Social and Emotional Development Milestones
Social and emotional development is an area of concern for most parents, who want their children to grow up feeling happy, secure and connected. Milestones are first identified at 3 months, when infants provide feedback to parents on feelings and relationships. As mentioned previously, the social smile emerges. Not only is he physically capable of manipulating facial muscles to form a smile, but he also uses it to indicate pleasure at your company. He delights in playful interactions with others, even that old standby, "peek-a-boo." Play also extends to imitation, often comical mugging or gestures.
Seven months brings an awareness of others' emotions. He should react to a look on your face. So, if you show an angry response to a political report on the radio, for example, he might start whimpering at your scowl.
By the end of the first year, he should have developed strong loving bonds with his parents (or the primary caregiver, if that's another person). This attachment has positive and negative aspects. On the up side, he'll prefer you and seek you out above others. On the down side, he'll prefer you and seek you out above all others. This behavior is often known as stranger anxiety, or the fear of unknown adults, which can vary from shyness when meeting new people to hysterics when you leave, depending on the child [source: Berk]. Thankfully, after two years, temporary separation from his parents should no longer produce major disruptions. By age 3, partings should be amicable because he understands you'll return.
Five years of age should bring an understanding of rules (though not the certainty that he'll choose to follow them). He should comprehend the basic physical differences between males and females and accept their constancy. A desire for independence should also emerge, which sets the stage for future social and emotional milestones, such as the following:
- Middle childhood (6 to 8): Friends will become increasingly important, and he will value their opinion of him.
- Later childhood (9 to 11): He should develop a fully realized self-concept with both positive and negative aspects.
- Early adolescence (12 to 14): This period is often marked by mood swings, although they are not -- as commonly believed -- dependent on hormones. They are more a reaction to an increasing desire for control. He may be grumpy in the morning because you're forcing him to go to school, but he will get over it while with friends later in the day [source: Berk]. Overt affection toward his parents also tends to decrease.
- Middle adolescence (15 to 17): Struggles with parents will decrease, coinciding with an increase in independence.
Although social and emotional, physical, cognitive and language milestones are generally considered universal, there are some cultural differences. The next section takes us on an international tour of milestones.