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What Is Social Development in Early Childhood?

Social Development in Early Childhood

Social development in early childhood is an important part of a person’s overall health, well-being, and happiness throughout his or her life. Social development is very closely linked to cognitive and emotional development, and together these developmental markers and milestones build the foundation for developing relationships with other people, coping with stressful situations, and many other skills. Healthy social development is especially important as a child enters school.

Social development involves children’s ability to interact with others and regulate their own behavior. Identifying these milestones in young children can be difficult if you are unfamiliar with them, so we’ve laid out some of these markers, as well as some red flags.

Milestones of Social Development in Early Childhood

Between the age of three and four

A child’s sense of confidence begins to develop as he or she learns to do more activities without assistance.

At this stage, most children typically begin to:

  • Share toys and take turns
  • Begin engaging in pretend play
  • Follow simple rules in games
  • Sometimes become bossy and defiant
  • Show more independence
  • Might show attachment to one friend

Between the age of four and five

Children start to gain a greater awareness of their own individuality. A child’s sense of self in these early stages can set a pattern for the rest of his or her life.

At this stage, most children typically begin to:

  • Develop friendships with other kids
  • Compare themselves to other children and adults
  • Understand other people’s thoughts and feelings
  • Initiate or join in play with other children and make up games
  • Show an understanding of right and wrong
  • Listen while others are speaking

Executive Function is the “controller” for all cognitive skills. EF skills help people do things like regulate their behavior, accomplish tasks, and develop relationships.

Red Flags for Social Development in Early Childhood

The following are indicators of possible dysfunctional social development. 

  • Shows no interest in playing with other children
  • Is unable to share or take turns with other children
  • Wants to be dependent on caregivers for everything
  • Is extremely “rigid” about routines and becomes upset when things change
  • Has extreme difficulty separating from parents or caregivers

If your child exhibits some or all of these behaviors, you may want to have your child’s Executive Function skills assessed or seek advice from your pediatrician or another health professional to determine a possible cause.  Reflection Sciences’ offers a free, award winning Executive Function assessment, EFgo™️, for children starting as early as 2 years of age.  

How Executive Function Skills Promote Healthy Social Development

Executive Function is the “controller” for all cognitive skills. EF skills help people do things like regulate their behavior, accomplish tasks, and develop relationships.

Researchers have found emotional and social skills essential for school readiness, and Executive Function skills play an integral role in their development. These skills include the ability to pay attention in class, transition from one activity to the next, and cooperate with other children, all of which relate to school readiness.

Reflection Sciences has developed online professional development courses specifically for educators looking to learn more about how to best support and strengthen EF and SEL skill development in children.

Reflection Sciences supports Social Development Success!


Learn more with our free online course for parents

Understanding your child's Executive Function Skills