Associations between social emotional and language domains in toddlerhood – The Steps Study


  • Sabina Rajalin Abo Akademi University
  • Päivi Pihlaja University of Turku and University of Helsinki
  • Alice S. Carter Carter University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Pirkko Rautakoski Abo Akademi University, Turku, Finland


This research has highlighted a risk for social-emotional and behavioural (SEB) problems in children with developmental language disorder. Associations with delays in social-emotional competencies and language development have been found in both children with language delays and children with language disorders, but findings on the association between SEB problems and language delay in very young children are mixed. The purpose of this study was to explore whether there is an association between social-emotional competencies and SEB problems measured at 18 months and language skills measured at 2 years of age. In addition, background factors often related to language development were controlled statistically. The data were gathered from parents of 591 children with questionnaires in a Finnish cohort study (the STEPS study). Social-emotional competencies and SEB problems were assessed with Brief Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (BITSEA) and language skills with MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories (CDI-T). The data were analysed with forced entry multiple linear regression analyses with three language variables (expressive vocabulary, grammar and M3L) as outcome variables and SEB problems, social-emotional competencies and background variables as independent variables.

Children with delay in social-emotional competencies in early toddlerhood according to the BITSEA cut-off scores had significantly smaller expressive vocabularies measured half a year later at 24 months of age than children with no delay in social-emotional competencies. SEB problems were not associated with weaker language skills. Child’s sex was the most important background factor contributing to all of the language variables in favour of girls.  

Findings indicate that a delay in social-emotional competencies in early toddlerhood can be associated with a delay in development of expressive vocabulary in later toddlerhood. Language development of young toddlers with a delay or deficit in social-emotional competencies should be examined as early as possible to support language development when needed.



How to Cite

Rajalin, S. ., Pihlaja, P. ., Carter, A. S. C., & Rautakoski, P. (2021). Associations between social emotional and language domains in toddlerhood – The Steps Study. Journal of Child Language Acquisition and Development-JCLAD, 223–248. Retrieved from



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