Emotional and Social Development in Early Childhoo


hapter 8 Emotional and Social Development in Early Childhood

During the preschool years, children make great strides in understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, and they build on these skills as they form first friendships—special relationships marked by attachment and common interests.

As the children in Leslie’s classroom moved through the preschool years, their personalities took on clearer definition. By age 3, they voiced firm likes and dislikes as well as new ideas about themselves. “Stop bothering me,” Sammy said to Mark, who had reached for Sammy’s beanbag as Sammy aimed it toward the mouth of a large clown face. “See, I’m great at this game,” Sammy announced with confidence, an attitude that kept him trying, even though he missed most of the throws.

The children’s conversations also revealed early notions about morality. Often they combined adults’ statements about right and wrong with forceful attempts to defend their own desires. “You’re ‘posed to share,” stated Mark, grabbing the beanbag out of Sammy’s hand.

“I was here first! Gimme it back,” demanded Sammy, pushing Mark. The two boys struggled until Leslie intervened, provided an extra set of beanbags, and showed them how they could both play.

As the interaction between Sammy and Mark reveals, preschoolers quickly become complex social beings. Young children argue, grab, and push, but cooperative exchanges are far more frequent. Between ages 2 and 6, first friendships form, in which children converse, act out complementary roles, and learn that their own desires for companionship and toys are best met when they consider others’ needs and interests.

The children’s developing understanding of their social world was especially apparent in their growing attention to the dividing line between male and female. While Priti and Karen cared for a sick baby doll in the housekeeping area, Sammy, Vance, and Mark transformed the block corner into a busy intersection. “Green light, go!” shouted police officer Sammy as Vance and Mark pushed large wooden cars and trucks across the floor. Already, the children preferred peers of their own gender, and their play themes mirrored their culture’s gender stereotypes.

This chapter is devoted to the many facets of early childhood emotional and social development. We begin with Erik Erikson’s theory, which provides an overview of personality change in the preschool years. Then we consider children’s concepts of themselves, their insights into their social and moral worlds, their gender typing, and their increasing ability to manage their emotional and social behaviors. Finally, we ask, What is effective child rearing? And we discuss the complex conditions that support good parenting or lead it to break down.


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