The significance of social and emotional development is seen in every area of a child's life. A child will have a strong foundation for later development if he or she can manage personal feelings, understand others' feelings and needs, and interact positively with others. Differences in social and emotional development result from a child's inborn temperament, cultural influences, disabilities, behaviors modeled by adults, the level of security felt in a child's relationships with adults, and the opportunities provided for social interaction.
Three-year-olds need familiar adults nearby for security as they explore and play. As they develop more independence, children this age begin to have real friendships with other children. When conflicts arise with peers, three-year-olds will typically seek adult assistance. They are learning to recognize the causes of feelings, and will give simple help, such as a hug, to those who are upset. Three-year-olds can better manage their emotions, but may still fall apart under stress.
Continues to develop preferences for special adults. Uses familiar adults as secure bases for exploration and play (e.g., wants mom to stay at friend's house when invited over, even though he or she seldom looks for her during the afternoon).
Begins to develop and express a sense of individuality and personal preferences (e.g., says, "See my toys!").
Labels own feelings and those of others' based on their facial expression or tone of voice (e.g., looks at a picture in a book and says, "She's scared."). Understands, at least on a basic level, that feelings have causes (e.g., says, "Sammy is sad because he can't find his blanket.").
Shows progress in expressing feelings, needs, and opinions in difficult situations or conflicts, without harming self, others, or property (e.g., says, "I really, REALLY need that swing!") May still fall apart under stress.
Shows an interest in other children and copies what they do (e.g., Luke jumps off the couch; his neighbor Sonia does exactly the same, laughing). Plays cooperatively with another child for a time (e.g., pretends to talk on the phone with the child).
Begins to have real friendships, even though he or she may not understand the concept of friendship or that these relationships may not last (e.g. says, "My best friends are Nathan, Sharon, Enrique, Cassidy..." and all others in his or her class).
Gives simple help to peers who are in need, upset, hurt, or angry (e.g., hug, comfort object, pat, encouraging word). Such attempts to give aid may not take into account the other child's characteristics or needs (e.g., offers a crying classmate his or her own stuffed animal, even though the child has another comfort object).
Accepts compromise when resolving conflicts if it is suggested by an adult (e.g., mom says, "Jackson, you can use that swing as soon as Sheila gets off."). Seeks adults' help in resolving a conflict (e.g., goes to dad and says, "Jacob took my truck!"). Continues to learn simple alternatives to aggressive ways of dealing with conflicts (e.g., trades one doll for a desired one by saying, "You have THIS dolly, okay?").