as understand the difference between boys and girls. Children also enjoy expressive activities such as singing, dancing, acting, or basic sports.
How Can a Child Receive Extra Help for Social and Emotional Development Delays?
If your child has not reached expected milestones, a pediatrician may recommend special services. Professionals that may specialize in social or emotional development include the following:
- Occupational Therapists
- Behavioral Therapists
- Child Psychologists
- Special Education Teachers
- Social Skills Therapists
What is a Social Skills Group?
A social skills group gives children the chance to strengthen social and emotional development regularly. Children with these delays benefit from interacting with their peers in a safe setting while building confidence and self-esteem. Curricula for a social skills group may include the following:
- Learning the concept of structure and predictability
- Breaking down abstract concepts into practical application that a child with delays can understand
- Simplifying language to teach children how to follow directions
- Learning to work together in pairs and then groups
- Teaching self-awareness and self-esteem
Contact The Warren Center for additional information about placement into a social skills group.
How Can Parents Promote Social and Emotional Development?
The first step is to look for the social and emotional milestones. If you notice that your child has not developed these skills, lost previously acquired skills, or seems unusually withdrawn or oddly aggressive, it is advisable to request intervention. Other tips include the following:
- Encourage social engagement with family from infancy through adolescence
- Provide empathy and encouragement if a child is upset
- Interact with the child one-on-one
- Arrange regular playtime with the child’s peers
- Praise positive behavior
- Allow children to become accustomed to playing outdoors and indoors
- Teach manners, etiquette, and appropriate skills for each new social setting