National Center for Effective Mental Halth Consultation

Children Ages Three to Four Years

Social and Emotional Milestones Examples of Typical Social and Emotional Development Examples of Risk Factors for Potential Social and Emotional Concerns
Social Development- Attachment:
  • Begins to include others in joint exploration and play.
  • Engages in pretend play with peers
  • Learns to take turns in conversations with peers
  • Begins to see the benefits of cooperation
  • Recognizes when a child is absent from the group.
  • Has secure relationships with adults
  • Jordan (3 ½ years), Sasha (3 ½ years), and Georgia (3 years) are playing in the restaurant created as a part of the dramatic play area. Sasha says to Jordan and Georgia, “Do you want a menu?” Jordan replies, “Yes, please.” Sash hands him a menu, saying, “Here.” He says, “Thanks.” He then looks at Georgia and says, “Do you want to see, too?” Georgia nods yes and looks at the menu with Jordan. Sasha then says, “You guys should get the pizza, it’s my favorite thing.” Jordan says, “I’ll have the pizza please.” Georgia says, “Yes, pizza.” Sasha goes and puts a plastic piece of pizza on two plates and carries them back to the table. She says, “Here’s your pizza!” Jordan responds by saying, “Thanks, this is good!” Georgia picks up her piece and says, “Oh good, pepperoni!”
  • At the lunch table, Jennifer (3 ½ years), Luca (3 ½ years), and Noah (3 ½ years) take turns passing dishes of food to each other, taking what they want and passing it along. They also pour milk into their cups.
  • During circle time the teacher asks the children who is missing today. The children look around at each other and Danielle (3 years) says, “Jonathon?” The teacher responds by saying, “Nope, Jonathon’s right here. Wave to everyone, Jonathon.” Jonathon waves. Chloe (3 ½ years) says, “Kara?” The teacher says, “Yes, Kara is missing today. Her mommy called this morning to tell us that Kara is sick today.” Chloe says, “I wanted to play with Kara today.” The teacher replied, saying, “I know that you feel sad when Kara isn't here, Chloe. Maybe you could draw Kara a special picture to let her know how much you missed her today.”
  • Hope (3 ½ years) likes things to be neat and orderly. During choice time she follows other children around, picking up after them and telling them to, “Stop messing.” She refuses to take part in activities in which she might get dirty by verbally protesting or walking away. Hope will spend extended periods of time setting up displays of her favorite toys and if another child touches them, she cries and is very difficult to console.
Emotional Development- Self-Regulation:
  • Shows concern/empathy for others
  • Begins to show greater self-regulation and cooperation with peers
  • Shows increasing fears (e.g., dark, monsters, etc.)
  • Can wait for a short time.
  • Enjoys daily routines and doing more for themselves
  • Max (4 years) is playing with two friends with blocks and trucks. The boys are making the cars go down a block ramp very fast. Wes (three years) is watching the boys play with a smile on his face. Max looks up and says, "Wes you can use this yellow truck." Wes looks down. Max gets up and brings the truck over to Wes, they sit down and Wes puts his car down the ramp, Max says, "That was fast!" "Watch me next."
  • In the block area, Lizzy (3 ½ years) and Ryan (3 ½ years) are working together to build a block tower. After a few minutes of building, they decide that after the building gets as tall as they are they will knock it down at the same time. Once the building reaches the specified height, Ryan and Lizzy count to three and push it over, shouting, “Whoo! Hoo! We did it!”
  • When it is time to lay down for naptime, Jasmine (3 years) begins to cry softly. When the teacher comes to check on her, Jasmine says, “Can you turn the light on brighter?” The teacher asks her if she is scared and Jasmine says, “A monster is in the closet.” The teacher opens the closet door to show Jasmine that there is no monster in the closet. The teacher asks Jasmine if she would like to move her cot closer to the teacher's desk where there is a brighter light. Jasmine nods her head, "Yes." The teacher says, “See, it is okay, no monsters here.” Jasmine smiles and lays down when her teacher softly rubs her back.
  • Carmen (3 years) is experiencing alot of fear. At school, his teachers struggle, because his fears seem to be affecting his daily routine. He is afraid of the toilet, crying and standing back from the bathroom when others line up. The teachers had to have his parents sign a consent that someone could go into the restroom stall with him. He is hesitant to climb the steps on the bus, so someone has been carrying him to his seat. When the air filter in the fish tank makes noise it startles Carmen, so he doesn't go near the discovery area. When the teachers attempt to provide him support to overcome his fears (stay close by, use words of encouragement, etc.) he begins to cry and cannot be calmed for extended periods of time. His parents have also expressed concern to his teachers because he exhibits similar behaviors at home and often has nightmares as well.




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