All FSI Publications Journal Articles Early Human Development

Paths of Social-Emotional Development Before 3 Years Old and Child Development After 5 Years Old: Evidence from Rural China

Background: Social-emotional development during the first three years of life is associated with later social-emotional development and cognitive development. In rural China, research has found large shares of children under age three are developmentally delayed, yet little is known about the paths of social-emotional development before age 3 or how developmental paths predict later social-emotional skills and cognitive skills. 

Aims: To investigate the paths of child social-emotional development during ages 0–3 and examine how different paths predict social-emotional development and cognitive development at preschool age. 

Methods: Three waves of longitudinal panel data from 1245 children in rural Western China was collected. Child social-emotional development was measured by the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional. Child cognitive development was measured by the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and by the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Fourth Edition. Four paths of child social-emotional development were classified: “never” social-emotionally delayed; “persistently” social-emotionally delayed; “improving,” or “deteriorating.” 

Results: 331 (27%) were never social-emotionally delayed; 373 children (30%) were persistently social-emotionally delayed; 149 children (12%) experienced improving social-emotional development; and 392 children (31%) experienced deteriorating social-emotional development. Children who were never social-emotionally delayed or who were on an “improving” path had higher social-emotional development at preschool age (p < .01). Children who were persistently social-emotionally delayed (p < .5) and on a deteriorating path (p < .01) had lower social-emotional development at preschool age. Children on the persistently delay path also were shown to have lower levels of cognitive development at preschool age (p < .01). 

Conclusions: Different paths of child social-emotional development before age 3 are associated with different social-emotional and cognitive development at preschool age.

January 17, 2022