Factors Affecting Social Development
Children’s development of social skills is affected by the nature of their family and early educational experiences (NRC, 2001). Whether in a nuclear, blended, or extended family; a communal arrangement; or a single-parent family, the child learns social patterns and skills within this context. Children find love and security and form attachments with people who protect and care for them.
In the family, children become socialized through interactions with parents, siblings, relatives, and neighbors; once in a school setting, they need new ways of acting, relating, and socializing. Children who have had a strong attachment to a nurturing figure and see themselves as separate from this nurturing figure are ready for a group situation. Children who have not fully developed strong attachments to another person may have a more difficult time adjusting to the complexity of the social system of the school.
Children who experience the security of loving parents and have strong attachments to their parents are better able to reach out to relate with others. According to attachment theory, children who enjoy a secure attachment relationship with their parents and caregivers use this relationship as a support to venture out and explore their environment (Maccoby, 1993). They reach out to others, return to the caregiver for support, and venture out again, going further into the world of social relationships (Ainsworth et al., 1978). As the child confidently wanders out to test the social waters, he enlarges his social world, expands his social contacts, and is more likely to learn from experience in social interaction.
Parents who are social themselves serve as models for their children. Children may be able to use the image of their parents interacting with others in their own attempts to make and be friends with other children or to cooperate and share. Socially competent parents may affect their children’s social skill development in another way. Parents who are secure and competent offer children a model of security from which to build their own social skills.
The nature of parent-child interactions is also related to a child’s development of social skills. Children who are raised in democratic families, where reasons are given along with the rules, are more likely to be socially active and open-minded. Such parents explain, “No hitting. If you ask her for the truck instead of hitting, she’ll give it to you,” or “We always say thank you to someone who does something for you,” or “In church, we sit quietly during the sermon so others can hear. If you want to, you can write in your notebook or take a puzzle with you so you don’t disturb the others.” These parents are more likely to have children who cooperate, share, and initiate social activities.
On the other hand, parents who are more authoritarian, who demand obedient, conforming, and dependent offspring, may have children who are never really comfortable exploring the world for themselves. Often, these children fail to develop the ability to relate effectively with others throughout their life (Dorsey, 2003).
Gender differences play a role as well. In one study, fathers’ negative attitudes toward child rearing predicted behavior problems in children (DeKlyen et al., 1998). Fathers’ warmth and control have also been related to better academic achievement for children, and interactions with nonpaternal men can result in more prosocial behaviors toward peers (Coley, 1998).
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