Stages of Social/Emotional Development

Stages of Development

Stages of growth for children throughout the world are universally similar though they may differ dependent on culture and how they are expressed.  Physically, socially, and emotionally all children move through stages of childhood and development in similar ways.

Developmental milestones are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do within a certain age range.  Your pediatrician uses milestones to help check how your child is developing.  Although each milestone has an age level, the actual age when a normally developing child reaches that milestone can vary quite a bit.  Every child of course is unique! 

Developmental Tasks are the broad “jobs” of childhood that need to be accomplished in each stage in order for children to learn life skills at the appropriate times.

The tasks of one stage do not need to be completely mastered before a child begins the tasks of the next stage. However, the sooner he/she masters a task, the easier it will be to tackle the tasks of the next stage.

Children continue to work on most tasks throughout childhood, even though there is usually one stage at which one task is most prominent.

Why is knowing this important?

When you know what tasks your children are working on:

  • you can model and teaching the skills that will help them to successfully complete the “jobs” of their age.

  • you can be more patient

  • you will be less likely to blame yourself or your children when they behave in frustrating yet developmentally appropriate ways, such as:

  •  all the “no’s” and not sharing of toddlerhood
  • the strict adherence to rules on one hand mixed with breaking rules at other times of school age children

  • the defiance, opposition and criticalness and peer focus of teens

  • you can affirm your children for practicing/mastering their developmental tasks.

Below are some developmental stages or patterns that are commonly seen in elementary school-aged children. Parents might use these to assess how classroom life at school fits the needs of their child, and to better help them understand their behavior at home.


  • Learn best through repetition; need predictable schedules

  • May become stuck in repetitive behavior (such as drawing pictures of the same types of things) for fear of making mistakes when trying something new

  • Learn best through active explorations of materials and things they can touch and manipulate

  • May struggle seeing things from another’s point of view

  • Think out loud (will state what they are going to do before they do it)

  • Feel safe with consistent guidelines

  • Express thoughts through actions


  • Learn best through discovery

  • Ambitious and motivated to learn

  • Enjoy the process more than the product

  • Beginning to understand past, present, and also how and why things happen

  • Like to “work”

  • Want to be first; competitive but enthusiastic; sometimes ‘poor sports’ if they do not win at something

  • Eager to do well

  • Thrive on encouragement

  • Can be bossy and easily upset when hurt


  • Enjoy repeating tasks

  • Like to work by themselves and finish what they start

  • May be bothered by mistakes

  • May change friendships quickly

  • Need security and structure; rely on adults for help and reassurance

  • Don’t like taking risks or making mistakes

  • Have strong likes and dislikes

  • Rapidly develop their vocabularies


  • Full of energy; sometimes do things in a hurry

  • Need physical release and ample outside play time

  • Enjoy socializing and sharing humor

  • Adjust better to change; become more flexible when faced with disappointment

  • Form larger friendship groups and love to work cooperatively (often with peers of the same gender)

  • Have limited attention span but become engrossed in activities

  • Enjoy responsibility

  • Show increasing interest in rules


  • More focused on fairness

  • Can be critical of self and others

  • Sometimes worried or anxious or seem moody

  • Better coordinated and like to push their physical limits

  • Beginning to see the ‘bigger world’ and able to manage more than one concept at a time

  • Reading to learn, rather than learning to read

  • Take pride in attention to detail and finished work but may jump quickly between interests

  • Like to negotiate

  • May be competitive on the playground


  • Generally content and happy, may be quick to anger but also quick to forgive

  • Work well in groups and enjoy clubs and team sports

  • Developing a more mature sense of right and wrong

  • Expressive and talkative; like to explain things

  • Can concentrate for longer periods of time

  • Take pride in school work

  • Increasingly able to think abstractly

  • Concerned with friendship and fairness issues

  • Enjoy being noticed and rewarded for their efforts

  • Able to think more flexibly and bounce back from disappointments or mistakes


Books for Parents:

Child Development: Early Stages Through Age 12, by Cecilia Decker

Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14, by Chip Wood

Dr. Spock’s The School Years: The Emotional and Social Development of Children, by Benjamin Spock, M.D.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson


Ages and Stages of Development:

Facts About Child Development:

Education and Learning:


Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14

Child Development - Developmental Tasks:

Developmental Milestones: