What Affects a Child's Social & Emotional Development?

Updated November 21, 2016

The first five years of a child's life are a time of extreme growth and development. Negative experiences in a child's life at an early age can have a huge impact on social and emotional development. The types of experiences a child has at an early age can have consequences for the future, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP).


Between 9.5 and 14.2 per cent of children have social or emotional problems that keep them from being ready to enter school on schedule. According to the NCCP, low-income households are more likely than those in the middle or upper classes to have children with social and emotional issues. Low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to negatively affect the emotional and social development of its young residents.

Maternal Influence

Attachment to the mother has an effect on development of social and emotional maturation. The poorer the maternal attachment is, the more likely it is for a child's social and emotional development to be stunted. According to the NCCP, Latino and African-American children typically have less maternal attachment than Caucasians or Asian-Americans. Children whose mothers have substance abuse issues, have mental illnesses or are victims of domestic abuse are two to three times more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviours.


Of kids needing special mental health treatment, 9 per cent are under 6 years old. Children of colour make up most of the population of children needing specialised mental health care, according to the NCCP. They also make up the majority of the population of mistreated children. African-American children are three to five times more likely to be expelled from an early learning program because of behaviour issues than any other race and are 8.5 times more likely than their white peers to have a parent incarcerated.


Some of the treatment programs for children with stunted social and emotional development are aimed at parents. For parents with substance abuse or mental health issues, treating those problems are the first step in helping their child with their issues. According to the NCCP, less than 1 per cent of children with behaviour problems were identified as such and of those identified, between 80 and 97 per cent received no treatment for their social and emotional developmental problems.

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