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Your child’s social and emotional skills will play a part in every area of his life as he grows. He’ll have a strong foundation if he starts to manage his own feelings, understand others’ emotions and interact positively with others.

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Differences in social and emotional development are the result of your child’s inborn temperament, cultural influences, disabilities, behaviour modelled by adults, and the opportunities he’s given for social interaction.

 

What to expect

Three-year-olds need familiar grown-ups nearby for security as they explore and play. When conflicts arise with peers, three-year-olds will typically seek adult assistance.

But children this age are becoming more independent too, as they begin to have real friendships with other children. They’re also learning to recognise the causes of feelings and will give simple help, such as a hug, to those who are upset.

Emotional development

At three, your child’s still developing her preferences for special adults. She’ll use familiar adults as a secure base for exploration and play. For example, she might want you to stay near her when she’s at a friend’s house, even though she’ll seldom look for you when she’s playing.

Your child will begin to develop and express his sense of individuality and personal preferences – for example, ‘See my toys!’

She’ll start to label her own feelings and those of others based on facial expressions or tone of voice. For example, she might look at a picture in a book and say, ‘The boy is sad’. She might even understand, on a basic level, that feelings have causes –for example, ‘The boy is sad, he can’t find his truck’.

He’ll show progress in expressing his feelings, needs and opinions in difficult situations without harming himself, others or property. For example, ‘I really, REALLY need that swing!’ But he might still fall apart under stress.

    Social development

    At three, your child will show an interest in other children and copy what they do. For example, if Casey jumps off the couch, her friend Katerina might do exactly the same. She’ll also play cooperatively with another child for a time. For example, she might pretend to talk on the phone with a mate.

    He’ll begin to have real friendships, even though he might not understand the concept of friendship, or that these relationships might not last. For example, ‘My best friends are Nathan, Enrique, Summer, Charlie ...’ and others in his child care class or playgroup.

    She might give simple help to those who are in need, upset, hurt or angry – for example, giving a hug, comfort toy, pat or encouraging word. Such attempts to help might not take the other child’s characteristics or needs into account. For example, she might offer a crying friend a stuffed animal, even though the child already has another comfort object.

    Your child will start to accept compromise when resolving conflict, if it’s suggested by an adult. For example, he might pay attention if a mum says, ‘Lorraine, you can use that swing as soon as Jana gets off’.

    She might seek adult help in resolving conflict, and will continue to learn simple alternatives to aggressive ways of dealing with conflict. For example, she might trade one doll for a desired one by saying, ‘You have THIS dolly, OK?’

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      • Last Updated 23-02-2011
      • Last Reviewed 14-01-2010
      • Acknowledgements

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