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Social-Emotional Development: School-Age Children

This lesson focuses on how school-age children develop relationships, manage their emotions, cope with stress, and develop social skills. You will learn about social-emotional milestones for school-age children and the components for observing their social-emotional development.

  • Describe the components of assessing social-emotional development in school-age children.
  • Discuss the role adults play in supporting the social-emotional skills of school-age children.
  • Identify typical social-emotional milestones in school-age children.



Think about how you use social skills every day. When you wait your turn to comment during a meeting, receive constructive criticism from a spouse or sibling, apologize, spend time with a friend or accept others’ differences, you are using the social skills you learned as a child. You also use your social skills when adjusting to new situations and getting to know new people. This can occur when you take a new exercise class or attend a meeting at a community organization for the first time. These new and unfamiliar situations can be difficult for many people, especially if transitions and change are hard to accept. As a caregiver for school-age children, it is important that you find ways to interact with other adults so children can observe your use of social skills. When you interact with your own family members or families of the children in your care, be sure to always model the skills you teach the children in your program.

Children tend to focus on themselves and the world around them. They are working hard to learn and discover how their environment can help them learn, develop, and imagine. They are focused on how they can make sense of the world around them and relate it to themselves. As children grow, they are expected to develop skills that allow them to interact more broadly. To do this, school-age children must go outside of their own world and take other people’s emotions, cultures, and perspectives into consideration.


Let’s look at school-age children’s social-emotional development.  The chart below provides an overview of the social-emotional developmental milestones in school-age children adapted from the book, What Teachers Need to Know about Social and Emotional Development by R. Leyden and E. Shale:

Typical Social-Emotional Development of School-Age Children

5- to 7-Year-Olds

  • Develop greater empathy
  • Establish and maintain positive relationships and friendships
  • Start developing a sense of morality
  • Control impulsive behavior
  • Identify and manage emotions
  • Form a positive self-concept and self-esteem (identity formation has begun)
  • Become resilient
  • Begin to function more independently (from looking after personal possessions to making decision without needing constant support)
  • Form opinions about moral values and learn right and wrong
  • Be able to express an opinion and negotiate
  • Begin understanding different viewpoints
  • Start making more sense of “who I am” (“Who am I like?” “Who likes me?”)
  • Develop a sense of family history (identity)
  • Tackle questions about death
  • Accept that parents are not all-powerful

8- and 9-Year-Olds

  • Fit in and are accepted by peers (preoccupied with comparisons—“do I fit in?”)
  • Have a best friend
  • Strengthen cooperative skills
  • Adjust to a sexually developing body and handle the agonies of feeling awkward and self-conscious (“What will I look like?” “Do I look normal?”)
  • Continue refining a sense of self (fluid and constantly changing)
  • Work out values and beliefs and often passionately adopt an ethical stance
  • Establish independence and individuality (intensely private, wanting alone time, displays of noncompliance at school and home)

10- and 11-Year-Olds

  • Behave appropriately in a variety of social situations
  • Refine communication skills
  • Resolve interpersonal conflicts and understand the difference between passive, assertive and aggressive responses
  • Become more independent and responsible for actions
  • Value and respect rules and authority
  • Know how to act appropriately and safely online, including social media
  • Manage emotional changes accompanying puberty (torn between needing the security of the familiar and craving the unknown)
  • Develop more positive self-esteem and resilience by building strengths and accepting limitations
  • Acknowledge “who I am” through an optimistic lens

12 Years and Onward

  • Establish independence
  • Adjust to a larger social world with greater expectations and demands
  • Overcome the awkward and clumsy stage
  • Find acceptance within a peer group
  • Becoming more self-assured and able to say no
  • Move further away from family and closer to friends for support
  • Handle issues and growing concerns about sexuality and relationships
  • Manage confusing and unexpected feelings, such as anger and rebellion
  • Move toward self-acceptance​​

School-Age Children and Social-Emotional Development

When you provide care to school-age children, part of your role is to observe the children in your care. You can accomplish this by using a variety of developmental guidelines to support children and their families. Because having a solid foundation of social-emotional development is crucial for a child’s success in school and in life, it is important to observe children and document their growth. When observing a child’s social-emotional development, you should look at a variety of components such as:

The Ability to Establish and Maintain Relationships

Relationships are the core of social-emotional development. A child’s ability to establish and keep relationships is a very important aspect of their development. This is primarily seen in a child’s ability to make and keep friends. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, friendships allow children to “broaden their horizons beyond the family unit, begin to experience the outside world, form a self-image, and develop a social support system.” Because relationships are so vital to a child’s social-emotional development, a lesson will be dedicated to the topic later in this course.

The Ability to Manage Emotions

As children grow, they learn to regulate their emotions and feelings. The emotional surges we see in young children, such as crying when separating from their family or hitting when they become frustrated, will begin to lessen as children grow older. School-age children will begin to have a better understanding of what emotions are and will be able to discuss how they are feeling. Feelings of sympathy and empathy for others also develop.

The Ability to Cope with Stress

As adults, we know that stress can be the result of a variety of circumstances and it can be overwhelming if we don’t find a way to cope with it. You might cope with stress by going for a walk, spending some time with friends, exercising, or taking time for your favorite hobby. Other ways adults cope with stress are deep breathing, meditation, or visiting a therapist or counselor. As adults, we know when a situation is causing too much stress and we can decide to use one of these methods to help alleviate the stressor. School-age children are just beginning to learn how to identify and deal with stress in their lives. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following are the most common circumstances that cause school-age children to worry:

  • Feeling sick
  • Having nothing to do
  • Not having enough money
  • Feeling pressure to get good grades
  • Feeling left out of a group of peers
  • Not spending enough time with parents
  • Not having homework done
  • Not being good enough at sports
  • Not being able to dress as desired
  • Experiencing body changes
  • Being late for school
  • Being smaller than other children of the same age
  • Having parents argue in front of them
  • Not getting along with teachers
  • Being overweight or bigger than other children of the same age
  • Moving
  • Changing schools
  • Arguing with parents about rules in the family
  • Adjusting to parents separating or divorcing
  • Being pressured to try something they didn’t really want to (e.g., smoking)

For children of military service members, these experiences may also cause worry:

  • Deployment of a family member
  • Upcoming or recent permanent change of station

School-age children are learning how to recognize what causes stress and how it affects their behavior. Some children may still openly act out their feelings, whereas others will keep their stress to themselves. We want children to learn how to manage their stress in a healthy and positive way. Keeping the lines of communication open with families will help you be on alert to whether a child may be experiencing a stressful situation at home or at school. As an important caregiver in the child’s life, it is important to watch for signs that a child may be overloaded with stress so you can help them cope with it in a healthy way. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, common signs of stress overload are when a child:

  • Develops physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains
  • Appears restless, tired and agitated
  • Appears depressed and is uncommunicative about emotions
  • Becomes irritable, negative, and shows little excitement or pleasure in activities
  • Seems less interested in an activity that was once extremely important
  • See grades at school begin to fall
  • Has less interest than usual in attending classes and doing homework
  • Exhibits antisocial behavior such as lying and stealing, forgets or refuses to do chores or tasks and seems much more dependent on family members or teachers than in the past


Social Emotional Development

Watch this video to learn about social-emotional development across the school-age years.


As a family child care provider, you support school-age children’s social-emotional development. You can do this by:

  • Providing opportunities for children to identify and understand their feelings and emotions and to discuss them with others
  • Encouraging critical thinking, problem solving, and supervised risk taking
  • Working hard to create an environment that is structured and safe and that allows children to learn and discover
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Providing an environment that recognizes, embraces, and celebrates diversity
  • Providing an environment that is nurturing and inclusive to children with special needs
  • Acknowledging the contributions of all children to the community
  • Encouraging children and youth to experiment with a variety of activities, materials, and experiences to discover talents and preferences


Observing school-age children in the learning environment is the best way to see which children are developing strong social-emotional skills and which ones may need help. Read and complete Observing Social-Emotional Skills During the School-Age Years. Share your finished work with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.


How do you adapt your behavior to reflect values or norms related to a particular environment or situation? Children may have a difficult time learning this skill, and to support their learning, it is important to reflect on how you use this skill in your own life. Read and complete Adapting to Environments. Share your finished work with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.


the ability to see a process through in order to accomplish a particular goal; children demonstrate persistence when they work through challenges to complete tasks or actions
the ability to regulate or control attention, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors


Which of the following is a typical social-emotional milestone in 5- to 7-year-olds?
A parent asks what traits you consider when evaluating a school-age child’s social-emotional development. What do you say?
Finish this statement: As a provider, you can support school age children’s social-emotional development by…
References & Resources

Council on Accreditation. Standards for Child and Youth Development Programs. Retrieved from

Dunlap, G., & Powell, D. (2009). Promoting Social Behavior of Young Children in Group Settings: A Summary of Research. Roadmap to Effective Intervention Practices No. 3. Tampa, Florida: University of South Florida, Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children.

Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2013). Afterschool Programs that Follow Evidence-Based Practices to Promote Social and Emotional Development are Effective. In T. K. Peterson (Ed.), Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 194-198). Collaborative Communications Group, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2012). Teachers’ Lounge: Determining if Behavior is Bullying. Teaching Young Children, 5(5), 34.

Sandall, S. R., Schwartz, I. S. (2002). Helping Children with Challenging Behaviors Succeed in the Classroom. In Sandall, S. R., Schwartz, I. S. Building blocks for teaching preschoolers with special needs. Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes Pub Co.

Sandall, S., Hemmeter, M., Smith, B., & McLean, M. (Eds.). (2005). DEC Recommended Practices: A Comprehensive Guide for Practical Application. Longmont, CO: Sopris West Publishing.

Schor, E., American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Caring for Your School Age Child: Ages 5-12. New York, NY: Bantam.