Emotional Milestones for Your Child

Smiling, eye contact, play and other social interactions are significant achievements for infants and toddlers. Find out if your child is crossing these age-appropriate emotional milestones on time.

By Amrita Gracias

Emotional Milestones for Your Child

Emotional development is all about learning about feelings and emotions and how to express and manage them. It also involves understanding and responding to the emotions and feelings of others.

Emotional development begins during infancy and continues through childhood. There are numerous factors that influence the development of emotions in children. How parents and primary caregivers interact with children plays a vital role. Other important influencing factors include the child’s abilities and disabilities, cultural influences, the opportunities for social interactions, and his temperament.

How a child is developing emotionally is measured with the help of emotional development milestones. Here are some of the age-appropriate milestones for you to understand what your child should achieve within the first five years after his birth.

0 – 3 months:

  • Responds positively to touch
  • Establishes eye contact
  • Can be comforted by a parent or someone familiar
  • Begins to enjoy interactions and smiles to express pleasure
  • Cries for attention or to meet needs like hunger

Concerns: Cannot focus eyes on a person or object; does not respond to touch

4 – 6 months:

  • Smiles spontaneously
  • Responds to name
  • Initiates interactions
  • Attempts to vocalise while responding to interactions and play
  • Expresses displeasure by crying when interactions stop
  • Differentiates between familiar and unfamiliar faces

Concerns: Does not smile; does not express pleasure at the sight of familiar people

7 – 9 months:

  • Begins to express and understand different emotions
  • Responds to verbal communication and gestures
  • Shows preferences for familiar people
  • Displays anxiety when separated from parents or the primary caregiver
  • Smiles and gestures to self in the mirror
  • Shows displeasure when she doesn’t get what she wants (for example, toys)

Concerns: Does not smile or respond to voice of parents or caregiver; does not enjoy close contact; does not gesture

10 – 12 months:

  • Imitates simple actions
  • Starts to prefer some people over others
  • Enjoys simple rhymes and games like peek-a-boo
  • Hands over toy or book to express need for interaction or play
  • Begins to understand the meaning of ‘no’
  • Responds to simple verbal instructions
  • Begins to test reactions of parents or primary caregivers

Concerns: Does not make eye contact; does not respond to name; shows limited or no response to interactions

1 – 2 years:

  • Refers to self by name
  • Shows intense affection for parents and fondness for familiar people
  • Imitates adult behaviours while playing
  • Initiates interactions with others using gestures or familiar words
  • Can play by himself
  • Expresses assertiveness by directing others
  • Expresses pleasure and pride at accomplishments
  • Shows wider variety of emotions like joy, grief, anger, fear, anxiety or even sympathy
  • Attempts to comfort others in distress
  • Attempts to help with simple tasks

Concerns: Cannot focus on an activity for too long; requires constant attention; does not imitate actions

2 – 3 years:

  • Begins to explore world around confidently
  • Begins to show awareness of own feelings and those of others
  • Can be assertive about preferences
  • Can differentiate gender
  • Shows interest in playing alongside children rather than playing with them
  • Continues to be possessive about things
  • Begins to assert independence by throwing temper tantrums
  • Begins to obey rules
  • Engages in pretend play with objects
  • Displays shyness in the presence of strangers

Concerns: Shows no interest in interacting with other children; displays abnormal aggression with frequent tantrums

3 – 4 years:

  • Shows interest in playing with other children
  • Can initiate play with others or willingly join a group
  • Shows willingness to share toys
  • Is able to verbalise emotions
  • Displays caring attitude towards parents, friends or those familiar
  • Separates easily from parent in a familiar environment
  • Is proud of own achievements and accomplishments
  • Is confident of speaking and talks loudly

Concerns: Refuses to play with other children; extremely passive and fearful; displays severe anxiety at separation from parents or caregivers

4 – 5 years:

  • Shows more interest in other children and develops friendships
  • Chooses friends and prefers some over others
  • Is interested in exploring differences in gender
  • Begins to understand the difference between make-believe and reality
  • Begins to understand the difference between right and wrong
  • Begins to understand morals such as fairness and, good and bad behaviour
  • Becomes more aware of feelings of others
  • Is able to connect feelings with actions
  • Is able to have more control over emotions like frustration and anger

Concerns: Still shows no interest in playing with other children; shows no signs of interest in activities that children this age might enjoy; extremely dependent on parents or caregivers for everything

Do keep in mind that these developments take place within a certain age range and that slight delays are normal. These accomplishments also depend a lot on the support and understanding within the home environment.

Children learn to recognise and express their feelings if they are allowed to explore their own emotions. This also helps them become more aware of other’s feelings and develop a sense of empathy. However, do monitor and teach children to control negative emotions like anger, aggression and frustration. Most importantly, children model their expressions of emotions based on those of their parents. So, remember that you need to manage your own emotions appropriately to be a good role model.

If you find that your child is lagging behind in achieving the age-appropriate milestones, don’t hesitate to contact your paediatrician immediately. Timely diagnosis could help in identifying areas of concern that might require intervention.