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Definition of Social Emotional Development

By Virginia A. Gorg, eHow Contributor Social Emotional Development is the combination of learning diplomacy and truthfulness to interact with individuals or groups in a manner that contributes positively to members of society. The social aspect relates specifically to interaction with people (external). The emotional aspect relates to understanding and properly controlling one's emotions (internal). A proper combination and coordination of social and emotional development is critical to leading a purposeful, fulfilling life.

1. Facts

Social and emotional stages are measured through the skills a child develops as he grows. Although it is easier to see physical growth, the development of the social and emotional health of a child is essential to his appropriate behavior, understanding of life and transition to adulthood. Social emotional development helps shape a child into what he will become later in life by teaching proper reactions to emotional matters.


Learning to interact properly with others allows people to function in the everyday world of family, friends and career. Teaching children truth and respect at an early age can have a huge impact on leading well-balanced, age-appropriate actions throughout her life.


Social skills are measured in a child's ability to cooperate and play with others, paying attention to adults and teachers, and making reasonable transitions from activity to activity. Emotional development is the process of learning how to understand and control his emotions.


A child's social emotional development begins at birth. As he grows, he is aware of his behavior, both appropriate and inappropriate. By age 5, he is developing friendships and showing interest in imaginative play and dramatics. At school age, a child will retain his knowledge and add to it with new learning. Most children are able to express their emotions through verbalizing. Although bouts of jealously among peers are common at this age, positive reinforcement and training by the parents will help him understand and control his emotions.

Disobedience is also common at this age, and parents who have mastered their social emotional skills will be able to cope positively with this challenge.


Social and emotional skills occur naturally in children. Moral reasoning usually begins around age 4. Adults, teachers and daycare providers shape the growth of children. As she learns these skills, she will be able to respond appropriately in emotional situations and develop solid friendships that might last her lifetime. Parents who are actively and positively involved in their children's lives have the unique opportunity of laying a solid foundation of honesty and integrity.


Social emotional development does not end at a certain age, and can become complicated during adulthood as one continues to learn to interact with family and peers. An adult might meet someone against whom they have a bias. Wellgrounded social and emotional development will give that person the ability to handle the situation with a calm, honest demeanor.

Expert Insight

A 1998 Pediatric Study discussed three views of early social emotional development. First, organizing emotions and learning to adapt them is an ongoing, active process. Second, emotions are complex processes that are ever changing. Third, emotions are not isolated. Instead, they involve the person, the environment and the person's goals.