What Are Social-Emotional Skills?

Social-emotional skills are essential for connecting with others! They help us manage our emotions, build healthy relationships, and feel empathy.

Some examples of social-emotional skills in use are:

  • Recognizing if someone is sad, and asking if they’re ok
  • Expressing yourself with your friends in a different way than with your parents
  • Understanding your thoughts and feelings, and being able to relate to others

While these skills may sound complex, social and emotional development begins at a very young age.

Watch to see more about baby’s social-emotional development:

Social-Emotional Skills: Know the Basics

When does social and emotional development begin?

Babies start learning these skills from birth! As soon as they begin interacting with the people who care for them, they begin to develop an understanding of feelings.

How do parents impact social-emotional development?

Parents help to nurture social-emotional skills so kids develop healthy relationships with friends and family members. Even as a baby, your little one is picking up on how you respond to their social and emotional needs. They feel safe at home and in your presence. They learn how to empathize, respond to the emotions of others, and say “I’m sorry” by following your lead.

What do social-emotional skills help kids do?

Kids with healthy social-emotional skills are more likely succeed in school, work, and life. Social-emotional skills help kids:

  • Make friends and keep friendships
  • Gain confidence
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Manage stress and anxiety
  • Learn social norms
  • Make appropriate decisions
  • Resist negative social pressure
  • Learn strengths and weaknesses
  • Gain awareness of what others are feeling

How long does it take to develop social-emotional skills?

Social-emotional growth takes time. Early experiences with family, caregivers, and peers greatly impact social and emotional development, but throughout our lives we will continue to be shaped by our experiences! These experiences can include meeting new people, overcoming difficult situations, or even raising children.


Social-Emotional Abilities

Is your child meeting their social-emotional abilities?

Be on the lookout for these abilities as your child grows. They are encouraging signs that your child is making progress in their social and emotional development.


Developing social-emotional skills can boost your child’s confidence and help them succeed in school, work, and life.

Missing one or two abilities should not cause alarm, as every child develops differently. However, if they are missing multiple abilities, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider.

Social-Emotional Tips

What you can do to help your child’s social-emotional development

  • Be a model of the emotions and behaviors you want your child to show. You are your child’s first teacher and they look up to you as a role model.
  • Be responsive to your child’s emotions and behaviors. Responding will help to develop trust between you and your child.
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as “What would you do?” to help develop problem-solving skills.
  • Use stories to talk to your child about different social situations and how each person might be feeling.
  • Encourage kids to try new things and learn how much they can do.
  • Play games to teach kids how to take turns, win and lose, share, and negotiate. Ask yourself these questions when choosing a game for family game night.
  • Ask your child questions when they are upset. These questions can be about why they are upset, or offering alternatives to understand the root of their unhappiness. For example, “Would you like to brush your teeth or take a bath first?”
  • Sit with your child when using a screen (not recommended before 18 months) and make it a social activity, e.g. asking them questions or playing turn-taking games.

Social-Emotional Activities


What to Watch For

How to address social-emotional issues and delays

The sooner your child receives help in developing their social-emotional skills, the better off their health and well-being will be. Your healthcare provider may be able to help you address the issue or refer you someone who can help.

Here are a few examples of specialists who may be able to help your child:

  • baby_being_held_up_my_momChild psychologist
  • Social worker
  • Neuropsychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Developmental and behavioral pediatrician

Visit Understood.org or Child Mind Institute for more information and resources on social-emotional development.