National Center for Effective Mental Halth Consultation

Research Findings about the Importance of Social and Emotional Health


Research FindingsIt is never too early to begin supporting children's social and emotional development. Research findings show that infants are born able to connect with other people in their environment. Infants recognize familiar voices and even match tone of voice to facial expression. The brain of the infant is designed to connect the newborn with other people who care for her. The infant’s brain matures through the interactions between the infant and her environment. The infant’s communication of emotions and needs and the adult's response to these needs, establishes the learning pathways in the brain that lead to all other physical, cognitive, and emotional learning. The family’s culture has an important influence in all areas of the infant’s development, including her social and emotional development.

When children's social and emotional health is compromised, it can create significant challenges for children leading to failure in school, inability to make and sustain friendships, and negative feelings about themselves. One in five children enters kindergarten with poor social development skills; it’s difficult for them to join others in play, they don’t have the ability to make and keep friends; and they do not positively interact with their peers. Children from the lowest income levels are the least likely to have positive social interactions upon entrance to kindergarten. Children who do not succeed in the first three elementary school grades are often headed for a much longer-term and costly trajectory of failure (Johnson and Knitzer, 2005). Supporting the social and emotional health of infants, toddlers and young children makes sense because:

  • Early relationships set the stage for healthy or unhealthy brain development
  • Poor early social, emotional and behavioral development predicts early school failure which in turn predicts later school failure
  • Early intervention can reduce later higher cost interventions
  • Giving to children now will allow them to give back to society later




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Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development National Center for Effective Mental Health Consultation