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Social & Emotional Development

Social & Emotional Development

What do kindness, determination and relationship skills have in common? They are all part of your child’s social and emotional development.

Social and emotional development (SED) is an important part of your child’s development and well-being. It is how your child learns the social and emotional skills that help them to thrive throughout their life. In some settings, such as schools, SED may be called social and emotional learning.

SED skills include:

  • expressing and managing emotions (emotional regulation)
  • being kind and having compassion
  • being aware of their own strengths and challenges
  • getting along with others and solving problems effectively
  • bouncing back after a setback (resilience)

Well-being and social & emotional development

Well-being is the experience of feeling comfortable, happy and healthy. You can support your child’s overall well-being by nurturing them emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. Some examples of positive well-being include having safe and caring relationships, a sense of purpose or meaning, and generally feeling happy with life.

Below is an image of the First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness. It is a tool that can be used by all parents and caregivers to understand well-being as a whole. SED skills are in the second circle. For example, the social and emotional skill of getting along with others (second circle) supports one of the core values of relationships (third circle). You can learn more about the First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness here.

First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness


You can also learn more about Indigenous approaches to well-being and SED by checking out the Family Connections booklet for parents and caregivers. It has information on bonding and how to form secure attachments with your child. It also explains how and why it is important to connect with extended family and community.

SED skills add to your child’s positive well-being and help them cope with life’s challenges. These skills promote well-being and act as protective factors for your child by decreasing the chances of having mental health challenges or making them less severe.

SED skills can help your child:

  • develop self-awareness and know when they are experiencing a big feeling
  • have the words to tell others when these big feelings happen
  • know ways to bounce back and get through challenges (For example: rebuilding a block tower or moving to a new city)
  • have tools to pick themselves up when they experience low energy and to settle themselves when they experience high energy (self-regulate)

SED skills will support your child through all aspects of life. They will help them to build and maintain their relationships, cope with tough times, and gain an awareness of the world around them.

Understanding social & emotional development

It can be helpful to group SED into categories to better understand the type of skills that children and youth develop. The CASEL framework is one way of thinking about the areas of SED. CASEL stands for “Collaborative for Social, Emotional and Academic Learning.” This framework is used in BC schools.

CASEL framework’s five areas of SED skills with examples:

  • Self-Awareness. Knowing what we are good at and what areas to improve; being able to identify how we are feeling; and developing a sense of purpose.
  • Self-Management. Knowing how to settle ourselves when we have big feelings; picking ourselves up after a setback; and how to work towards our goals.

  • Social Awareness. Being able to take the perspective of someone else; understanding that others may have feelings different than our own; and showing kindness towards others.

  • Relationship Skills. Knowing how to make friends; being able to solve problems with others; and having effective communication skills.

  • Responsible Decision Making. Being able to look at social issues from many sides; understanding how our behaviour and decisions impact the larger community; and being aware of global issues such as climate change.



You can find more information about CASEL here.

Supporting your child’s social & emotional growth

Children go through different stages of social and emotional development as they grow. In each stage, there are tasks and ways you can support their development. It is important to remember that these stages are guidelines. No two children will move through these stages in exactly the same way.

If you are concerned about your child’s social and emotional development, you can talk with a health professional, your child’s teacher, or other childcare specialists.





Examples of SED tasks



Ways to support SED at home



(0 to 18 months)

  • Begin to build safe and trusting relationships with caregivers (this lays the foundation for exploring their world and developing SED skills)
  • Begin to build self-awareness through movement and exploring their environment.
  • Need support to regulate big emotions.
  • Respond to your child’s needs so they know the world is a safe place. For example, when they are crying, see if they are hungry, need changing, or want to be held.
  • Think about ways to make their environment safe to explore freely.
  • Try different ways to help your child to manage their emotions. For example, soothing or singing to them can be helpful when they are upset or frustrated.



(18 months to 4 years)

  • Continue to explore their environment to help understand themselves in relation to their environment.
  • Begin to name emotions such as happy, sad, scared and mad.
  • Continue to need support to help manage big emotions.




  • Let your child lead playtime (if it is safe to do so) to support their growing confidence, sense of mastery and independence.
  • Help them to see someone else’s perspective by pointing out how their actions impact others.
  • Help them notice and name how they are feeling by saying out loud what you see; for example, “I see your eyebrows are pulled down and you are frowning. You look like you are frustrated”.
  • When your child has big emotions, try to stay calm and settled yourself (maybe by taking some breaths) so that you can co-regulate your child and help them settle.


Primary Grades

(5 to 8 years)

  • With adult help, see how their actions impact others.
  • Begin to navigate friendships and social situations with less support.
  • Start to be able to move between different activities.
  • Begin to understand they can have two or more emotions at same time. For example, sad to be leaving grandparents and happy to be seeing friends again.
  • Continue to need support with regulating emotions in some situations but are also gaining skills to regulate on their own.
  • Encourage curiosity about how others might be feeling. For example, if they come home with a story of a child getting angry at school, you could say, “It sounds like they were having a tough day”.
  • Use play to help your child develop confidence and practice skills such as problem-solving and decision-making. For example, when building a fort out of the couch they are deciding which materials to use, how to attach blankets, and what size to make the fort.
  • Name your own emotions and practice ways to self-regulate in front of your child. For example, after dropping flour on the floor, you might at first angrily say, “I can’t believe it!” But then you take a breath and you might say, “I am annoyed that I dropped the flour on the floor. I’m going to take a breath to help me settle and then I will decide how to clean it up. It will be okay”. In this example, you are modeling naming the emotion, using breath, and self-talk to help you pause and respond to a situation more thoughtfully.

Intermediate Grades

(9 to 12 years)

  • Sense of identity - who they are and want to be, becomes stronger.
  • Imagine their best or ideal self.
  • Be able to solve simple disagreements without support.
  • Begin naming out loud how they are feeling.


  • Help your child name their strengths, including social skills like, “I’m a good friend because I pay attention to what my friends are saying”.
  • Model how to apologize (to accept responsibility and show empathy). Learn more here.
  • Work with them to help navigate more complex conflicts. For example, help them to think through when they might approach a friend and what they might say.


Adolescents (13 to 17 years)










  • Begin to search for purpose, for example, asking “who do I want to be when I grow up?”
  • Are able to understand consequences of their actions.
  • Gain perspective and understanding of their global responsibility.
  • Grow their skills for conflict resolution and problem-solving.





  • Help your child understand themselves and their place in the world by asking questions such as, “What do you think your friends appreciate about you?” or “What is it about this book that you enjoy?”
  • Work with them to think through problems, and provide support as they come up with their own solutions. Role play can be a great tool to practice what they might say in a difficult situation.  
  • Support them to have their own voice. For example, if your child is upset with a decision you have made, try to listen to their frustration. This doesn’t mean you need to change your decision, but by hearing their concerns, you let them know their voice matters.


Young Adults

(18 to 24 years)





  • Become aware of issues of social justice as they move beyond their local communities and are more aware of the wider world.
  • Strengthen their identity as they move into new environments such as work and post-secondary schools.
  • Continue to be a safe place for your child to return to when they need security and comfort.
  • Listen with compassion as they talk through issues and conflicts. If asked, share from your experience to support them as they continue to grow and learn.

Social & emotional development in other settings

You have many partners that support your child’s social and emotional development including schools, after-school programs, daycares and other childcare programs. One important way they support SED is by creating a safe place where children can take risks, explore new skills and make mistakes that are met with compassion and gentle guidance.

A few ways you can work together to support your child’s SED:

  • Learn more about your child’s social and emotional learning. If you are curious about how your child’s SED is nurtured in these settings, talk to the school or program staff.
  • Consider using the same language and resources at home. For example, your child’s school may be using the CASEL framework to teach SED skills. Or, if your child’s daycare is using a feeling words chart, you can use the same one at home (the daycare may even have an extra copy to give you!).
  • Access parenting resources. Many social and emotional learning programs that are used in classroom and childcare settings also have online parent resources. You can ask if there are parent resources that go with the program and how you can access them.

Working with your child’s school and childcare teams means your child:

  • hears the same language at home and school
  • receives the same message at home and school that their social and emotional world is important
  • experiences environments that are consistent and predictable that enable your child to feel safe

Supporting your child with their SED skills can help them be more confident and resilient. Your child will continue to develop these skills throughout their life.  As a caregiver, you are also still on a journey of learning and practicing your own SED skills alongside your child. Consider reflecting on this shared learning together, as a way to connect and validate their experience.

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Through real stories, expertise, and practical tips, this podcast helps families promote their mental health and wellness, navigating important topics to meet you where you are in your journey.