Social-Emotional Development: Meaning and Theories

How does a child form their identity? How do they learn how their actions impact others? How are kids aware they are doing something that might be potentially hurtful? They learn these things through social-emotional development.

What is Social Emotional Development?

From birth to age 5, a child's social-emotional development takes place. This development enables a kid to build trusted relationships with peers and adults, express emotions appropriately, and become independent and at ease to explore their surroundings. Ashdown and Bernard identify five fundamental social and emotional skills. These include self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, interpersonal skills, and ethical decision-making. These are essential for the welfare of young children. Self-assurance, goal-setting, empathy, responsible decision-making, concentration, persistence, attention, effective communication, and problem-solving are a few examples of social-emotional competencies.

Theories of Social-Emotional Development

Following are some theories that have been used to describe and study social-emotional development−

  • Erik Erikson − Eight phases of development span the lifespan, from early childhood to late adulthood, according to Erikson's psychosocial theory. Every step has a task or issue that needs to be resolved. Completing each developmental task successfully results in competence and a healthy personality. Feelings of inadequacy arise when these duties are not completed.

  • Sigmund Freud − The great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) concentrated on the biological and unconscious forces that, in his opinion, shape a person's personality. The id, the ego, and the superego are the three components, according to Freud (1933), that make up the personality. He contended that the interactions among these led to social-emotional development.

  • Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development − Building on Piaget's work, Kohlberg (1963) was interested in determining how our moral thinking evolves as we age. He was interested in how people determine what is right and wrong. Kohlberg (1984) maintained that we learn our moral values through active thinking and reasoning and that moral development follows a sequence of stages, much like Piaget believed that children's cognitive development follows precise patterns. Three moral justifications are commonly used to structure Kohlberg's six stages namely, pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional morality.

Benefits of Social-Emotional Development

Promoting social-emotional learning in the classroom and at home has numerous positive effects. When kids have the resources to employ in conflict, they can engage with others more successfully. Socially and emotionally competent children perform better academically and in other spheres of their lives, and they will perform better academically and have a more favorable attitude regarding school. Aggression, delinquency, and substance use are among the problematic behaviors children who are underdeveloped socially and emotionally are more likely to engage in.

Promoting Social-Emotional Development

Children participating in an early childhood program emphasizing social skills will develop the abilities necessary for success in both childhood and adulthood. According to Funk and Ho, building relationships and focused teaching are the two key methods to support children's social and emotional development.

A child can feel secure through developing relationships that they can trust. Children will feel more at ease verbally expressing themselves, asking questions, and autonomously resolving issues. The development of relationships with kids and their families should be gradual. A high-quality early childhood program must include this. Positive interactions will benefit a young child's development and foster respectful connections. Children will feel affirmed if opportunities are made for these interactions to take place. Teachers must purposefully include these chances daily to build strong relationships with the students.

Funk and Ho rank purposeful social-emotional skill instruction as the second most crucial practice. Numerous effective strategies for fostering social-emotional growth can be incorporated into a classroom's daily routine. Numerous ideas are offered by Funk and Ho on how to accomplish this. Children's books, games, instructional moments, targeted praise, modeling, and visual clues can all be used to encourage social-emotional development. Young children must comprehend what is expected in a classroom. They must know what to do, when, and how to meet the expectations.

A child's problematic behaviors will decrease if they successfully learn them. Teachers can accomplish this by fostering a supportive environment in the classroom. Physical and social environments must be planned with young children's learning processes in mind. Children must be able to participate in worthwhile play activities. Children's interests, skill levels, and backgrounds must be considered when creating play opportunities.

One of the most effective teaching methods for young children is play, regardless of whether the child or the teacher initiates the play. Describe, modeling, practicing, and roleplaying are all social skill-learning techniques that can be carried out through play.

Holistic education is a different strategy for fostering all facets of growth, including social and emotional development. Ron Miller advocated for this approach to schooling. Heishman and Kochhar-Bryant define holistic education as a learning environment where the full person is developed. Intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative, and spiritual growth are encouraged. A child-centered, whole-child approach to education is known as holistic education. According to Brooks, Coyne, Hanafin, McDonnel, and Routine (2009), a whole child viewpoint is focused on three areas.

Social-emotional competencies, such as emotional health, self-care, relationships, and identity, are the primary focus of the first domain. The other two areas center on interactions, assistance, and support from communities, families, and schools. Children take an active role in shaping both the learning process and the learning environment in holistic education. Heishman and Kochhar-Bryant (2010) provide some traits of the whole child. Empathy, creativity, self-assurance, intellectual curiosity, and social aptitude are some of these qualities. Promoting these qualities builds a strong foundation for kids' academic and adult success.


Social-emotional development is one of the most important features of human development. It allows one to form their own identity and understand and treat others right. One must be able to socialize and function within the current society. Various theories explore this aspect of development in different manners. However, recent studies that correlate and understand the growth of these aspects of individual personality with the brain structures and their development are also increasing. This is an interesting interdisciplinary approach to understanding how humans mature socially and emotionally.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023

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