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Social and Emotional Development


Fundamental to early childhood development and later success in life is healthy social and emotional development. Social and emotional development are the outgrowth of a healthy relationship and secure attachment with a loving, emotionally available adult.

The foundations for social and emotional development begin even before birth. When an infant is physically and emotionally close to a loving parent or caregiver, the baby learns at a very early age that they are loved, that they are deserving of that love and that they are safe in the world. This sense of security frees the baby, toddler, and preschooler to act on their innate drive to explore the world around them and learn.

Actively seeking the comfort of an emotionally available adult in times of stress, fear, or illness relieves the very young child of toxic effects on brain development that chronic, unresolved stress can cause. An emotionally regulated adult supporting a child in times of need helps the child build their self-regulate, self-esteem and confidence in their abilities to thrive, learn, and interact with others.

A young child’s behaviors that are challenging for adults are expressions of some need, often social or emotional need. Understanding what that need is can be very challenging for the adult, hence the term “challenging behaviors.” Pausing for a moment, staying with the child, thinking about what happened right before the outburst, and trying to figure out what the child is telling us about their need in the moment can, with practice, lead to better understanding. Being the emotionally regulated adult in the presence of a dsyregulated or upset child is hard. It is also very emotionally settling for the child and, over time, teaches the child how to build their own ability to self-regulate.

The Learn the Signs Act Early Milestone Moments Booklet free online, provides suggestions on ways to promote a young child’s social and emotional development. Booklets are available in English, Spanish, simplified Chinese, and Korean.  For other languages, contact your Act Early Ambassador at

For additional information and options for supporting your skills in promoting your child’s social and emotional development, talk with your child’s medical provider, childcare provider, or preschool teacher.

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