Social Development in Preschoolers

The social development of preschoolers has a profound impact on their social and emotional interactions with adults and peers as they get older. Learning to interact with others while developing their own identity and individuality in their community is not always an easy task. Fortunately, encouraging social development growth in the preschool years mainly revolves around playtime!


What is Social Development for Preschool Kids?

Social development is the process of gradually obtaining language, attitude, relationship, and behavioral skills that allow preschool kids to interact with their peers and other people they meet. It is the basic foundation for interacting with the people in the world around us.

The balance of being true to who you are while productively learning how to communicate and act around other people is a process that requires a lot of practice. Preschool-age kids are learning these skills while also still learning how the world around them works.

Luckily, most play-based learning preschool centers have mastered balancing the importance of social development alongside cognitive and emotional development. As a result, most preschool development is rooted in playtime; that is their time to demonstrate and practice what they have learned about the world around them.


Why Does Social Development in Preschool Matter?

Not only does social development dictate how our kids interact with us today, but it is also an indicator of how they will interact with their peers in the future. In addition, research has shown that age-appropriate social development is also a sign of mental healthiness.

The indicators of preschool-age kids that are on par for social development and those that are mentally healthy are very similar. Preschool kids demonstrating appropriate social development tend to be happier, feel more motivated, have a positive attitude toward learning, and are eager to participate in activities. Research also indicates a link to higher academic performance in later years.


Four Social Development Milestones for Preschool Kids

What are the primary social development skills to look for in your preschool kid? The skills your kids master at age three will be the same ones they build on while continuing to develop up to age five and then beyond. Ensuring your kid is hitting their milestones on time is essential for continued growth.


  • Self-awareness
  • Cooperation
  • Make-believe play
  • Sympathy and empathy


Self-Awareness in Preschool-Age Children:

Recognizing and regulating their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to better interact with other people is a key to social development. In addition, learning to understand how their behavior and reactions to others impact a relationship is crucial.

Most adults know at least one other adult that struggles with self-awareness. Having to interact with another person who cannot accurately judge a situation and respond accordingly can be very frustrating.

Promoting self-awareness in preschool kids will benefit them their entire life and help encourage appropriate social development for when they are an adult.

Ways to encourage social development in regard to self-awareness:

  • Being a class helper
  • Role-playing games
  • Talking about their feelings daily
  • Learning new words to describe their feelings
  • Modeling self-talk



Problem-solving skills, working together towards a common goal, and preparing for collaborative learning in later school years are all benefits of cooperative play. A cooperative atmosphere encourages teamwork, encouragement, and supporting one another.

Cooperation enables preschool kids to adapt more quickly to the delegation of tasks and taking turns. This shows up in practical situations like cleaning up and emotional situations such as understanding the benefit of helping each other. This social development skill is linked to emotional maturity and a strong sense of self-awareness.

Encouraging cooperation can be implemented in the following ways:

  • Play games that require teamwork
  • Model cooperation from an early age
  • Give choices
  • Allow time for problem-solving


Pretend Play:

Imagination and playing make-believe in the preschool years is one of the more apparent ways adults view social development learning in action. So, while building a spaceship out of wood chips or a dragon village out of sand might not appear to be high-level learning, it actually is!

Creative pretend play allows kids to blend knowledge and skills from multiple areas into one activity. Pretend play relies on a preschool kid’s ability to think flexibly, explore the world around them, and work together with other kids.

When playing house, it goes beyond being a “mom” or “dad.” It is heavily focused on communication skills. Children delegate family roles and responsibilities while simultaneously learning the similarities and differences among their peers.

Depending on the age, playing grocery store can result in creating display signs, organization, and math skills related to payment. In addition, imaginative play allows preschool-aged children to develop their own set of guidelines and social constructs for each situation.


Encouraging pretend play can look like this:

  • Providing open-ended toys
  • Taking note of their interests
  • Getting on their level
  • Allowing the child to lead
  • Inviting them to play by setting up a scene, for example, a tea party or blanket fort


Sympathy and Empathy:

The difference between sympathy and empathy comes down to this: sympathy is understanding another person’s emotions; empathy is being able to imagine yourself in their situation. Empathy requires a deeper level of understanding, emotional maturity, and social development. Signs of empathic social development begin in the preschool years but more commonly develop in early childhood years.

Children can demonstrate empathy in different ways. For some kids, it will look like kindness and compassion. For others, it will be reflected in a heightened form of personal stress over the situation. If your child shows empathy through fear, it is crucial to talk through their emotions and provide reassurance.

Helpful ways to encourage sympathetic and empathetic social development growth in preschoolers:

  • Ask children how they would feel in the reverse situation (ex: If they take a toy q   from another kid)
  • Read stories about feelings
  • Model empathy by asking them how they feel when they have strong emotions
  • Validate their emotions
  • Use pretend play to work through difficult emotions


Encouraging Social Development

The ability for preschool-aged children to develop their social development skills and hit appropriate milestones should be encouraged by parents and caregivers daily. Modeling the behavior we want from them and providing opportunities to practice and demonstrate these learned skills is essential to their growth.