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The significance of social and emotional development is seen in every area of a child’s life. Your child will have a strong foundation for her development if she can manage her own feelings, understand others’ feelings and needs, and interact positively with others.

What to expect

Two-year-olds enjoy playing alongside other children, but usually keep to themselves. Although your child is starting to build his independence, he still very much needs your help. Especially when conflicts arise, you’ll need to step in to calm everyone down and teach appropriate behaviour.

Comfort objects like blankets or teddy bears can help two-year-olds cope with new situations or strong emotions.

Emotional development

Your child will extend trusting relationships to other adults and to children with whom she plays frequently. She’ll show preferences for these adults and children. For example, she might hug a friend when she arrives at preschool, or go to her favourite child care worker for comfort after a fall on the playground.

Your child will show a strong sense of self as an individual. For example, he’ll say ‘No!’ to an adult’s request, simply to assert himself.

She’ll recognise feelings when emotions are labelled by adult. For example, when her teacher says, ‘I know you feel scared about that’, your child might calm down a bit. She’ll also increase her understanding and use of language related to emotions, and will be beginning to label feelings she recognises in herself and others. For example, she might say, ‘Mummy happy now’ or ‘Why you cross, Papa?’

Your child will continue to find it hard to regulate his emotions. As a result, he might get frustrated and have the occasional tantrum. He’ll use a wider range of coping strategies, such as comfort objects or words that label feelings, but will still need a great deal of adult support.

Social development

Your child will enjoy playing alongside other children, but won’t interact a great deal with them. For example, she might sit in the sandpit next to another child, but play independently with buckets. She has a comfortable awareness that the other child is there.

Depending on his exposure to other children, your child might start to have favourite playmates and warm bonds with others. For example, he might ask another child about her absence from child care if she’s been away for a few days.

Your child will show awareness of others’ feelings and might try to give basic help. For example, she’ll watch to see if the teacher will come to help a crying child, and might also pat or hug the sad child.

Your child will still look to adults for comfort when conflict happens. For example, if a child takes all the crayons at child care, your child might run to the teacher and hug her around the knees for attention and help. With a lot of adult support, he’ll begin to develop some strategies for resolving conflicts constructively. For example, with a teacher at his side, he might say, ‘It MY shovel, Darrell!’

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The differences in social and emotional development in children come from inborn temperament, cultural influences, behaviours modelled by adults, the level of security in their relationships with adults, and their chances for social interaction.
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  • Last Updated 21-03-2011
  • Last Reviewed 19-03-2012
  • Acknowledgements

    © 2002-2006 Public Broadcasting Service. Reprinted from www.pbsparents.org with permission of the Public Broadcasting Service.