Milestones in Social & Emotional Development





Behavioral Examples

0-2 month


helpless; asocial; fed by parent



makes basic distinctions in vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, touch, temperature and perception of pain



sucking, swallowing, crying, hiccoughing, grasping, pupillary contraction

2-3 mos.


delight; distress; smiles at a face



visually fixates a face; smiles at a face; may be soothed by rocking



control of eye muscles, lifts head when on stomach

3-4 mos.


Infant communication by crying


Smiles spontaneously to mother's face, voice, smile


Responds to person-to-person contact with adults and children


enjoys being cuddled



Practice play begins with sensory exploration of own body Repeats satisfying bodily actions (e.g. movement, vocalizations)



Joy (delight), distress (frustration or pain), surprise, interest



begins to control head and arm movement; purposive grasping,

4-9 mos.


Enjoys being near people and played with


no longer smiles indiscriminately


Responds gaily to play interactions with others


Cries, smiles, kicks, coos, laughs to attract social attention


Responds differently to strangers (stranger anxiety-8 mos.)


Shouts for attention (8 mos.); rejects confinement


Cries if other child cries



Learns that actions affect objects by manipulating objects


Grasps dangling toys within reach


Shakes/bangs toys/spoons to make different sounds


Uncovers hidden toy


Plays a "game" with adult assistance


Fights for disputed toy (9 mos.)



Enjoyment, protest, fear, anger, humor, teases, shyness

Specific attachment to mother (or primary caregiver)



Localizes to sound

10-12 mos.


Pays attention to his/her own name


Recognizes different tones of voice and responds


Able to interpret the emotional expression of familiar adults


Copies simple actions of others


Recognizes himself as an individual apart from mother


Learning to cooperate; shows guilt at wrongdoing


Actively seeks to maintain interactions with adult


Tries to alter mother's plans through persuasion or protest


Displays separation anxiety when apart from mother


Developing a sense of humor


Teases and tests parental limits


Can demonstrate affection


Discriminates positive and negative attention



One or Two words; imitates sounds

responds to simple commands



Applies learned movements to new situations


Stacks rings on a peg


Holds crayon - imitating scribbling


Attempts to play with another child


Rolls ball in imitation of adult



Stranger anxiety

fear, affection, persuasion, protest, guilt,





1-2 years


Recognizes self in mirror or picture and refers to self by name


Beginning to become independent


Cooperates by helping to put things away


May become angry if activities are interrupted


Responds to simple commands by adult


Begins to realize that can't have everything own way


Social relationships with other children are awkward


May hit, bite or fight over a toy


Engages in social laughter


Shows anger through aggressive behavior



Separation anxiety is most severe in 12-18 mos.

13-18 mos.


Engages in experimentation and ritualized play


Solitary or onlooker play


Plays by self, imitating own play, initiates own play


Deliberately throws/drops toys and watches them fall


19-24 mos.


Emergence of symbolic play


Rides a broom for a horse; plays house


Imitates adult behaviors in play


Moves (dances to music)


Begins to play with other children



Almost complete store of emotional expressions


Temper tantrums often begin to become more "intense"

2 years


Differential facial expression reflect emotional range

Defends own possessions but is beginning to share


Asks for wants


Knows gender identity


Participates in simple group activity - singing, dancing


Little interaction with other children


Mother continues to be very important to child


Sometimes makes special friend by age 3



Parallel play or onlooker play


Imaginative play


Symbolically uses objects and self in play (plays house)


Beginning cooperative play


Enjoys imitating mother and using miniature equipment


Participates in simple group activities



Gentle, friendly person


Expresses affection warmly


Emotionally calm, sure, balanced


Lovable, engaging, enthusiastic, and appreciative


(at 2 1/2)

Explosive, tense, rigid, insecure, easily frustrated


Ritualistic, routine


Screams, throws temper tantrums for little cause


3 years


Friends becoming more interesting than adults


Shares toys, takes turns with assistance


Uses "I, me, you"


Beginning to learn to take responsibility


Shows affection for younger siblings


Associative group play begins



Joins in play with other children (associative play)


Begins dramatic play - acting out whole scenes


Uses imaginative play with dolls


Enjoys imaginary companions


Often silly in play, doing things wrong purposefully



Interprets emotions from facial expressions and intonation


Calm, collected, secure, capable, friendly


Interested in other children's feelings


Conforms easily, eager to please


Developing ability to stand frustration; emotions in control


(at 3 1/2)

Insecure, anxious, often bossy


Self-willed, refuses to obey


Inconsistent in behaviors


Genital exploration

4 years


Plays and interacts with other children


Improving in turn-taking and cooperating


Spurred on by rivalry in activity


Understands social problem solving


Shows interest in exploring sex differences


Developing self-responsibility; enjoys doing things for self


Plays outside with little supervision; likes to be trusted


Sense of property is developing


Still home and mother-oriented



Prefers play with other children to play with adults

Dramatic play closer to reality


Plays dress-up; very imaginative with self and others


Loves adventure and anything new


Plays in groups of 2-5 children

Imaginary fears may develop (dark, injury, etc.)



Exhibits definite personality


Shows concern and sympathy


Calm, secure, balanced


Loves adventure, excitement, anything new


(at 4 1/2)

Bosses and criticizes; exaggerates and boasts


Extremes in behaviors: loves a lot, hates a lot


May lie and use profanity


Romantic attachment to parent of opposite sex

Responsibility and guilt

5 years


Wants to do what is expected


Respects reasonable authority


Willing to play with most other children in the class


Engages with other children in cooperative play; fair play


Engages with other children in role assignments


Chooses own friends; friendships change rapidly


One or two best friends of same sex


Awareness of sex roles begins



Plays simple table games; competitive games


Plays games with rules


Plays in small groups, not too highly organized


Play changes rapidly



Enjoys life, secure; secure; consistently sunny and happy


Self-limiting, protects self from over-stimulation


Expresses emotions freely and openly


(at 5 1/2)

Quarrels are frequent, short duration, forgotten quickly


Anger outbursts are frequent; ready to disobey


Jealousy among classmates is common


Hesitant, dawdling, over-demanding, explosive


Extremes: shy/bold, affectionate/antagonistic


Independence from parents