The Milestones of a Baby’s Social and Emotional Development

Understanding your baby’s social and emotional development is a critical aspect of nurturing their growth. It can provide you with insights on how your baby communicates, responds, and interacts with their environment. Here, we will highlight some typical milestones for a baby’s social and emotional development.

Discover the typical milestones in a baby’s social and emotional development. Learn about the changes to expect in your baby’s first two years and how these milestones contribute to their growth.

The First Year: Infancy

In the first year of life, your baby will reach numerous social and emotional milestones. These markers of growth help them establish their first connections to the world.

Birth to 3 Months

  • Eye Contact: Babies begin to make eye contact, a crucial part of social interaction.
  • Smiling: Initially reflexive, babies start to smile in response to their caregiver’s smile or voice.
  • Self-soothing: They begin to self-soothe, often by sucking their thumb or a pacifier.
  • React to Emotions: Babies can respond to the emotions of those around them.

4 to 6 Months

  • Laughing and Squealing: Babies begin to laugh and squeal in delight, expressing joy.
  • Recognize Familiar Faces: They start to recognize familiar faces and might cry or become anxious around strangers.
  • Imitate Some Facial Expressions: Babies start to copy some facial expressions and movements.

7 to 12 Months

  • Separation Anxiety: As babies form stronger attachments, they may experience separation anxiety.
  • Respond to Emotions: They respond more actively to the emotions of others, often imitating those feelings.
  • Use Gestures: Babies begin to communicate using gestures like waving bye-bye or shaking their head.

The Second Year: Toddlerhood

As babies transition into their second year, their emotional and social growth continues to flourish.

13 to 18 Months

  • Show Affection: Toddlers may start to show affection towards familiar people.
  • Show Preferences: They show preferences for certain people, toys, or foods.
  • Experience Complex Emotions: Toddlers may begin to experience more complex emotions like jealousy, affection, and fear.

19 to 24 Months

  • Imitate Adult Behavior: Toddlers often mimic the actions of adults, such as ‘talking’ on a phone.
  • Assert Independence: They may assert their independence by saying “No” and wanting to do things by themselves.
  • Engage in Parallel Play: Toddlers engage in parallel play (playing alongside other children, not with them).

The Importance of Milestones

While each baby develops at their own pace, these milestones provide a general guide to what parents can expect. They also serve as a tool for pediatricians to track a baby’s development. As the American Academy of Pediatrics advises, if your baby does not meet these milestones or if you have concerns about your baby’s development, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider.

“Developmental milestones are things most children can do by a certain age. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move (like crawling, walking, or jumping).” – CDC


Understanding a baby’s social and emotional development is key to supporting their growth. Recognizing these milestones can equip you to better connect with your baby, respond to their needs, and foster a loving and secure environment for their development.

Keep in mind, each baby is unique and may reach these milestones at their own pace. It’s essential to focus on celebrating their progress rather than comparing them to others. Remember, if you have any concerns, always consult with your healthcare provider.

Q1: What are some typical milestones for a baby’s social and emotional development in the first 3 months?

A1: In the first three months, babies typically start making eye contact, begin to smile in response to their caregiver’s smile or voice, start to self-soothe, often by sucking their thumb or a pacifier, and can react to the emotions of those around them.

Q2: What changes can I expect in my baby’s social and emotional development between 4 to 6 months?

A2: Between 4 to 6 months, your baby might start to laugh and squeal in delight, begin to recognize familiar faces and become anxious around strangers, and may start to copy some facial expressions and movements.

Q3: What are the common social and emotional milestones for a baby between 7 to 12 months?

A3: Common milestones for a baby between 7 to 12 months include experiencing separation anxiety, responding more actively to the emotions of others, often imitating those feelings, and beginning to communicate using gestures like waving bye-bye or shaking their head.

Q4: What social and emotional changes are common in toddlers aged 13 to 18 months?

A4: Toddlers aged 13 to 18 months often start to show affection towards familiar people, show preferences for certain people, toys, or foods, and begin to experience more complex emotions like jealousy, affection, and fear.

Q5: What milestones are typical for toddlers aged 19 to 24 months?

A5: Between 19 to 24 months, toddlers often mimic the actions of adults, may assert their independence by saying “No” and wanting to do things by themselves, and engage in parallel play (playing alongside other children, not with them).

Q6: What should I do if my baby doesn’t meet these milestones?

A6: Each baby develops at their own pace, and these milestones are only a general guide. If your baby doesn’t meet these milestones or if you have any concerns about your baby’s development, it’s important to discuss it with your healthcare provider.

Q7: How do these milestones help in a baby’s development?

A7: These milestones provide insights into how your baby communicates, responds, and interacts with their environment. They can help you and your healthcare provider to track your baby’s development and identify any potential issues early. Understanding these milestones can also help you to better connect with your baby and support their growth.


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