24–36 Months: Social-Emotional Development - ZERO TO THREE (2023)

As two-year-olds, children really begin to play interactively with their peers. Learn more about toddler social-emotional development.

Loving relationships give young children a sense of comfort, safety, confidence, and encouragement. They teach toddlers how to form friendships, communicate emotions, and to deal with challenges. Strong, positive relationships also help children develop trust, empathy, compassion, and a sense of right and wrong.

As two-year-olds, children really begin to play interactively with their peers. You will also see a real explosion in pretend play, a critical aspect of children’s development. Pretend play builds language, thinking, and social skills when children take on roles and develop their own ideas and stories.

Two-year-olds are also capable of empathy—understanding the feelings of others. You might see a child comfort a peer who is hurt or even cry when he sees another child who is upset. At the same time, toddlers still love to say “No!” and struggle with resolving conflicts with friends. Children develop more advanced social play skills, such as sharing and turn-taking, over time as they near age 3 and beyond. Here is what you might see happening among peers now as they play out a pretend story:

(Video) Emotional Social Development in Children between 24 to 36 months

Josie, a 2 ½ year old, carefully laid the blocks out in a circle. “Anybody want some pizza?” she called out. Tomas, who was almost 3, said he wanted a big piece. “Does this have pepperoni? I don’t like pepperoni.” Josie said it was plain pizza and carefully scooped a block up with a toy spatula and put it on a plate. She tapped a few keys on the toy cash register and said, “That will be $20.” Tomas touched her hand, pretending to give her money. “Thank you very much,” said Josie.

What You Can Do to Support Toddler Social-Emotional Development

Help your toddler understand their feelings.

Now that toddlers have a firmer grasp of themselves as individuals, they experience more complex feelings like embarrassment and shame. Help your child make sense of their feelings by using words to describe emotions: You are feeling sad and jealous that Carly got the cupcake with the butterfly on it. I know that’s hard, but now you can choose the blue cupcake or the green one.Teaching children the words for emotions is important because, over time, it gives children the ability to talk about their feelings instead of acting them out.

In your work:

  • Explore the idea of feelings through play. Use puppets to create a story about your child’s typical frustrations or fears, like having to share toys with a playmate, adjusting to a new baby, or separating from you when a babysitter comes. Suggest that your child draw a sad picture when they are down, or make angry shapes from play-dough when they are mad. Read books about feelings and talk about the pictures: Which child looks mad? Which looks afraid?
  • Be a careful observer. Watch to see what your child is “telling” you as they play. For example, if your toddler dresses up in mommy clothes and acts out saying good-bye to their Teddy, they may be struggling with feelings about separations. You can help them work through these big ideas and feelings by playing along and reminding them that, while Teddy misses his mama, he knows his mama always comes back.
  • Help your child express his feelings in age-appropriate ways.Give your child acceptable ways to share strong feelings. For example, toddlers can rip paper, stomp their feet or throw a foam ball when they are very mad. Help your little one understand there are many healthy, non- hurtful ways of expressing feelings.

Encourage early friendships.

Children need practice to learn to share, take turns, resolve conflicts, and experience the joy of friendship. Playing together helps children develop all of these important skills and strengthen toddler social-emotional development. When you provide fun choices for activities, a safe, supportive environment for play, and provide the needed guidance to help children share and resolve conflicts, they will discover the pleasure of early friendships.

(Video) Early Developmental Milestones - Toddler (12 to 24 months, 24 to 36 months)

In your work:

  • Offer some play activities that don’t require sharing.Art projects, making music (where each child has an instrument), sand or water play are all options that can keep conflicts to a minimum.
  • Ask children to imagine how their behavior might affect others:I see that you told Greta that she can’t play ball with you. Look at her face now. How do you think she is feeling?
  • Make a “friend book.”Take photos of each of your child’s friends. Glue each photo to the top of a page and then list that child’s favorite toy, book, food, game, stuffed animal, etc. Staple together or tie the pages by punching a hole in each page, threading with yarn, and knotting. Read the book to your child so she can delight in hearing about herself and all the children she knows.
  • Help your toddler to see others’ points of view,which encourages empathy:Casey is feeling sad because his daddy just said good-bye. Let’s see if he wants to read a book with us.

Let your child take the lead in deciding what to play.

Look for ways to help them continue to explore their interests. For example, if your toddler is into trains, line up several kitchen chairs to make a pretend train, read books about trains, and plan a visit your local train station if possible.

In your work:

  • Comment on or describe what your child is doing.You are using so many beautiful colors to make that drawing. Or You are pretending to be the doctor and you’re taking care of the sick doggie.
  • Get involved in your child’s play by following her lead. If they are making a pretend picnic, you can help prepare and pack the “food” in a basket. This helps your child learn about the pleasure of interactive play. It also is a chance for you to build on your child’s activities to help her learn. For example, you might ask: What weather is good weather for a picnic? When you are involved in your child’s play, they feel loved, important, and competent.

Support older toddlers’ developing skills.

Toddlers learn best when you let them play, explore, and follow their interests. They develop new skills when you give them just enough help so that they can master a challenge without becoming overly frustrated. For example, if you see your 30-month-old trying to build a block tower which keeps falling, you may suggest he build on the hard floor instead of the carpet. You might also suggest that he build a strong base, and help guide his hand to set the blocks once the tower gets tall. Here are some steps to helping toddlers become good problem- solvers.

(Video) Child Development: Your Child at 36 Months

In your work:

  • Empathize with your child’s frustration.You are working so hard to get your mittens on! It takes time to figure it out.
  • Ask your child if she knows what may be causing the problem.
  • Offer your observations–for example, has she forgotten to poke her thumb into the thumb space of the mitten?
  • Ask if she has any ideas about how to get it on correctly.
  • Ask if she wants suggestionsHow about putting your thumb in first and then your hand?
  • Provide the support she needs to be successful—for example, helping her position her fingers to get them in correctly.
  • Praise the process, not just the result:You are really trying to figure this out and sticking with it. That’s great!This helps children learn persistence and lets them know that trying hard is just as important as succeeding.

Help your child learn to resolve conflict in healthy, appropriate ways.

At this age it is very typical for toddlers to still struggle with sharing, turn-taking, and following rules. This is because they have not yet mastered self-control. You help them learn these important new skills when you calmly take them thought the process of resolving a conflict. You will probably have to go through these steps many, many times before they are able to do it themselves.

In your work:

  • Keep it simple.Explain what happened in as few words as possible. Talk in a calm, not-angry voice.
  • Go over what happenedto make sure your child understands:You pushed Justin because you wanted the broom back.
  • Point out the consequences of the child’s behavior:After you pushed Justin, he started to cry. It hurt. He felt sad and mad.
  • Brainstorm better choice(s) your child can make next time.Older 2- year-olds may be able to offer some ideas on their own. Others will need suggestions, like using their words or asking for help from an adult. Most toddlers will need help to carry out these strategies.

Use language to describe feelings and experiences.

While you often hear adults asking toddlers to “use your words”, toddlers often they lack the words they need to describe their feelings. By helping your child name her feelings and practice ways to manage their emotions, she learns over time how to do it herself.


In your work:

  • Put your child’s feelings into words.When your brother took your paintbrush, you felt really angry.Share your own feelings as well:I am so frustrated that I can’t find my keys.
  • Read books about feelings.Ask your local librarian for suggestions for children’s books that talk about feelings. Some ideas include:My Many- Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, Lots of Feelingsby Shelly Rotner, andThe Feelings Bookby Todd Parr.

Explain your reasons for limits and requests.

As toddlers approach age three, most use and understand language well enough to handle simple explanations. Point out how rules benefit your child: “When you help me by putting your lunch plate on the counter, I finish cleaning up quicker and then we can read an extra story.” “When you share toys, it means that everybody gets a chance to play.”

In your work:

  • Talk about rules and limits in language that your child can understand.You may not hit. Hitting hurts. When you are mad, you can jump up and down or stamp your feet or come to me for a hug.
  • Show your child the benefits involved in cooperating.Natural consequences help children understand the cause and effect involved in a rule, request or limit. For example, the natural consequence of throwing a toy truck is having it put away for a little while. But natural consequences can be positive too! Remind your child, “If you cooperate with getting your jackets on, then we’ll have more time at the park.” Strategies like this help children learn the rules and to make good choices over time.

Look for ways to make your home culture part of your child’s everyday routines.

A child’s culture is an important part of who he is. The connection he has to his culture shapes his identity and self-esteem in healthy and positive ways.

(Video) Child Development Stages: Social Emotional Milestones for 2-3 Years

In your work:

  • Teach your child’s caregiversthe words your family uses for important people mother, father, grandparents) and things (bottle, blanket, pacifier, etc.).
  • Choose books and music that reflect your home culture.These are often available at your public library for no charge and will quickly become a beloved part of your child’s daily routines—bedtime, bath-time, or just driving in the car.


What is the social and emotional development of a 3 year old? ›

During this year your child really starts to understand that their body, mind and emotions are their own. Your child knows the difference between feeling happy, sad, afraid or angry. Your child also shows fear of imaginary things, cares about how others act and shows affection for familiar people.

What can a child do socially at 0 3 months? ›

By three months, your baby will be a master of "smile talk." Sometimes she'll start a "conversation" with a broad smile and gurgling to catch your attention. Other times she'll lie in wait, watching your face until you give the first smile before beaming back her enthusiastic response. Her whole body will participate.

At what age does social-emotional development begin? ›

During the first three years of life, children begin to develop the capacity to experience the emotional or psychological state of another person (Zahn-Waxler and Radke-Yarrow 1990).

What are 3 main aspects of social-emotional development? ›

Social-emotional development consists of three main areas of children's self-regulation: Acting: Behaving in socially appropriate ways and ways that foster learning. Feeling: Understanding others' emotions and regulation of one's own emotions. Thinking: Regulating attention and thoughts.

What is the social-emotional development of a 2 year old? ›

Between the ages of 2 and 3 years old, your toddler will become more independent. They will begin to move from sitting next to a friend, to back and forth play with other children. This is a good time to help your toddler learn about taking turns, and thinking about other people.

What are the stages of social and emotional development? ›

Erikson's Eight Stages of Development
  • Learning Basic Trust Versus Basic Mistrust (Hope) ...
  • Learning Autonomy Versus Shame (Will) ...
  • Learning Initiative Versus Guilt (Purpose) ...
  • Industry Versus Inferiority (Competence) ...
  • Learning Identity Versus Identity Diffusion (Fidelity) ...
  • Learning Intimacy Versus Isolation (Love)

How do toddlers develop social and emotional skills? ›

Play is important for all areas of toddler development, including emotional development. Through play, toddlers learn about big emotions like frustration, guilt and shame. Play ideas to develop toddler emotions include puppet play, singing, reading and messy play.

What can a 0 3 month old do intellectually? ›

Her brain is hard at work thinking and understanding (cognitive development.) She can anticipate events like sucking at the sight of a bottle and she can focus on and follow objects and faces. She'll start to love doing the same thing again and again.

What social skills do 2 year olds need? ›

Pretend play builds language, thinking, and social skills when children take on roles and develop their own ideas and stories. Two-year-olds are also capable of empathy—understanding the feelings of others. You might see a child comfort a peer who is hurt or even cry when he sees another child who is upset.

What is social-emotional milestones? ›

Social-emotional development is a child's ability to express their emotions effectively, follow rules and directions, form positive relationships with others, and build confidence.

What is an example of social-emotional development? ›

Some examples of social-emotional skills in use are: Recognizing if someone is sad, and asking if they're ok. Expressing yourself with your friends in a different way than with your parents. Understanding your thoughts and feelings, and being able to relate to others.

What are the 5 social emotional learning skills? ›

The CASEL 5 addresses five broad and interrelated areas of competence and highlights examples for each: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

What are the five characteristics of social emotional development? ›

Social and emotional learning in schools involves 5 key abilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These skills are seen as the foundation upon which people can build all other relational skills.

What are some key developmental milestones and social skills for ages 2 3? ›

At this age, expect big feelings, tantrums, simple sentences, pretend play, independence, new thinking skills and much more. Activities that are good for development include talking and listening, reading, working on everyday skills and cooking together.

What is the physical development of a 2 3 year old? ›

Helping your 2 to 3 year old develop their physical skills can be hard work, but is really important. They're starting to learn to climb up and down stairs, kick a ball (but not usually in the right direction), and to jump off a step. They're starting to undress themselves and are even able to put on some clothes.

What social milestones should a 3 year old have? ›

Interacting - Social and Emotional Development
  • Shows concern and affection for others without prompting.
  • Copies adults and friends (for example, runs when other children run).
  • Takes turns in games.
  • Separates easily from parents.
  • Shows a wide range of feelings.
  • Enjoys routines and may get upset with a major change.

What are the types of emotional development? ›

The major types of emotions include fear, sadness, anger, surprise, excitement, guilt, shame, disgust, interest, and happiness. These emotions develop in an orderly sequence over the course of infancy and childhood.

What are stages of social development? ›

Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development
StagePsychosocial CrisisBasic Virtue
1.Trust vs. MistrustHope
2.Autonomy vs. ShameWill
3.Initiative vs. GuiltPurpose
4.Industry vs. InferiorityCompetency
4 more rows

What is emotional development and examples? ›

Examples of Emotional Development

Expressing awareness of their own feelings and those of others. Displaying self-control and management of emotions. Paying attention to and being observant of others. Forming healthy friendships. Expressing feelings through words.

What is social development in toddlers? ›

What is social development? Social development refers to the process by which a child learns to interact with others around them. As they develop and perceive their own individuality within their community, they also gain skills to communicate with other people and process their actions.

What are social emotional activities? ›

Social-emotional development activities offer a safe and supportive environment for students to learn prosocial behavior. The games encourage healthy relationships that reinforce empathy, sharing, and compassion.

What is socio emotional development in early childhood? ›

Social and emotional development in the early years, also referred to as early childhood mental health, refers to children's emerging capacity to: Experience, regulate and express a range of emotions. Develop close, satisfying relationships with other children and adults. Actively explore their environment and learn.

What stage of development is from 0 to 2 years of age? ›

From birth until they turn 2, children are in what famous developmental researcher Jean Piaget calls the sensorimotor period. During this time, children use their senses and actions to learn and grow.

What are the developmental milestone of a child from 0 to 2 years? ›

Physical Milestones

Children will first learn to hold their head up. Little by little, they will learn to roll and to sit (usually by six months). Usually by 24 months, children learn to creep, then crawl, pull themselves up, walk while holding onto furniture, stand, and then walk two or three steps without help.

How can I help my baby develop social skills? ›

Here are ideas to help babies up to 12 months old develop social and emotional skills.
  1. Talk, sing, and play with babies while feeding them or changing diapers. ...
  2. Read books or tell stories to babies using a quiet voice. ...
  3. Play hiding games by hiding a stuffed animal or toy under a blanket or cloth. ...
  4. Look at photos together.

Do 2 year olds need social interaction? ›

The short answer is yes, as friendships help children learn critical social and emotional skills. And once they're toddlers, they actually begin to consider certain peers “friends” and begin practicing and learning these skills.

How can I help my 2 year old regulate his emotions? ›

Here are some ways to help your child learn to control her emotions:
  1. Provide as much stability and consistency as possible. ...
  2. Accept your child's emotions and emotional responses. ...
  3. Talk about your own feelings. ...
  4. Encourage your child to talk about his feelings. ...
  5. Model emotional regulation.
2 Jul 2019

How can I help my 2 year old be more social? ›

6 Ways to Improve Your Child's Social Skills
  1. Follow Their Interests. Enjoying others will come more naturally when a child is doing something they are genuinely interested in. ...
  2. Learn to Ask Questions. ...
  3. Practice Role Playing. ...
  4. Teach Empathy. ...
  5. Know Your Child's Limits. ...
  6. Be a Good Role Model.

What are some milestones for social and emotional development of the infant? ›

Social-Emotional Developmental Milestones in Infants & Toddlers
  • 2 Months. Calms down when spoken to or picked up. ...
  • 4 Months. Smiles on own to get attention. ...
  • 6 Months. Knows familiar people. ...
  • 9 Months. Is shy, clingy, or fearful of strangers. ...
  • 12 Months. Plays games such as “pat-a-cake” and “peek-a-boo” ...
  • 15 Months. ...
  • 18 Months. ...
  • 24 Months.

What is an important milestone in a child's social development? ›

An important milestone in a child's social development is awareness of his or herself.

What is the first step in social and emotional development? ›

Build Awareness

Increasing social and emotional awareness in your daily life is the first step in developing social and emotional skills. This means noticing when your child is doing something right and letting them know that you noticed.

What are some examples of social development? ›

Social development is the change over time in an individual's understanding of, attitudes concerning, and behavior toward others; for example, a developmental change in how people behave with members of the other gender or their understanding of what friendship entails.

How can you promote social-emotional development in the classroom? ›

How to Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning in Your Classroom
  1. Be Present and Observant. In order to figure out what my students are struggling with, I have to be present and observant. ...
  2. Create a Supportive Atmosphere. ...
  3. Share Life Experiences. ...
  4. Stimulate Discussion. ...
  5. Give Your Students the Opportunity to Practice.
7 Jan 2020

What are the characteristics of emotional development? ›

Characteristics of Emotional Development in Childhood
  • Interactions with Adults. Interaction with elders is regular and part of an infant's daily life. ...
  • Relationship with Adults. ...
  • Interactions with Peers. ...
  • Relationship with Peers. ...
  • Identifies Self in Relation to Others. ...
  • Recognition of Ability. ...
  • Expression of Emotions. ...
  • Empathy.
14 Jun 2021

What is Piaget's theory on social and emotional development? ›

He proposed that morality emerges as children develop relationship skills with peers. Piaget observed how children play with marbles: At three years, children tend to be unaware of any rules. Between three and six years, children are inconsistent about rules and their application.

What are the factors of emotional development? ›

Apart from family and school, there are a number of other factors that contribute to the emotional development of young children. These include biological make up, outside social and sporting interactions and modern communications such as computers and television.

What should a 3 year old do socially? ›

How they play: At age 3, they typically play near a friend, find it difficult to take turns and to share things; at age 4, they may begin cooperative play, still difficult to share but begin to understand turn-taking, begin to offer things to others; at age 5, enjoy playing with other children, often cooperate well, ...

What should a 3 year old be able to do socially? ›

In addition, your 3- to 4-year-old is becoming more social. Your child may now be able to cooperate with their friends, take turns, and may begin to show some problem-solving skills. At this point in development, your child should be able to: Imitate parents and friends.

What is the social development of a 3/4 year old? ›

They start to understand social skills like sharing and being kind, but only when they're feeling safe and happy. Three year olds often enjoy being and playing with other children. Your child is learning that other people are real and have feelings so they may be upset when other people are upset.

What are some social-emotional developmental milestones for children ages 3 4? ›

Social and emotional milestones
  • Interested in new experiences.
  • Cooperates with other children.
  • Plays “Mom” or “Dad”
  • Increasingly inventive in fantasy play.
  • Dresses and undresses.
  • Negotiates solutions to conflicts.
  • More independent.
  • Imagines that many unfamiliar images may be “monsters”
2 Nov 2009

How much socialization should a 3 year old? ›

“Toddlers and preschoolers need as much social exposure as they can get,” Dr. King says. Pediatricians recommend parents encouraging 1- to 3-year-olds to interact with peers, and parents should schedule social activities for children ages 3 to 6. “Both children and parents benefit from socialization at this point," Dr.

What are social-emotional milestones? ›

Social-emotional development is a child's ability to express their emotions effectively, follow rules and directions, form positive relationships with others, and build confidence.

How do preschoolers support social and emotional development? ›

Promoting Social-Emotional Development in Your Child
  1. Love your child and show your affection for them. ...
  2. Encourage your child to try new things. ...
  3. Give your child opportunities to play with other children their age. ...
  4. Show your feelings. ...
  5. Establish daily routines. ...
  6. Acknowledge your child's feelings.
27 Feb 2015

What social skills may you see when observing a three to five year old? ›

  • enjoys playing with other children.
  • may have a particular friend.
  • shares, smiles and cooperates with peers.
  • jointly manipulates objects with one or two other peers.
  • develops independence and social skills they will use for learning and getting on with others at preschool and school.
23 Feb 2018

What should a child turning 3 know? ›

3-Year-Old Language and Cognitive Milestones

Your child should be able to ask for items by their name, understand simple instructions, and make eye contact with others, says Emily Rooker, speech language pathologist at Bright SpOT Pediatric Therapy.

What is the cognitive development of a 2 3 year old? ›

From 2 to 3 Years

Most two-year-olds are able to: Identify their own reflection in the mirror by name. Imitate more complex adult actions (playing house, pretending to do laundry, etc.) Match objects with their uses.

What is the cognitive development of a 3 year old? ›

Thinking - Cognitive Development

Draws or copies a circle with crayon or pencil. Plays make-believe with dolls, animals and people. Uses imagination to create stories or play. Matches and sorts objects by shape and color.

What is social emotional in preschool? ›

Social-Emotional Milestones

Since these skills develop together, this area of development is referred to as social-emotional development. Social-emotional milestones focus on children's developing abilities to regulate their attention, emotions, and behavior, and to form positive relationships with adults and peers.

What are the emotional development in early childhood? ›

Social and emotional development in the early years, also referred to as early childhood mental health, refers to children's emerging capacity to: Experience, regulate and express a range of emotions. Develop close, satisfying relationships with other children and adults. Actively explore their environment and learn.

What are some social emotional milestones for a preschoolers? ›

Social Milestones for Preschoolers

Reaching milestones, like sharing toys and taking turns, trying new things, and learning to manage strong emotions, are going to make a big difference in your child's school success.


1. Behavioral Science Development
(Peter Yacoub)
2. 34-36 months old toddler development and activities in tamil / 3 year old toddler /#dmommytalks
(D Mommy Talks)
3. 8 Stages of Development by Erik Erikson
4. 3 Year Old Development | Social Emotional Development
(Nekole Amber)
5. Child Development Lessons 24 to 30 months Social Emotional
(Gabriel Villanueva)
6. Social-Emotional Learning for Children Ages 3 years and Under
(Life Steps Foundation)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Sen. Emmett Berge

Last Updated: 03/30/2023

Views: 6145

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Sen. Emmett Berge

Birthday: 1993-06-17

Address: 787 Elvis Divide, Port Brice, OH 24507-6802

Phone: +9779049645255

Job: Senior Healthcare Specialist

Hobby: Cycling, Model building, Kitesurfing, Origami, Lapidary, Dance, Basketball

Introduction: My name is Sen. Emmett Berge, I am a funny, vast, charming, courageous, enthusiastic, jolly, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.