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When do kids gain social and emotional skills? Children start developing them as babies, and new skills emerge as they get older.

Not all kids develop at the same pace. But there are some milestones you can expect kids to meet around roughly the same age. See this list of social and emotional milestones at different ages.

Remember that all kids develop social and emotional skills differently. If kids don’t meet every milestone for their age right away, that’s OK.

If your child isn’t hitting many of these milestones, learn more about trouble with social skills. Keep track of what you’re seeing and share your concerns with your child’s health care provider. Together you can come up with a plan to help your child build social and emotional skills.

Infants and babies

  • Cry to get needs met
  • Occasionally self-soothe by sucking on hands and fingers
  • Start to smile and look directly at you

By 4 months

  • Cry in different ways to show hunger, pain, or being tired
  • Smile in response to caregiver’s smile
  • Play with toys by shaking them

By 6 months

  • Are more aware of which people are familiar and which are strangers
  • Can respond to other people’s emotions by crying, smiling, or laughing
  • Enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror

By 9 months

  • Start to show stranger anxiety
  • May cry when familiar faces aren’t around
  • Start to prefer some toys over others

By 12 months

  • Play favorites with familiar people
  • Are more interactive (like handing over a toy or a book or making a specific noise to get a caregiver’s attention)
  • Enjoy simple interactive games, like patty-cake and peekaboo

Toddlers and preschoolers

Ages 18 months–2 years

  • Have more temper tantrums and become more defiant as they try to communicate and be independent
  • Start simple pretend play, like imitating what adults or other kids are doing
  • Become interested in having other kids around, but are more likely to play alongside them (parallel play) than with them (cooperative play)

Ages 3–4 years

  • Start to show and verbalize a wider range of emotion
  • Are interested in pretend play, but may confuse real and “make believe”
  • Are spontaneously kind and caring
  • Start playing with other kids and separate from caregivers more easily
  • May still have tantrums because of changes in routine or not getting what they want