Raising Standards Together

Wrong learning pack? Change pack

MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Child and adolescent development 0-19


Social and emotional development


Emotional development

Emotional understanding is a complex issue for children, involving the understanding of both their own emotions and those of other people. Successful functioning in society also requires children to know when to display their real emotions and when to hide them.
(Harris and Butterworth, 2010)

Stages of emotional development

Emotional development begins at a very early stage.

  • Darwin published observational studies (1877) of his son between the ages of two and four months.
  • He reported definite evidence of the emotions of anger, fear, surprise and happiness.
  • Newborns:
    • imitate emotional expressions (Field et al., 1982)
    • impact of trauma on infants that can lead to prolonged symptoms of hyperarousal and stress (Perry et al., 1995).
  • By the end of first year:
    • social referencing – is the tendency of a person to look to a significant other in an ambiguous situation in order to obtain clarifying information (Campus & Stenberg, 1981)
    • become increasingly aware of other children.
  • Pre-school children
    • Use emotional labels.
    • Begin to understand that others have emotions.
  • During school years
    • Become more aware of their emotions.
    • More able to distinguish between internal emotion and expression of emotion.
    • Become aware of cultural rules about displaying emotions.
    • Self-esteem.
    • Emerges from overall evaluation of self-worth (self-worth can be seen as the quality of feeling worthy of respect).  
    • Begins to develop by age 7 years.
  • Moving towards adulthood
    • Emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1996). Emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to identify, assess and control one’s own emotions and identify and assess emotions in others. This ability-based model can include the following.  
      • Knowing own emotions.
      • Managing emotions.
      • Self-motivation.
      • Recognising emotions in others.
      • Handling relationships.

Atypical social and emotional development

Social and emotional development can be affected by physiological and environmental factors and often by an interplay between the two; for instance we now understand that children’s neurological development can be affected by early childhood experiences (http://abcintervention.com; Mary Dozier ‘Attachment and Biobehavioural Catch-up’ www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEj1aFLHH1Y).

What we understand about the causes of different or atypical development will affect how we respond to what may be described as social and emotional difficulties.


Think about your classroom.

  • How do you think that you address the emotional needs of the children/young people you teach?
  • What could you do differently in the future to address the emotional needs of your learners?

Learning pack contents

Help us make the Digital Competence Framework better »

Use the form below to send us comments about this site or find out more about this beta version »

Need say more? Use the main Contact form »
Thankyou, your feedback has been submitted.
This is a Beta website.
Find out more »