What to Know About Social-Emotional Development

Many parents have heard the term “social-emotional development,” but what does it mean in the real world?

Put simply, social-emotional development refers to children’s ability to “experience, manage and express” their feelings, build relationships and actively explore their environment, according to a 2005 report from the nonprofit Zero to Three.

Managing one’s behavior, expressing emotions appropriately and developing empathy are all part of the journey.

It’s “understanding how our bodies and minds feel and think in relationship to the world around us,” says Mary Hadley, a speech-language pathologist in Texas who has spent 15 years helping adults and children communicate.

Children record many physical and mental milestones, especially in their first few years of life. Likewise, social-emotional skills grow throughout childhood and adolescence – also with milestones – and can be just as important.

Dr. Toya Roberson-Moore, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says that social-emotional development relates to brain health, making it an element of both physical and mental health. Human development takes place simultaneously across many related areas, and it can look different for each child.

Social-emotional development changes as a child grows. A mother providing a feeling of safety for her baby begins the child’s process of healthy social-emotional development. Toddlers engage in pretend play and learn how to interact positively with others. As children enter school, they develop the ability to regulate their emotions and work well with others.

Just as children never stop learning, social-emotional development doesn’t stagnate. It builds as youngsters progress through school, allowing them to relate to others and handle challenges in healthy ways. For example:

  • Elementary school. In elementary school, social-emotional development often focuses on executive functioning skills, Hadley says, such as memory and self-control. Students engage in play-based skills, learn to advocate for themselves and practice empathy for others. When children feel safe and calm, Hadley says, parents can work on helping them recognize how their emotions feel and how to regulate themselves.
  • Middle school. Development in middle school looks similar, Hadley says. “We can teach students to be aware that the way their body and minds feel will affect their social communication,” she says. The goal is to help children understand that everyone experiences emotions, both good and bad. Yet, while middle-schoolers can verbalize their feelings, they also sometimes hide their concerns, Roberson-Moore says. They may feel ashamed of their emotions or want to avoid burdening others. This can raise additional challenges.
  • High school. “At the high school level, relationships with peer groups become very important,” says Kelly Oriard, a family therapist and co-founder of Slumberkins, a company that makes emotional learning products. As teenagers figure out where they fit in the world, it is normal and healthy for them to establish an identity outside of their family. That often means managing friendships, dating, workplace colleagues and other more complicated relationships.

When it comes to social-emotional development, parents are a primary resource for children, and experts say there are many ways to help. Here are some suggestions:

6 Examples of Verbal Abuse

6 Examples of Verbal Abuse

Many people experience verbal abuse in their lifetimes. Most often, abuse occurs in romantic relationships, between a parent and a child, or at work. One study has shown that in romantic relationships, 12.1% of women and 17.3% of men experience verbal abuse.1

Verbal abuse against children is highly understudied and underreported, so the prevalence rates of this type of abuse aren’t well known.2 The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1 billion children between the ages of 2 and 17 experienced some type of abuse, verbal included.3

A report by the RAND Corporation, an American research organization, found that as many as 13.1% of men and 12.4% of women experienced verbal abuse regularly at work.4 Read on to find out more about verbal abuse, its effects, and how to spot the signs.

What Is Abuse?

“Abuse” is the term used to describe acts or behaviors that are damaging in nature. They are done to purposely cause physical or emotional harm to a person. When a person suffers from abuse, they are mistreated by someone who is looking to benefit in some way from the abusive behavior. There are many forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional.

Are All Forms of Abuse Equal?

While many people who have suffered abuse may believe that one form is less damaging than the other, all forms of abuse are wrong and can lead to detrimental consequences for the person being abused.

Verbal Abuse vs. Emotional Abuse

The terms “verbal abuse” and “emotional abuse” are often used interchangeably to describe the same type of abuse. However, even if the two are similar, there are distinct characteristics of each one.

Verbal Abuse

Speaking aggressively or violently

Emotional Abuse

Using mind games to control a victim’s behaviors, thoughts, or feelings

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse is a form of mental abuse that is designed to undermine a person and how they feel about themselves. Abusers also use this type of abuse to help maintain a level of control or power over the person being abused.

Verbal abuse occurs in many relationships, both personal and professional.

ASD Symptoms May be Present Before Your Baby First Speaks

ASD Symptoms May be Present Before Your Baby First Speaks

  • Some infants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, may exhibit social communication differences as early as 9 months of age, a new study suggests.
  • Compared to their typically developing peers, infants with ASD may show signs such as a lack of appropriate eye contact and inability to respond to attention.
  • However, these signs may not always be as apparent to parents. Hence, getting help from specialists with child development backgrounds could put concerns to rest.
  • The study’s findings also point to a critical window for targeted early intervention that could help children with ASD reach their full developmental potential.

Although speech is many parents’ first concern when spotting signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there may be other forms of communication that could point to autism early on in infancy, a new study has found.

Social communication skills such as eye gaze and facial expressions, for example, develop rapidly in the first year of life for babies — more specifically, between 9 to 12 months.

Developmental gains in these skills before the baby says their first words, generally around 12 to 18 months, may go unnoticed.

“Social communication differences are part of the diagnostic criteria for ASD. Yet, we don’t really know how early in life these differences appear. Beginning at around 9 months of age, typically developing infants use their eye gaze, facial expression, sounds, and gestures to communicate. They also begin to show very early play skills around this age,” said Dr. Jessica Bradshaw, assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina and corresponding author.

Bradshaw said she wanted to determine whether social communication differences were apparent as early as 9 months in infants who had a greater familial likelihood of autism, which is months before they would usually receive a diagnosis.

Published in the journal Child Development, the longitudinal research studied the social development of 124 infants between the years 2012 and 2016.

The researchers then carried out an early social-communication assessment at both 9 and 12 months, measuring the babies’ social, speech, and symbolic skills.

Later, when the babies reached the age of 2, researchers used gold standard diagnostic tools to see if any infants fit the ASD diagnostic criteria.

Infants who were later diagnosed with ASD showed significantly fewer social and early speech skills at 9 months of age, the study found.

And at 12 months, infants with ASD had lower performance scores on almost all measures of preverbal communication.

The infants with ASD showed the following three unique patterns of social-communication development:

  • Their communication with eye gaze, facial expressions, and sounds were “consistently low” between 9 and 12 months.
  • Their symbolic use of objects such as being creative with toys was delayed at 12 months.
  • There was a “growing gap” between typically developing infants and infants with ASD when it came to using gestures and the frequency of communication.

The findings are in line with previous research, which has shown that infants with ASD have specific areas of vulnerability and unique patterns of change that indicate a disorder.

“It was interesting to see that there were distinct patterns of social communication development from 9 to 12 months for infants who later developed ASD. Some skills were consistently low while other skills showed a ‘growing gap’ between 9 to 12 months,” said Bradshaw.

Dr. Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, said she was not surprised by the findings that indicated nonverbal social communication skills differed between typically developing infants and infants who are later diagnosed with ASD.

“The characteristics of ASD may be subtle and are qualitative in presentation rather than directly identifiable as atypical. This means that the quality of interactions and social-emotional presentation of an individual diagnosed with ASD differs from the quality of the same characteristics in typically developing children,” she said.

She explained that this quality is measured by the frequency, intensity, duration, degree, and number of behaviors present.

“In the first few years of life, salient signs of autism include lack of appropriate eye contact and inability to initiate or respond to joint attention that qualitatively varies in everyone. Since ASD does not just suddenly present, rather it evolves throughout the first 2 to 3 years of life with symptom presentation becoming more evident and noticeable from 18 months of age forward, it is not surprising to see that even in 9-12-month-old infants, subtle signs of social-emotional differences may be noticed.”
– Dr. Mayra Mendez

Mendez said the prospect of being able to spot symptoms of ASD as early as 9 to 12 months could empower parents, caregivers, and clinicians working with families, as well as increase awareness of social-emotional development, and support child and family interventions to ensure a child’s developmental is not hindered.

She acknowledged that research was limited on early ASD signs and symptoms before 18 months of age but that there was some anecdotal evidence from parents, such as videos.

“In such parent reports, the difference becomes more evident when language skills are expected to develop and when the expectations for social and relational engagement are anticipated at higher levels than those exhibited by the 2- to 3-year-old who presents with signs and symptoms of ASD,” she said.

Why is gamified learning through creative learning activities important for early childhood education

Why is gamified learning through creative learning activities important for early childhood education

The pandemic has been especially disruptive for early childhood learners. Bright vibrant classrooms, games and activities with peers were replaced with computer screens as a mode of learning. These challenges necessitated the need to leverage technology and make learning engaging, meaningful and personalized. Many Ed-Tech companies operating in the PreK-12 segment took up the challenge, innovated and offered exciting options for learning which included simulations, animations, video-based learning and gamification of content.

Gamified learning is one of the most prominent trends which has been successfully implemented in early childhood learning. While it was being used even before the pandemic, this approach gained particular prominence during the lockdown. How is early childhood learning impacted by gamification you might ask.

Why is Early Childhood Important for a Child’s Overall Development?

The term Early Childhood encompasses the age group of children from birth to 8 years. This is a wondrous time of development and change. These years are marked by simultaneous and integrated growth in the physical, cognitive, linguistic, sensory and socio-emotional domains of a child. All these domains are equally important as they interrelate and overlap throughout a child’s development and their journey of exploring the world.

Here’s an interesting fact; did you know that the brain of a child under three years of age is super active? It makes almost 700 to 1,000 neural connections every second! These neural circuits support and build a child’s sensory, motor, and cognitive skills and control all their responses. During this time span, brain development is at its peak and grows to 90 percent of its adult size by between the ages of 3-5 years! Up till the age of 8 these capacities are rapidly strengthened.

Therefore, this period is critical for laying the foundations for logical and creative thinking, problem-solving, learning multiple languages, forming behavioral patterns, building motor skills, and securing emotional well-being. The skills and abilities developed during these years often predict a child’s future functioning and achievements.

Let’s explore the concept of gamified learning.

Early childhood research proves that children learn best through active, sensorial exploration and engagement. Game or play-based learning nurtures the physical, social, intellectual, emotional and creative abilities of a child. Therefore, gamification of learning and engaging young learners in creative learning activities is a powerful method of optimizing a child’s overall development.

Think about a game of Ludo, Snakes & Ladders or any other game or sport that young children play. The common factors in all of them are engagement, fun, a goal and the motivation to win.

When these factors are applied to learning, the result is ‘gamification’.

Gamification helps build the learner’s engagement, clarifies or strengthens concepts and skills through an activity-based, hands-on approach to learning.
Gamification of learning has also proven to […]

Comorbid ADHD Complicates Most Diagnoses and Treatment Plans

Comorbid ADHD Complicates Most Diagnoses and Treatment Plans

An accurate ADHD evaluation must screen for far more than ADHD. Though 60 percent of people with ADHD have some co-existing psychiatric condition1, comorbidities rarely factor into the evaluation — leading to an incomplete diagnosis. You have ADHD, but what else might you have? Or, no, you do not have ADHD but rather some other condition that explains the symptoms that led you to seek help.

This is why checklist evaluations, while helpful screening tools, are inadequate by themselves. You need to sit down and talk to a human being and tell your story. In medical parlance, this is called sharing your history, and your history is the most revealing and useful test in all of medicine. While most mental health professionals do not perform a physical exam, the “history and physical” remains the cornerstone of a medical evaluation.

Whether you’ve yet to undergo an ADHD evaluation, or you’ve already been diagnosed with ADHD, be sure to ask your doctor if you might have any of the following comorbid conditions often seen with ADHD:

ADHD and Common Coexisting Disorders

1. Learning differences

About 30 to 50 percent of people with ADHD have a learning disorder (LD) 2 3. These include most of the “dys-eases”.

  • Dyslexia. The most common learning disability, dyslexia makes you slow to learn to read and spell your native language. I have both ADHD and dyslexia, which can manifest quite differently and change over time. For example, I majored in English in college and now make my living with words, even though to this day I am a painfully slow reader.
  • Dyscalculia is sometimes called “math dyslexia.” A person with dyscalculia has trouble with math facts, with counting, with computation, and with word problems. But, just as the dyslexic individual may turn out to be gifted with words, the child with dyscalculia may mature into a gifted mathematician.
  • Dysgraphia includes trouble with handwriting, an awkward way of gripping a pen or pencil, trouble spacing written words or letters, frequent need to erase, and an awkward body position while writing.
  • Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), denotes clumsiness, lack of coordination, a tendency to drop or spill things, awkwardness in movement. DCD often leads to tremendous problems with confidence and self-esteem in childhood and adolescence, when athletic prowess and physical fluidity are so highly valued among peers.
  • Dyslexia. The most common learning disability, dyslexia makes you slow to learn to read and spell your native language. I have both ADHD and dyslexia, which can manifest quite differently and change over time. For example, I majored in English in college and now make my living with words, even though to this day I am a painfully slow reader.
  • Dyscalculia is sometimes called “math dyslexia.” A person with dyscalculia has trouble with math facts, with counting, with computation, and with word problems. But, just as the dyslexic individual may turn out to be gifted with words, the child with dyscalculia may mature into a gifted mathematician.
  • Dysgraphia includes trouble with handwriting, an awkward way of gripping a pen or pencil, trouble spacing written words or letters, frequent need to erase, and an awkward body position while writing.
  • Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), denotes clumsiness, lack of coordination, a tendency to drop or spill things, awkwardness in movement. DCD often leads to tremendous problems with confidence and self-esteem in childhood and adolescence, when athletic prowess and physical fluidity are so highly valued among peers.

Treatment for all of these LDs includes specialized tutoring (like Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, or Lindamood-Bell for dyslexia) or coaching; occupational therapy; and counseling to help with the attendant emotional problems.

2. Behavioral or conduct problems

The diagnostic terms for these include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD); conduct disorder (CD); and anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). Without intervention, a child may move from ODD to CD to ASPD as they age (though these conditions are more common in males). It’s critical to get help early on, and treatment is best undertaken by a team of providers.

3. Anxiety disorders

Sometimes anxiety occurs in the wake of untreated ADHD. Once an individual takes stimulant medication and gains focus and control, the anxiety wanes.

However, sometimes an individual has a freestanding anxiety disorder, which needs to be treated with a combination of education, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), physical exercise, positive human connection, and, perhaps, medication, such as an SSRI or an anxiolytic.

4. Mood problems

  • Depression. Once again, what looks like depression may occur in the wake of untreated ADHD. If the person responds well to ADHD medication, performance improves and the “depression” disappears. However, sometimes an individual has primary (not secondary) depression as well, which requires its own treatment.
  • Dysthymia. The sadness and low mood of dysthymia is less severe than with depression, but it lasts longer.
  • Lifelong low mood. Historically, there have been many terms for this, but a common clinical observation is that some people who have ADHD struggle with low mood and emotional dysregulation.
  • Bipolar disorder (BD). Up to 1 in 13 patients with ADHD has comorbid BD, and up to 1 in 6 patients with BD has comorbid ADHD4 .

5. Substance use disorder

SUD is common with ADHD, as are behavioral addictions or compulsions. Do not let shame hold you back from talking with your doctor about them. There are treatments other than willpower and white knuckling.

Observing adults can help toddlers regulate their emotions

Humans are in a constant need to regulate how they feel to successfully navigate the challenges of everyday life. Emotion regulation, from managing feelings in a long line at the grocery store to those needed for work and in relationships is a key to successful adulthood. Emotion regulation is particularly challenging for toddlers, who experience frequent emotional outbursts. To date, there is limited research about how toddlers learn to apply specific emotion regulation strategies and how this differs between children. A new study published in Child Development by researchers at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany investigates the relationship between toddlers’ temperament, their use of distraction as a strategy for regulating their emotions and learning through observing adults’ behaviors.

“Toddlers increased their use of distraction as a mechanism to calm themselves in stressful situations after they had watched others calm themselves in the same way,” said Johanna Schoppmann, doctoral candidate and researcher at Ruhr University Bochum. “The findings also demonstrated that toddlers can learn how to regulate their emotions by observing strangers, not just parents or other family members. These results show a need for further research on the role of the wider social context for the development of emotional regulation beyond the parent-child relationship.”

The researchers recruited participants via public birth registers in Bochum, Germany. The sample included 94 24-month-old German toddlers (50% were female). Sixty-one per cent of mothers and 67% of fathers had a university degree. Eighty-two per cent of toddlers had parents whose native language was German. Data collection took place between March 2018 and January 2020.

Toddlers were randomly assigned to two of three conditions: two experimental and one control. Initially, all toddlers freely played with their parents, then were placed in two “waiting situations” in which they waited for something they wanted such as a wrapped gift or a snack. The waiting situations were designed to elicit negative affect, specifically frustration.

Between the two waiting situations, toddlers in the experimental conditions watched the experimenter play with toys while she apparently had to wait for something. That is, the experimenter modelled how she distracted herself when dealing with the wait. Initially, the experimenter told the child she wanted to play with a toy under a blanket but explained that she had to wait until a lamp in the room turned green. In one experimental condition, 37 toddlers then watched the experimenter actively play with a push-along animal and heard her state how much better she felt while playing. In the other experimental condition, 37 toddlers watched an experimenter model calm behavior while playing and waiting for the toy she wanted. In the control condition, 22 toddlers participated in an imitation game unrelated to emotion regulation between the two waiting […]