May is mental health awareness month. Why is good mental health important in childhood? Mentally healthy children have a good quality of life in childhood as well as into adulthood. Mentally healthy children function well in all areas of their life, have healthy coping skills, can make and keep friends and relationships, and have a generally positive outlook. Those of us who work with children understand that helping children achieve and maintain good mental health is vitally important and akin to helping children stay physically healthy. One way to conceptualize this is to be aware of the childhood social-emotional milestones.

Social-emotional milestones are just like developmental milestones (crawling, sitting up on own, saying words) and are a great way to stay tuned in to the wellbeing of the children in our lives. Social-emotional milestones are also an effective strategy for teaching parents and caregivers how to notice and support their children’s mental health and wellbeing. Below is a shortlist of some childhood social-emotional milestones.

Infants and Babies:

  • Communicate through different cries (2 months)
  • Smile and make direct eye contact to bond and connect to their caregiver (4 months)
  • Notice and can respond to other people’s emotions (6 months)
  • Show signs of anxiety, especially with new people or unfamiliar settings (9 months)

Toddlers and Preschoolers:

  • Can act defiant and show strong emotion especially when they feel unable to communicate their needs or want to be more independent (18 months – 2 years)
  • Begin exhibiting a wider range of emotions and can be taught how to be caring and kind to others (3 – 4 years)


  • Begin testing boundaries in an effort to gain independence (5 – 6 years)
  • Understand what it means to feel embarrassed (5 – 6 years)
  • Become aware of others’ perceptions and attempt to express their feelings with words, but often struggle with this (7 – 8 years)

Middle and High-schoolers

  • Can change from open and talkative to introspective and moody (11 – 15 years)
  • Emotionally distance themselves in an effort to gain more independence

All children develop social-emotional skills differently but it’s good to notice, understand, and normalize the behaviors you are seeing. Mental health is health.

For more information on social-emotional milestones: