Social and
Emotional Health

Smiling mother holding her toddler toward home visiting nurse who is reaching for the baby

You Play a Vital Role in Your Child’s Developmental Health

We all want what’s best for our children. You’re not alone. HMG LA is here for you to help your child thrive. Help Me Grow LA connects all families to free or low-cost programs to help your child’s development. HMG LA also provides resources, tips and tools to help you support your child’s developmental milestones and skills.

Social and Emotional Development Matters

Social and emotional health is one area of child development. It includes how a child responds to situations and people (temperament); the bond with a caregiver (attachment); getting along with others (social skills); and coping with their emotions (emotion regulation). As babies and children grow, their ability to form secure relationships, explore environments, and express emotions also develop. Below are a few things you can do to help your child thrive during their first 5 years of life.


Ages 0 - 1:

  • From birth, infants gaze at caregivers and bond with them. Hold your newborn skin-to-skin; and be sure to speak and sing to him often.
  • By 4 months, most babies smile, respond to people and may even try to copy others’ expressions. Encourage your baby by smiling and playing funny faces, looking in a mirror together, and reading to him.
  • By 6 to 9 months, most babies recognize familiar faces. They love playing with their parents and may become clingy around strangers. If you need to leave, offer calm reassurance that you will return. This will help them feel loved and secure.
  • By age 1, most babies respond to others’ emotions, have a favorite toy or activity and seek attention through sounds or actions. Help your 1-year-old’s skills by playing peek-a-boo, and back-and-forth sharing games. Positively responding, such as reading a favorite book when she hands it to you, helps her know she matters.

Ages 1 - 3:

  • By 18 months, most children express a range of emotions, and may begin to have temper tantrums. Empathize and validate feelings and teach your child words to help express themselves: I know you feel mad because you can’t have any more cookies. Teach better ways to respond to angry feelings, such as taking a deep breath and using words.
  • Your child’s tantrums can be stressful for you, too. After acknowledging feelings, step away for a moment, letting your child know he can come to you when he is ready. This gives you both a chance to calm down, teaches them it is okay to express strong feelings, and shows you are available if they need you.
  • At 2 to 3, most children also show affection and concern for other people in and outside of the family, play simple pretend games, and begin to enjoy playing with other children. Build self-esteem by praising specific, desired behavior like following instructions, being cooperative, and expressing feelings with words when upset.
  • At 3, begin to set up short, supervised play dates ”a couple of hours or less” to encourage your child’s socialization and connect with other parents yourself.

Ages 4 - 5:

  • At ages 4 and 5, most children can talk about what they like (and what they don’t), enjoy trying new things, can play cooperatively, may imitate and/or want to be like friends and can follow rules. Play dates or get-togethers with other families continue to build social and emotional skills and prepares them for being positive and open to new relationships as they enter preschool and kindergarten.
  • Preschoolers are both cooperative and defiant at home. Offer choices and praise mastery of tasks and exercising increasing self-control. Help them manage behavior by setting clear, consistent boundaries and rules and stating your expectations. Give frequent hugs!
  • It is important to remember that developing children are taking in tremendous amounts of information, learning skills, and experiencing new challenges. Preschool-aged children are being exposed to new people and situations. There will be missteps and disappointments. Caring adults can help children cope with bad experiences and build resilience.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Toxic Stress

Stress can be caused by different things. Some stress comes from positive experiences, like starting school or moving to a new home. Some experiences that cause stress are not positive, like physical abuse or being in the hospital. Stress that isn’t positive can either be tolerable or toxic. Tolerable stress doesn’t delay development in children and may even help it. Toxic stress, on the other hand, can delay development and affect a person’s health all their life.

Whether stress is toxic or not depends on several things: the amount, how long it lasts, and how a person reacts to it. Some things like abuse, neglect, or challenges in the home (for example, divorce, neglect,or drug use by a parent) can cause toxic stress. These things are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).It is possible for a child to experience tolerable stress instead of toxic stress. Having a strong relationship with a reliable adult can help make stress tolerable instead of toxic.

Things like abuse and neglect can make it harder for your child to grow and develop in a healthy way. Some children that are exposed to toxic stress may take longer to develop both socially and emotionally. Children who are delayed in their social and emotional development may have difficulty later in life. Like other illnesses, social and emotional delays may be prevented or helped with care and support from trained professionals. If your child has lost the skills they once had, or if you think there could be problems with how they behave with caregivers or other children, it’s always okay to talk to your health care provider or your child’s pediatrician. Below are a few resources you can use to learn more about your child’s social and emotional health:

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Mother gazes lovingly at her toddler while the little girl looks forward at the camera