Social Emotional Milestones

Table 3 presents some social/emotional milestones. The social smile, observed early in infancy, reflects a general responsiveness to people, critical for an intensely social species such as Homo sapiens. Infants' attachment to their parents is sometimes reflected by a wariness of strangers and by distress when they are separated from their caregivers. By the preschool years, children are able to identify emotions in others and can seemingly empathize with the feelings of others, as reflected, for instance, by a three-year-old bringing his tearful mother his teddy bear to comfort her. Although toddlers are interested in other children, friends typically do not become important until the early school years, at which time children enter the peer group and establish dominance hierarchies, often based on physical strength, especially among boys. Typically during this time, boys and girls segregate themselves into same-sex play groups. In adolescence, the peer group becomes increasingly important (although the family rarely loses its influence), and, coupled with the onset of puberty, heterosexual interests and behavior commence.

A milestone approach to development provides a quick glimpse at important acquisitions that children over the world experience. There is still much variability in when children attain these milestones, because of both biological (genetic) and environmental (societal) factors. And many culturally important phenomena that arise only with specific experiences (e.g., reading, religious practices) are not captured by knowledge of milestones. Nonetheless, milestones show what is universal in human development and give parents and educators an idea of how quickly children are progressing relative to a species-typical standard.


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