Which factors can affect social and emotional child development?
- Social & Emotional
Environment risk factors
There are multiple environmental aspects that can have an impact on social and emotional development in children. Environmental risk describes factors that children may experience in their home or area of living that can have a negative influence on their development. These factors are categorised into nurture risks, attachments, and emotional transitions.
Nurture risk factors
Nurturing care is essential for early development and focuses on the stable environment created by primary caregivers for children and babies. A positive experience of nurture in early childhood includes good nutrition, a secure home environment, responsive care, and early learning opportunities. When children are not provided with this level of care, they can be thought of as at risk.
Nurture risks for children can occur before a child is even born. Low nutrition in pregnancy can lead to a low birth weight, which can later result in a child being at more risk of illness – which can also influence social and emotional development.
A recent report by the World Health Organisation found that children who lacked nurturing care in early childhood grew to find it difficult to relate to others, and are at risk of being in ongoing poverty cycles as an adult. However, this can be changed through early intervention, which has been shown to improve relationship skills, empathy, and wellbeing. 
However, children who do not form these positive, nurturing relationships in early childhood are at risk of suffering a negative impact on their behaviour when older. As found in a study, children who did not form early healthy attachments with caregivers showed aggression in later life, delayed cognitive development and hostility towards their primary caregivers. 
Within child risk factors
In contrast to environmental factors, which define risks that children may experience as a result of their home environment, and the early relationships that they form, within child risk factors refer to internal aspects that can impact social and emotional development. These can include mental health and emotional neglect in early childhood.
A child's mental health
Mental health is something that the public have developed more awareness of over the past few years. We often see mental health campaigns in the mainstream, with the topic now discussed more openly than ever before. Mental health is often thought of something that mainly effects adults, but the mental health of children can often have an impact on their early life.
To support your child’s mental health, ensure that you are using as much caring body language with them as possible, such as making eye contact, smiling and positive touch. An example of positive touch could be a hug or holding hands.
As well as this, consistency in routine and expectations is essential, as well as using praise to acknowledge and reward positive behaviour and interactions. It is also important to spend time with your child listening to them, their thoughts and feelings, and doing activities together that they find fun and rewarding in order to nurture a caring relationship. 
Emotional transitions as they grow
Transitions are a normal part of life. As people grow from babies to adults, they will encounter many transitional stages, such as moving to a new area, starting school, or losing people who are close to them.
Adults play an integral role in supporting children through these stages of transition and upheaval in early life. There are steps that adults can take in helping their children through transitional periods in life, including being a positive model of behaviour, responding to children’s needs appropriately throughout transitions and being warm and supportive of them during interactions related to what is happening. Clear communication and consistent routines may also be supportive during these periods.
If children are not supported adequately through emotional transitions, it can have a negative impact on their social and emotional development. Periods of transition can be a time where emotions are high, and children who are less able to cope with this may express their worry or upset by withdrawing from others, crying, or hurting others. 
Advantages of positive mental health
Having good mental health in childhood can support many different aspects of early development. Children who have good mental health can talk about themselves in a positive way and will want to share their thoughts, feelings and interests with others. When things aren’t going the way that they expect, children with positive mental health will be able to cope with this in a more constructive way – they may get upset briefly but will take a step back to deal with the situation, try again, or simply move on.
Children who have good mental health might also find it easier to relate to others and build relationships with them. They may appear confident and want to approach other children or seek out adults to share ideas or ask for help.
Because of the confidence and resilience that stems from this, young children who have good mental health may find life changes easier to understand and cope with. It is also possible that this will enable them to engage more in learning activities both at home and at school or nursery. 
There are many aspects to consider when it comes to social and emotional development, and how it can be affected by both external and internal factors, including times of transition, attachment, neglect, abuse, and mental health issue.
Although all these factors can have a negative impact on social and emotional development, there are signs to look out for to help spot where growth and development can be impacted. Having a knowledge of these potential signs can help to put steps in place that can prevent negative outcomes in the future. Children’s needs can be supported in many ways if concerns arise, and there are agencies that offer help for families and carers who are concerned about a child. Seeking support or guidance for healthy social development in children who are at risk is often the best way forward. For example, speak to a school or nursery, or services such as NHS, Young Minds, or Action for Children.