Early Childhood Emotional Development


If you have ever seen a baby or small child devoid of facial expression or normal socio-emotional responses, then you should understand why emotional development is vitally important during early childhood. Emotions combined with sociability (socio-emotional) create important developmental milestones for your child during her first five years. As she successfully interacts with you and other important people in her life, as well as her surroundings, she will blossom into an emotionally healthy child well prepared to enter school and other challenging situations in her life.


Successful emotional development during early childhood lays the foundation for a healthy psyche, including proper cognitive development and mental health. Sadly, when problems arise during this stage of development, children can develop socio-emotional problems requiring the services of mental health professionals.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, a report compiled by Lynn Warner and Kathleen Pottick revealed that this alarming figure of young children receiving mental health services was as high as nine percent in 2006. Even more disturbing was a January 2010 report from the National Institutes of Health that as of 2007, one in 630 children with mental illness, under the age of five, received treatment with antipsychotic drugs.


Mental health encompasses all aspects of thought processes, emotions and behavior. Important features of healthy socio-emotional development include your child’s ability and desire to interact and communicate with people around him. Your child will also react to his environment with a variety of emotional responses, provided he is within a normal, healthy developmental range. You can help your child’s emotional development through your nurturing, responsive caregiving.

Developmental Milestones

The developmental milestones established by the American Academy of Pediatrics provide you with standards of comparison. You can judge your child’s development based on his own age and stage, as well as how his development compares to other children his age. Your child goes through significant changes during his first five years, but many highlights of emotional development stand out.

During the first year, your baby reacts to you by smiling and “cooing,” imitating sounds, and forming an attachment to you. Between the first and second years, your toddler’s emotional development includes transitioning between his first steps of independence, to dependence on you in a “clingy” fashion, accompanied by mood swings. As your child grows through his preschool years of three to five, he will exhibit a variety of emotions, from jubilation to anger. When he plays with toys, he may assign an emotion to them and act out the feelings. This stage often includes a spurt in personality development, as well as a growing awareness of sexual differences between himself and his peers.


While the developmental milestones are important, parents should keep in mind that each child develops at her own pace. If she appears to be “behind” in reaching that next step in the guidelines, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. Continue to monitor your child’s development and don’t hesitate to consult with her pediatrician if you have any concerns.


Keep a journal to document your child’s growth, tracking how close he is to standard developmental milestones. Note particularly how your child responds to you, his siblings and his surroundings. Add relevant pictures of your child at different stages and events. Your documented photo journal may prove invaluable for your child’s evaluation by his doctor.

About this Author

K’Lee Banks started writing professionally in 1984 and has two poems published in Poetry.com anthologies. She has written Web content for Study2U, Remilon, eHow, ConnectEd, Livestrong and numerous private clients. Banks has a Master of Education degree from American InterContinental University Online, and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in education from Northcentral University. She is also an entrepreneur who makes customized quilts and crafts.