Social and Emotional Growth: The First Five Years
Understanding one's self and others.
In the first year of life wonderful and dramatic things happen. The baby usually triples her birth weight; she moves from being totally dependent to crawling or walking. She is soon able to communicate and to understand language, and by six months she understands that she is a person in her own right. During the first five years the child accomplishes more than in any other phase of life, and the foundation is established for healthy social/emotional development, as she gradually comes to understand herself as well as others. Each area of growth occurs in tandem with others- e.g. social and emotional with motor, communication with thinking.
Milestones are flexible; they are approximate times when certain abilities are observable. There is no strict timetable for acquiring abilities or confronting different challenges, and there's a wide range for what's considered normal. Every child grows and adjusts to the world at his or her own pace. This article outlines the child's social/emotional growth and its interaction with other aspects of development.
Newborns arrive in a pre-social state, ready and eager for contact. They turn toward sounds and even show a preference for the human voice, especially a high-pitched one. Well before they use spoken language, infants let us know how they feel and what they mean.
Children come in all shapes and sizes, and differences can be seen right from the start:
Sammy, 3 months, doesn't like to eat, sleeps for short periods, screams, and is difficult to comfort when he's cranky.
Lisa, 7 months, established a regular schedule easily, is friendly, smiles readily and is eager to be sociable.
Drew, 6 months, is cautious, quiet, not physically active, and doesn't enjoy new experiences.
Temperament: Each infant has a unique inborn temperament or typical way of reacting to the world. Most children are easy; they are adaptable and establish fairly regular schedules: Some children are difficult; they cry a lot, wake at irregular hours, and are easily upset. Some children are slow to warm up; they're quiet and react after thinking things over. Children are born with a tendency toward certain moods and styles of reacting to people and events in their lives. This preferred style of responding—a child's first and most natural way of reacting—is called temperament.
Goodness of fit: No matter what the child's temperament, it's the harmony between child and a primary caregiver that's most important. The behavior of one influences the response of the other. The special bond between infants and their caregivers is known as attachment. When the attachment is solid, the caregiver provides a secure base for the child's emotional and social growth.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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