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Social-Emotional Development: School-Age Children

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

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



Think about how you use social skills every day. When you wait for your turn to comment in a staff meeting, receive constructive criticism from your administrator, apologize for being late, spend time with a friend, or accept the differences of others; you are using the social skills you learned as a child. You also use your social skills when adjusting to unfamiliar situations and getting to know new people. These circumstances can be difficult for many people, especially if transitions and change are hard to accept. As a school-age staff member, it is important that you find ways to interact with other adults so that you can model the skills you are teaching the children in your program.

Young children tend to focus on themselves and the world around them. They are working hard to 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 a set of skills that allow them to interact more broadly. To do this, children must learn to take other people’s emotions, cultures, and perspectives into consideration.

Social-Emotional Milestones

Both social and emotional development include behaviors that represent children’s emotional growth and their ability to successfully navigate their world through interactions with adults and peers. 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.

The chart below provides an overview of the social-emotional developmental milestones in school-age children. As highlighted in the Cognitive Development, Physical Development, and Communication & Language Development courses, milestones are not checklists with which to judge children’s development. Rather, they provide a guide for when to expect certain skills or behaviors to emerge in children, so you are prepared to meet their changing needs. Think of these milestones as guidelines to help you understand and identify typical patterns of growth and development in school-age children. Your goal is to help all children grow and learn to their potential.

Social-Emotional Development Milestones of School-Age Children

6- to 8-Year-Olds
  • Show more independence from parents and family
  • Start to think about the future
  • Understand more about their place in the world
  • Pay more attention to friendships and teamwork
  • Want to be liked and accepted by friends
9- and 11-Year-Olds
  • Start to form stronger, more complex friendships and peer relationships
  • It becomes more emotionally important to have friends, especially of the same sex
  • Experience more peer pressure
  • Become more aware of their body as puberty approaches
  • Body image and eating problems sometimes start around this age
12- and 14-Year-Olds
  • Show more concern about body image, looks, and clothes
  • Focus on themselves, going back and forth between high expectations and lack of confidence.
  • Experience more moodiness
  • Show more interest in and influence by peer group
  • Express less affection toward parents; sometimes might seem rude or short-tempered
  • Feel stress from more challenging schoolwork
  • Develop eating problems
  • Feel a lot of sadness or depression, which can lead to poor grades at school, alcohol or drug use, unsafe sex, and other problems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Positive Parenting Tips.

Remember that expectations about developmental milestones are driven by cultural values and preferences. Ideas, beliefs, and expectations about child development are just some of the ways cultures are unique. Becoming aware of and respecting these differences can help you better understand families’ experiences that help shape their school-age children.

School-Age Children and Social-Emotional Development

Part of your role as a school-age staff member is to observe and assess the children in your care. This can be done successfully, 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 in their learning environment. Consider the following components when assessing a child’s social-emotional development.

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 emotional self-regulation. 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 the children grow older. School-age children will begin to have a better understanding of what their emotions are and will be able to discuss how they are feeling. Feelings of sympathy and empathy for others also develop during the school-age years.

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 exercises, 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 effectively respond to 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 
  • Adjusting to parents separating or divorcing
  • Being pressured to try something they didn’t really want to do (e.g., smoking)

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 if a child may be experiencing a stressful situation at home or at school. As a school-age staff member, it is important to watch for signs that a child may be overwhelmed with stress so you can help them cope with it in a healthy way. 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 does not communicate their emotions
  • Becomes irritable, negative, and shows little excitement or pleasure in activities
  • Seems less interested in an activity that was once extremely important
  • 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/tasks and seems much more dependent on family members or teachers than in the past

If you are concerned about a school-age child's development, talk with your trainer, coach, or administrator first. Share your observations of the child’s behavior and the reasons you are concerned. Your trainer, coach, or administrator may choose to observe the child and set up a meeting with the child’s family. In some situations, families might be encouraged to work with their local school district, which can arrange a free evaluation of the child’s development and can help the child get any needed services and support.


Social Emotional Development

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


As a school-age staff member, you should purposefully use strategies throughout your day to support young children’s social-emotional development. You can do this by:

  • Providing opportunities for children to identify and understand their feelings and emotions and discuss them with others
  • Encouraging critical thinking, problem solving, and supervised risk taking
  • Working hard to create an environment that is structured, safe, and 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 support. Observe the school-age children in your program, identify the behaviors you notice and think about ways that you can support their social-emotional skills. Complete the Observing Social-Emotional Skills activity below. Then, share your finished work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Take a minute to consider how 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. View and complete the Adapting to Environments activity below. Share your finished work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Developmental Milestones:
A set of skills or behaviors that most children within a certain age range can complete
Developmental Screening:
A tool used to help identify children who are not developing as expected and who may need support; screening can be completed by pediatricians, teachers or others who know both the child and the child’s development well
Emotional Self-Regulation:
The ability to adjust emotional state to a comfortable level of intensity to accomplish goals


Which of the following is a typical social-emotional milestone in six- to eight-year-olds?
Common signs of stress overload in school-age children include all of the following except?
Finish this statement: As a school-age staff member, you can support children’s social-emotional development by…
References & Resources

Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed). Pearson.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Positive parenting tips.

Council on Accreditation Standards for Child and Youth Development Programs.

Dunlap, G., & Powell, D. (2009). Promoting social behavior of young children in group settings: A summary of research. Roadmap to effective intervention practices #3. 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.

Gestwicki, C. (2016). Developmentally appropriate practice: Curriculum and development in early education (6th ed). Cengage Learning.

Gordon, A.M., & K.W. Browne. (2014). Beginnings and beyond: Foundations in early childhood education (9th ed). Cengage Learning.

Leyden, R. & Shale, E. (2012). What teacher need to know about social and emotional development. ACER Press.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2012). Teachers’ lounge: Determining if behavior is bullying. Teaching Young Children, 5(5), 34.

Schor, E., American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Caring for your school age child: Ages 5-12. Bantam.

Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2013). Early childhood development: A multicultural perspective (6th ed). Pearson.

Wallace, A. & Palmer, J. (2017). Boosting social and emotional development in and out of school. National Conference of State Legislators, 25(41).