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Social and Emotional Development For Preschoolers (3-5 Years)

four preschoolers in classroom at table with one girl with big smile

Social and Emotional Development For Preschoolers (3-5 Years)

smiling preschool girl raising hand in classroom setting as teacher reads book to class
Caregivers often think learning basics, like recognizing colors, shapes and letters, are what preschoolers need, but teachers say helping children develop strong social and emotional skills are even more important.

Social Milestones for Preschoolers

Reaching milestones, like sharing toys and taking turns, trying new things, and learning to manage strong emotions, are going to make a big difference in your child’s school success.

The loving relationships that your preschooler has developed with caregivers and family will help them feel more secure when they are in groups of other children. From ages 3 – 5, children are starting to be more aware of the feelings of other people, want to have friendships, and practice being more independent. There are many ways caregivers can help them.

mom and daughter playing with blocks

Social and Emotional Milestone Checklists

Developing strong social and emotional skills can help child feel confident with building relationships, taking initiative to get their needs met, expressing how they feel in safe ways and asking for help when they need it. However, not all preschoolers progress at the same pace. If you are concerned about your child’s growth, talk to your healthcare provider.    
provider and preschooler boy playing with sand

3 - 4 YEARS OLD

Preschoolers are starting to enjoy interactive play and being with people, but also are learning how share toys and take turns, which can pose some challenges. You can help them by making play time a practice session. Take turns putting pieces into a puzzle, or using a shovel or truck in the sandbox. Talk about what if feels like to wait and help them manage their emotions. Say things like, “Waiting can be hard, let’s take a few deep breaths while mom takes her turn.”

You can also show what it looks like to respect others by practicing saying I’m sorry, please, and thank you. Talk about why it’s important to show courtesy to other people and model a healthy friendship.

Puppets, dress-up and pretend play give preschoolers the chance to see what it’s like from another person’s view. Play along with your preschooler, and let them play the role of another person. Ask them questions about what they feel and how they think others may feel to help them practice dealing with everyday situations. Ask questions like, “How do you think Janet would feel if Ella wants a turn with her favorite toy? What should she do?”

preschooler sitting on floor in classroom intently listening to teacher read a picture book

4 - 5 YEAR OLD

Accepting responsibility for small jobs around the house helps preschoolers learn a work routine that will contribute to school success. It also makes them feel valued in the household. Start with tasks like putting napkins on the table at meals, or helping with a pet. Make it a routine and let them know you noticed their efforts, “I see you putting your trash in the can, thank you for helping clean up. This will leave us more time for stories tonight.”

More Resources for Parents of Preschoolers

Get Preschool Parenting Tips

Find tips to help you navigate the preschool years from The Center for Disease Control.

Visit Pathways Social and Emotional

Learn tips from Pathways.org to support your preschooler’s social and emotional skills.

Get Social and Emotional Health Guide

Social and Emotional Health: A Guide for Families with Children Birth to Age 8 gives tips for parents who want to help children to be socially and emotionally healthy.