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Characteristics of Social-Emotional Development

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 23, 2010

During the preschool years, children increasingly understand themselves as individuals; in addition, they understand themselves as part of a social world. They are becoming more autonomous, and their cognitive abilities permit them to understand how they fit into their family and a group of friends. Important characterizations of social and emotional development are self-concept, self-esteem, and self-regulation of emotions. Relationships with others are exhibited through the development of empathy and social competence. The nature and direction of social-emotional development are affected by relationships with their parents, siblings, and peers. They are in Erikson’s stage of initiative versus guilt. If they can become secure about separating from their parents and feel competent in their abilities, they can develop autonomy and eagerly participate in new tasks and experiences.

Self-Concept  A major social accomplishment between the ages of 3 and 6 is the development of self-concept. Young children develop a firm awareness that they are separate from others and have individual characteristics. Their self-concept is partially defined by physical characteristics but more significantly by mastery of skills and competencies (Berger, 2000; Berk, 2002).

Self-Esteem  Preschoolers begin the task of making judgments about their own worth and competencies, their self-esteem. They tend to overestimate their mastery of new skills and underestimate how hard new tasks are. They feel that they are liked or disliked depending on how well they can do things and are easily influenced by parental approval or disapproval. They are rapidly acquiring new skills and translating these accomplishments into positive or negative feelings about themselves (Harter, 1990).

Self-Regulation of Emotions  Children develop an awareness and understanding of their feelings in the preschool years, the self-regulation of emotions. As a result of their greater understanding of the causes of emotions in themselves and others, they are able to initiate behaviors that permit them to cope. Children pick up strategies for coping with emotions from their parents. Those whose parents have difficulty controlling anger and hostility have similar problems (Gottman & Katz, 1989). Children who have difficulties in controlling negative emotions also tend to get along poorly with peers (Berk, 2002; Eisenberg et al., 1993).

Empathy  A significant characteristic of the preschool years is the development of empathy, the ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others. Preschoolers can provide comfort and support for a peer, sibling, or parent. Expanding language development enables them to use words as well as gestures to console another. They can explain another child’s emotions as well as the causes. Children who exhibit empathy are more likely to be able to use positive social behavior (Berger, 2000; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987).

Parent–Child Relationships  Social-emotional development is affected by the relationships children have with their parents and other adults as well as with other children. Perhaps the most significant relationship is the one with parents and caregivers because of their influence in guiding the child’s development. Factors that affect the parent–child relationship include parenting style, the child’s temperament, and the type of discipline that is used. The dynamic nature of the interaction of these three factors is complex, and social development occurs within the tension among them. Parents can have authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive parenting styles, with many variations. The child’s temperament in turn influences the parenting style the parent adopts. A child who is compliant makes it easy for a parent to be authoritative, whereas a difficult child’s behaviors make it more likely that authoritarian parenting strategies will be deemed necessary (Dix, 1991). A positive fit between the parenting style and the child’s personality have more positive results on the child’s social and emotional development than a poor fit between the two (Kochanska, 1993).

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