Social and emotional development theories

Amy E. Heberle, Clark University
Catharine R.B. Thomann, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
Alice S. Carter, University of Massachusetts Boston


This article focuses on social and emotional development in young children. In the first section, several definitions of emotion and brief descriptions of widely held theories of early emotional development are presented. Next, important universal milestones in emotional and social development are reviewed following their developmental sequence. Additionally, temperament is presented as a central means of identifying normative individual differences in early social and emotional development. This is followed by a discussion of early emerging social and emotional problem behaviors and their relation to specific risk and protective factors in the young child’s ecology, including family, community, and cultural influences.