Social-Emotional Behavioral Delays

Social-emotional and behavioral development defines how children learn to express and manage emotions, form relationships, and interact with peers in groups. A child with developmental delays may continue to show progress but at a slower pace than their peers. 

According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, the core features of emotional development include the ability to:

  • Identify and understand one’s own feelings
  • Accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others
  • Manage strong emotions and their expression in a constructive manner
  • Regulate one’s own behavior
  • Develop empathy for others
  • Establish and sustain relationships

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) found that 17% of children aged 3–17 years had developmental disabilities.

Consequences of Developmental Delays

While every child grows differently, broad developmental milestones are defined for children according to age. Children who are not at the expected social, emotional, and behavioral milestones for their age are likely to feel frustrated. 

The lack of understanding about their own feelings or that of others can result in uncontrollable emotions and aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, in such cases, normally safe environments, such as a classroom or playground, can become confusing and stressful places that the child tries to avoid. This further compounds the problem.

Social-emotional skills in young children include habits such as:

  • Showing an intention to be helpful 
  • Sharing toys, stories, treats, and ideas
  • Seeking or providing comfort 
  • Exhibiting empathy and compliance

Children with developmental delays tend to face challenges with social and emotional skills, including:

  • Trouble understanding social cues
  • Inability to initiate communication with others
  • Trouble carrying on two-way conversations
  • Difficulty dealing with frustration or coping with change

Often, additional behavioral problems can also manifest, including:

  • Disruptive behavior
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Aggression
  • Defiance
  • Hyperactivity
  • Moodiness and anxiety
  • Withdrawal

Early childhood intervention (ECI) and related services, such as social skills training, can help the child reach developmental milestones.

Consequences of Developmental Delays

Children with neurobehavioral disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), often also show symptoms of social, emotional, or behavioral delays. 

Children begin their social and emotional development during infancy. Their first social and emotional bond is usually formed with their primary caregivers. 

Children ideally reach key milestones within the first few years of their life - up to age five. Knowing what to look for is an excellent first step to ensuring that the child’s progress is as expected.

The First Year

Most babies develop their first social smile by three months. They may also enjoy playtime with their caregivers.

By seven months, infants may start responding to their names, the emotions in a parent’s voice, or a reflection in the mirror.

By the age of one, children usually start differentiating between family members and strangers. Children may also show a preference for specific people, toys, foods, or activities. 

Years 2-4 (Toddlers)

By the time they are two years old, children start recognizing themselves as individuals; and identify with a sense of self. They may copy certain words or gestures to communicate. 

Once they gain a sense of self, their social interactions with other children become more engaging than before. Children may start looking forward to playtime with other children.

After age three, children can engage in simple games where they learn to interact, negotiate small situations, and take turns with others.

Years 4-5 (Preschool Age)

At four years, the child grows more independent and imaginative. Children learn to play interactively with others. Role-playing games may start at this stage, pretending to be the mommy, daddy, or teacher. 

Children also learn about concepts like sharing and learn basic empathy and self-control.

By the time a child is five, they may show a clear preference for spending more time with friends, and they understand the difference between boys and girls. Children also enjoy expressive activities, such as singing, dancing, acting, and sports.

Award Behavioral Health Supports Children with Social-Emotional Behavioral Delays

Children with social-emotional behavioral delays can catch up to their peers with support from their caregivers and a structured learning environment. Early intervention services and support at home are the most effective way to help these children. 

Here are some ways to support a child with social-emotional behavioral delays:

  • Establish a routine
  • Provide opportunities to play with other children
  • Show your emotions
  • Acknowledge and name their feelings
  • Read social stories
  • Model healthy calming strategies
  • Provide visual cues

At Award Behavioral Health, children with social-emotional and behavioral development delays can be supported using applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy. Our board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) devise individualized care plans for each child in the program. 

If you think your child may benefit from ABA therapy for social-emotional behavioral delays, please contact Award Behavioral Health for a consultation.

Please contact Award Behavioral Health for assistance with setting up a care plan for your child and family. 

For appointments, call us at (800) 249-9569 or contact us online.

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