Written by:

Dr Rachel Varughese

Rachel is a paediatrician in Oxford.

Overview of Social Development

In this article:

  • Introduction
  • 0-6 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 6-9 months
  • 9 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years
  • 3 years
  • 4 years
  • 5 years
  • Main points

Overview of Social Development


Overview of social development


Humans are social beings, and there’s no better time to learn how to socially and emotionally connect with your peers than from birth. In order to reach their full developmental potential, babies must be exposed to the right stimulation.

The expected ages of babies achieving certain developmental skills are described by developmental ‘milestones’ and development is generally divided into gross motor, fine motor, speech/language and social skills. Some children might be weeks or months late in achieving their milestones in certain areas, and this is often entirely normal.

When seeking medical advice about delayed development, paediatricians have different thresholds for investigation, so on many occasions, the advice, at first, will be to watch and wait.

This article will focus on social development. Language, which is closely intertwined with social development, is discussed in another article.

More information:

0-6 weeks

Newborn babies are often known for one main thing – crying. And while it can be frustrating to try to interpret each cry, this is actually a baby’s first expression of social communication. During these first weeks, your baby will become increasingly interested at looking at your face, and will start to settle down more easily in response to your touch.

6 weeks

By 6 weeks, your baby should have developed a social smile, which means they smile in response to visual, auditory and tactile cues. They should also have started tracking your face, known as ‘fixing and following’. If this hasn’t yet developed, it is worth seeing your doctor, who will consider referring your baby to have their eyes checked.

4 months

Your baby has mastered that spontaneous smile, and is using it to woo all of your visitors. They demonstrate their joy and excitement by enthusiastically waving their arms and legs.

6 months

Here comes the age at which your baby will start to put almost everything into their mouth. Watch out, because those teeth are coming in, and everything that goes near that mouth, will come back covered in drool. Your baby is now aware of where his/her food comes from and will reach out with glee towards that breast or bottle.

6-9 months

Your baby is developing their recognition skills and starts to respond to familiar faces. This makes games such as ‘peek-a-boo’ much more fun. It also means they are getting used to the familiarity of their own face, and they start to enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror.

9 months

All those recognition skills lead to some serious ‘stranger danger’, and you might find your little one gets super clingy to those they know. They will cry when a parent leaves the room and will hide their face when they meet strangers. Whereas at 6 months, they were inarticulately palming food into their mouths, they are now able to hold on to and feed themselves finger food.

12 months

At 12 months, your child definitely has a preference for certain people and certain toys. They are becoming much more able to interact. They start learning to wave ‘bye’ and love clapping their hands together. They happily imitate noises and actions to get others’ attention. They understand the concept of getting dressed and undressed, and stick out an arm or a leg to help. They continue to eat finger food and are now able to drink using a beaker.

18 months

Your child is learning how to imitate every day activities, and may imitate a lot of your behaviour. They are learning to eat with a spoon, although this is still clumsy. They are also getting happier to play and explore by themselves, as long as a familiar face is nearby. They understand the concept of playing with another child, and may pass toys or show things to other children. The ‘terrible twos’ are on the way though, and you may get signs of temper tantrums starting.

2 years

The terrible twos have officially arrived, so watch out. Besides temper tantrums, they are gaining independence, and are happy to go off and play with other children. But, with independence comes defiance, and they may start purposely disobeying commands to test the water. Between 2 and 3 years old, children become good at feeding themselves with a spoon.

3 years

At 3, your child will get better at sharing their toys and will understand the concept of taking turns in games. They have friends that they enjoy playing with, and are happy to do so without their parents’ presence. They show concern and sympathy for others if they are hurt. They are now able to eat with a fork and a spoon. Toilet training is improving, and they are getting better at verbalising their toileting needs, which usually starts with bowel control.

4 years

At this age they are almost ready for school, so it makes sense that their social development is becoming a lot more mature. Their style of play is evolving, and they have newfound creativity in exploring make-believe and imaginative play. You may also notice your child prefers to play with you, or other children, rather than playing alone and that they enjoy trying new things. They can dress and undress themselves (although still need guidance and supervision). Their toilet training is complete, and they can control their bladder as well as their bowel. They can feed themselves skilfully and will start to be able to use a knife.

5 years

By 5 years old, your little child will be at school. Their behaviour will be influenced by their friends who they will simultaneously try to emulate, while also wanting to please. They may declare a ‘best friend’. This desire to please also means they are more amenable to following rules, although they will still express opinions on likes and dislikes. They dress and undress independently and can eat skilfully with a fork and knife.

Main points

  • Developmental milestones are a guide and your baby may reach them at different rates when compared to other infants.
  • Your baby will begin to learn about social interaction from birth.
  • Babies must be exposed to the right stimulation in order to achieve their full potential.
  • Crying is one of your child’s first social skills linked closely to language.
  • If your child is not tracking your face by around six weeks, you may want to visit your doctor who may recommend an eye check.
  • By four months old you baby will be smiling spontaneously for visitors.
  • From 6 to 9 months your baby will start to recognise familiar faces.
  • At 9 months your baby might cry when you leave the room.
  • At 12 months your baby will start to develop preferences for certain people and toys.
  • At 18 months your baby will start to learn imitation and may mimic your actions such as making phone calls etc.
  • By 2 years old, your baby is gaining independence and a temper.
  • From 3 years to 5 years your child will learn, sharing, taking turns and playing independently with other children.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.