Social development

What you need to know

Social development is your child's personality, social skills and how they form relationships with people.

Your child learns social skills through play and by watching how you interact with other people. If they see you are angry and shout at them then they will learn to shout when they are angry. If they see you pause to calm yourself and try to explain the situation then they will learn to deal with challenging situations in a more positive way.

What should I expect my child to be doing?

Newborns 0 to 3 months

  • 6 to 8 weeks old your baby will smile back when you smile at them

Babies 3 to 12 months old

  • Laughs, smiles, shows excitement when happy or looks frustrated when denied what they want
  • From 9 months old, may show signs of separation anxiety and cry when away from you. Stranger anxiety develops and they may get upset around people they don't know

Toddlers 1 to 3 years

  • Toddlers have lots of emotions but don't know how to express them. They may have temper tantrums when they don't know how to put into words that they are feeling frustrated, sad or angry

Preschool 3 to 5 years

  • Children develop social awareness. They may worry about not being liked. They may know how to be funny to make people laugh

Newborns 0 to 3 months

  • Your 1 month old will know your voice  
  • By 6 to 8 weeks of age they will recognise you and respond to your voice and smile

Babies 3 to 12 months

  • Your baby knows your voice and has a stronger attachment to you
  • By 6 months, they know other people can also look after them and can recognise and enjoy spending time with them

Toddlers 1 to 3 years

  • Separation anxiety should settle around age 2 years. Your toddler will understand that you will come back when you leave them

Preschool 3 to 5 years

  • By 4 years old your child might enjoy tricking you for example by pretending to be asleep

Newborns 0 to 3 months

  • Your face is the most interesting thing to your baby 
  • They may enjoy looking at toys with contrasting colours, for example black and white

Babies 3 to 12 months

  • By 6 months of age, they will enjoy it when you play with them for example tickling, playing peek-a-boo, singing to them.
  • From 6 months your baby will explore objects by reaching to grab them and putting them in their mouth

Toddlers 1 to 3 years

  • Enjoy exploring their surroundings with you close by for example opening a cupboard and pulling out all the items in it
  • From 18 months of age they might start pretend play. They may pretend to drink from a toy cup or put a phone to their ear and start talking
  • Around 2 years old they will start playing games with other children and making friends

Preschool 3 to 5 years

  • By 4 years old they should understand how to share and take turns
  • Their play becomes more imaginative, for example playing mums and dads

BeforeFiveLogoColour-LS.pngFor ideas of things to do with your child, please visit 50 Things To Do Before You’re Five.

This is 50 activities that parents and carers can support their children to try. Each of the 50 Things activities have been carefully developed by education experts, and early years practitioners following consultation with parents. They have also made sure that children with special education needs are included.

  • Give your child hugs to provide a sense of comfort, safety and confidence
  • Be nearby when they are trying out new things to help develop their independence and self confidence
  • Play together. Give them your full attention when doing so by smiling at them and giving eye contact
  • Try messy play, outdoor play, art based play and roleplay
  • If your child has difficulty changing from one activity to another (ending a game to then leave the house to meet people), try to make sure your child knows that the activity will be changing. Give them plenty of time to prepare themselves for this change by giving reminders. Increase these reminders as the next activity approaches
  • Be your child's role model. Show them how you would like them to behave with others for example if your child snatches, be mindful of asking for things politely and not grabbing things yourself
  • Be aware of how you speak to your child. If you are struggling with a child who says no to everything then try to avoid using the word no yourself. Explain in short sentences why you are not giving permission now. For example 'you can't have a biscuit now because it's nearly dinner time, you can have one after dinner'.
  • Try telling them what they can do rather than what they can't do for example try saying 'please use your quiet voice' instead of 'don't shout!'
  • Encourage your child's imagination by reading together, telling stories, and singing songs
  • Visit local playgroups, children's centres or libraries

Ideas and useful links

When your baby:

  • doesn't respond to sound
  • doesn't focus on faces by 8 weeks old
  • doesn't smile back by 8 weeks old

By 2 to 3 years old:

  • seems to be in their own world with very little interest in their general surroundings
  • can be very particular
  • has a very intense interest in and particular activity or toy and cannot be easily distracted from it
  • when they cannot listen or pay attention to adults requests

By 4 to 5 years old:

  • doesn't look you in the eye to communicate with you
  • isn't interested in other children
  • doesn't do any pretend or imaginative play
  • has a very intense interest in a particular activity or toy and cannot be easily distracted from it
  • has repetitive behaviours such as hand flapping, rocking or head banging
  • very fixed routines for example wanting to travel the same way to school every day, wear the same clothes every day or eat exactly the same food
  • does not look for comfort when upset. They may not appear to enjoy praise for doing a good job

You should be concerned at any age if your child stops doing what they were previously able to do.

If you are having trouble with your child's behaviour and emotions or find it difficult to know how to play with them, discuss your concerns with your Health Visitor, GP, school nurse or teacher. They can provide advice and consider what support might be appropriate.

This guidance has been reviewed and adapted by healthcare professionals across West Yorkshire with consent from the Hampshire development groups.