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Social-Emotional Development: Milestones

This lesson addresses children’s social-emotional development. Each child develops social-emotional competence through warm and nurturing relationships with significant adults. Managers demonstrate understanding of children’s growth and development across all developmental domains. Through hiring warm and nurturing staff members, creating a welcoming environment, and intentionally creating a sense of community among all families, children, and staff, managers ensure a high-quality program where children can optimally develop social-emotional competence.


The objectives for this lesson are:

  • Identify typical social-emotional milestones across different age levels.
  • Identify the important role that a manager plays in facilitating children’s social-emotional competence.
  • Identify ways to provide information to staff and families that informs them about children’s social-emotional milestones.


The development of social-emotional skills is the foundation for children’s later academic learning. The people that children interact with support their growth and development. Children’s earliest memories and feelings of attachment are to the significant people in their lives. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) lists 10 early childhood standards and accreditation criteria for ensuring a high-quality program; it is not surprising that the first standard covers relationships.

The Manager's Role

It is important as a manager for you to ensure that the staff members you hire and supervise build warm relationships with children and families. In addition, your center policies should intentionally create a caring community among the families, staff, and children and youth. Children’s social-emotional development is dependent on feeling that they are a part of a loving and caring community. Children’s overall development is closely tied to forming strong attachments to their parents and caregivers. The child-caregiver relationship influences positive developmental outcomes across all developmental domains for the children and youth enrolled in the program.

Having a strong understanding of how to facilitate children’s social-emotional development can support staff members and families in their daily interactions with children and youth. As a manager, you will provide families and staff members with information about the typical stages of a child’s social skill development and when delays in the development of these skills may be a cause for concern. 

Ways you can provide developmental information:

  • Include brief examples of social-emotional milestones in program materials, such as newsletters and a program website.
  • Provide brief tip sheets or other resources that families can review, in a “Families Corner” of the child-care program.
  • Furnish handouts and DVDs from reliable, evidence-based sources on typical social-emotional development.

As a manager, you should model your interest in the development of each child and youth who participates in the program. Knowing when to reassure staff and families and when to assist families in obtaining outside resources to help address a child’s social-emotional needs is a critical part of your role as a program manager. 

Understanding Social Emotional Development

: Watch this video to learn about observational assessments and screening tools.

Stages of Social and Emotional Development

As a manager you need to have a strong understanding of the typical social-emotional milestones that occur during development. You also need to know how to locate and make available evidence-based resources on social-emotional development. These resources should be easily available to staff and families.

Developmental Screening

Infant-Toddler and Preschool Screening

Become familiar with various screening materials that assess young children’s social and emotional development.  You can learn more about different Social-Emotional Screening tools by reviewing information provided by the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, see and the Learn attachment, Screening for Social Emotional Concerns: Considerations in the Selection of Instruments  Social-emotional screening tools can help you focus staff and families on children’s social and emotional development. For example, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional (ASQ:SE; Squires, Bricker, & Twombly, 2002) addresses typical stages of social-emotional development for children ages 6 months to 5 years. Or the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA; LeBuffe & Naglieri, 1999) examines children’s initiative, self-control, and attachment and problem behaviors for children 2 to 5 years. Checklists such as these can be helpful to staff members. You will find it interesting to compare the parent’s perceptions and observations with those of the staff members. Having a checklist can provide evidence of concerns about a child’s development. The earlier these concerns are noted and addressed with the child’s health-care provider or with a consultant from the early-intervention system, the better the outcomes for the child and family.

School-Age Screening

As children enter the primary grades and middle childhood, they begin to learn more about themselves. They typically become familiar with their own strengths, are interested in forming special friendships, and become active in competitive games and sports. Children build resilience and self-sufficiency as they engage in problem-solving situations and independently completing tasks. Once again, as a program manager, you can serve as a resource by providing staff and families with information about typical development and the many ways young people can increase their social-emotional competence.

For youth ages 6 to 12 years old, there are many screening and assessment instruments for children with evidence of delays in social and emotional development (see for more information about different tools for school-age children). Typically, these screening and assessment tools are administered by trained personnel in the school system or by a health professionals. If the child-care or youth program staff members have documented concerns about an individual child, it is best to plan a meeting to discuss the concerns with the family. You and your staff members can learn from the parents whether these concerns have also been observed outside the program setting. Some families may give written consent for you or a staff member involved with the child to discuss strategies for addressing the child’s needs with school personnel. When children and youth receive school-based services or other mental-health services related to social-emotional concerns, it becomes critical for all the adults to have a written plan and regularly share information to ensure that the strategies being used are consistently implemented across settings. When working directly with the child, you will take join with the family to undertake this collaborative process. 

Adults: Typical Development and Common Challenges

As a manager you can support staff members in building relationships with children, families, and colleagues, which in turn creates a strong, caring community within the child-care program. You can provide resources and information that staff members and families need to enhance children’s growth and development. It is important to also examine your own social-emotional development. You should always strive to model healthy social-emotional interactions: positive regard, hopefulness, friendliness, cooperation, teamwork, self-control, dealing positively with conflict and mistakes, and expressing feelings in appropriate ways.

Resources for Families

While you watch this video about sharing resources with families reflect, on ways that you can provide families with high quality, evidence-based resources on the topic of social-emotional development.

In Summary

Your knowledge of typical social-emotional developmental milestones and where to access appropriate resources is key to building a quality program that facilitates children’s social and emotional growth. There are several ways you can support families and staff members in this critical endeavor:

  • Provide families and staff members with accessible, evidence-based resources on children's social-emotional developmental milestones
  • Provide a list of resources in the community that families can access if they need assistance to address a child's social or emotional needs
  • Ensure that staff have access to evidence-based screening tools that can assist them in identifying whether a child's behavior is typical for his/her age or if there is a concern about social-emotional development
  • With the parent's written consent, collaborate with school-based or mental health service providers who serve a child or youth enrolled in the program.
  • Reflect upon your own emotional strengths and model healthy social-emotional interactions with children, families, and colleagues to create a positive center climate.


Read the attached Practical Suggestions for The Classroom Teacher or Parent handout adapted from an article written by Dr. Barbara Fatum, school psychologist and consultant who writes about emotional learning and emotional intelligence. You may already be aware of some of these suggestions, while others may be new to you.

Then, follow the Practical Suggestions Reflection document to reflect on how you can consciously incorporate one or more of these suggestions into your daily interactions with children, staff and families in your program. How will you monitor your progress? Do you have a colleague or friend who could help you with your plan to consciously use one or two of these suggestions?


The documents below are examples of information for families and staff about children’s social and emotional developmental milestones. How might you use these handouts or others like them in your program to enhance the staff and family members’ awareness of the stages of social-emotional development?


A strong emotional bond that grows between a child and an adult who is part of the child’s everyday life; attachment relationships between children and adults teach children to interpret emotions and behaviors and to develop an understanding of relationships
Emotional Intelligence:
The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically


True or false? As a manager, it is not necessary to have an understanding of typical social- emotional milestones; this is the responsibility of staff.
Which of the following strategies are effective ways to share social-emotional milestones with families and staff?
A school-age staff member comes to you with documented concerns about a particular child’s social-emotional development. After observing in the classroom you…
References & Resources

Baker, A. C., & Manfredi/Petitt L. A. (2004). Relationships, the Heart of Quality Care: Creating community among adults in early care settings. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). CDC’s developmental milestones.

Fatum, B. (2013). Healthy classrooms, emotional intelligence, and brain research. Retrieved from:

LeBuffe, P. & Naglieri, J. (2003). Devereux Early Childhood Assessment-Clinical Form (DECA-C). Kaplan Press.

Squires, J., Bricker, D., & Twombly, E. (2002). Ages & Stages Questionnaires: Social Emotional. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.

The Centers for Disease Control. (2015). Learn the Signs. Act Early. Retrieved from