Skip to main content

Social & Emotional Development Milestones for Toddlers (1 - 3 Years)

dad holding and smiling at child

Social & Emotional Development Milestones for Toddlers (1 - 3 Years)

three toddlers outside playing with cups and shovels at a plastic toy fountain

Life with a toddler can be rewarding and, at times, challenging. In addition to physical changes, you can really see your toddler’s personality develop. Part of that development is the growth of more social and emotional skills.

Social and Emotional Development

Toddlers learn to explore and express feelings, engage with others, and become more independent when it comes to getting their needs met—key social and emotional milestones at this age.

During these years, toddlers are gaining skills to help set them on a path for school success. Trying new things, learning how to solve problems and get along with others will make a big difference in their school years and beyond.

child holding a book and mom kissing him on the cheek
mom dad and two young girls outside playing with bubbles

How You Can Help Your Toddler's Social and Emotional Development

Help your toddler stay on track with social and emotional development milestones by checking the Steps initiative. Every child develops at their own pace, but if you are concerned about your toddler’s development, there is help available.

Toddler Social and Emotional Checklists

1 - 2 Years Old

Toddlers are learning how to express themselves and they aren’t afraid to share how they feel. Sometimes that’s an outburst of laughter, and other times it’s a temper tantrum.

Help your toddler find ways to show how they feel by using words. Talk about how they might feel—angry that playtime is over, sad because Grandma is leaving. Talk about how you feel to show them how to act. For instance, explain that you are sad that it’s rainy and you can’t go to the park, or happy that a friend is coming for a visit.

You’ll notice your toddler is becoming more adventurous, and wants to explore on their own. You can help them build confidence by encouraging safe ways to try out new things, while you remain close by. Your toddler might wander a bit further away, while checking to make sure you are nearby. They might want to try a new toy or puzzle. Encourage your toddler to try on their own, and let them know that you saw them getting it done, “Jerome, you turned the toy around until you found the button to make it work.  I like how you kept trying to figure that out.”


2 - 3 Years Old

Between the ages of 2 and 3 years old, your toddler will become more independent. They will begin to move from sitting next to a friend, to back and forth play with other children. This is a good time to help your toddler learn about taking turns, and thinking about other people. Talk about what you see in others, “Liza moved closer and is looking at your cars. Do you think she wants to play?”

This new independence mixed with a continued need for adult support can be confusing for children and may lead to a time of more tantrums. It is also a time they are learning that words have meaning, such as no, mine and I will do it! Show your toddler how to use words or point to a “feeling chart” to name what they are feeling, and show that their thoughts are important by giving them choices. 

Head off tantrums by giving them appropriate choices—would you like to put on your pajamas first or brush teeth first? Your toddler will feel valued and loved, and they will get to practice making decisions. Make sure you are also taking deep breaths, modeling how to interact with others, and showing them how to feel and express emotions in a safe way.


Social and Emotional Health and Development Infographic

Social and emotional development impacts your child’s ability to get along with others and get their needs met in safe ways. These are necessary skills for learning and succeeding in school and beyond. Learn how to support them on this journey.

Get Social and Emotional Tips

More Social and Emotional Resources for Parents of Toddlers

Get Social and Emotional Health Guide

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

Get Social and Emotional Tips

Learn what you can do to support social and emotional development in your toddler at Zero to Three

Help Your Child Build Relationships

Find tips for helping your child build strong relationships from

Visit Pathways Social and Emotional

Learn about social and emotional skills and how to encourage your baby’s development from