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MEP learning pack

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


Social and emotional development


Stages of social-emotional development


In infants, social development begins with the:

  • recognition or concept of self (e.g. recognising themselves in a mirror). This can be demonstrated in the ‘rouge removal’ task
  • recognition of others (mother and other family members) through voice and smell.


Watch the following You Tube clip for more information about the ‘rouge removal’ task:

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In infancy, social and emotional development is seen through:

  • responding to social recognition by smiling
  • imitating other people – first described by Baldwin (1894) – is seen as a move towards the comprehension of the relationship between the child’s behaviour and that of others
  • through the development of play
  • attachment is another important factor in infant development. The importance of attachment – to feel safe and secure in relationships with caregivers – has been described by Bowlby (1969) and is important for a child’s future capacity to make successful attachments to teachers and the learning process (Cozolino, 2012)
  • by the end of the first year children use social referencing – using adults’ expressions as a guide to their own actions (Campos & Stenburg, 1981).

Pre-school years

  • The development of self-recognition continues into this period (e.g. child begins to recognise themselves in photographs and refer to the image as ‘me’ or by the child’s name).
  • Begin to play with other children, learn turn-taking and observing others in play.

During the school years

  • Choosing friends and cooperating in play.
  • Understands respect for other people’s property.
  • Understands the nature of giving and receiving.
  • Separates from mother easily.
  • Imaginative play develops.  

During the primary school years – puberty

  • Develops ability to be self-critical.
  • Develops sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Moves towards independence.
  • Develops closer friendships.
  • Becomes more dependable.
  • Begins to understand differences between themselves and others (e.g. that others may have differing viewpoints from their own).

During adolescence

  • Increasing maturity brings with it increasingly complex group interactions and social behaviour.
  • Becomes increasingly self-conscious and more aware of others’ opinions of them.
  • Relationships between family, peers and society change.
  • More autonomous control over decisions, actions and behaviours with increasing independence.

For further information about adolescence see ‘Topic 8 – Changing teens and changing brains’.

Another model for social and emotional development was that proposed by Erik Erikson (1950). More information can be found on the Child Development Institute website.

This model can be a useful starting point in beginning to think about the social and emotional development of children and young people you teach.


Investigate the following.

  • How does your school support the social development of its learners?
  • How do you support the social development of the children/young people in your classroom?
  • Choose one way in which you are going to enhance the social development of learners in your class and implement it. Reflect on this afterwards.

It is noted that social development and moral development are closely linked.

When evaluating moral development, Estyn expects to see schools:

  • fostering values such as honesty, fairness, and respect for truth and justice
  • promoting principles that help learners to distinguish right from wrong.

But this needs to be taken alongside the guidance for evaluating social development, because here we see elements that are also relevant to moral development. For instance:

  • taking responsibility, showing initiative and developing an understanding of living in a community
  • discussing and agreeing group rules
  • learning how to relate to others and taking responsibility for own actions.

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