Social-Emotional Development (page 2)
Social development refers to a capacity for relationships with other people; emotional development includes the ability to recognize, express, and manage one's feelings and to have empathy for the feelings of others. Self-efficacy is an important component of social-emotional development. It is defined by psychologist Albert Bandura (1986, pp. 391–431) as the individual's belief in her or his own ability to perform a task. As you work with babies and young children, you will witness many examples of self-efficacious behavior. “Let me do it!” may be the last thing you want to hear as you struggle to get everyone's coats zipped for outdoor play, but knowing that you are contributing to someone's lifelong feeling of self-efficacy will give you patience.
According to psychologist Erik Erikson, babies develop a sense of trust during infancy if they are fed when they are hungry, changed when they are wet, and, perhaps most importantly, responded to when they cry. This sense of trust, or growing belief that things are predictable, is part of the attachment and bonding process, part of the love affair that occurs between parents and baby. Attachment can and should occur between babies and caregivers as well. In fact, because attachment is so fundamental to healthy social-emotional development, many infant researchers now recommend that each baby remain with one primary caregiver for the first three years of life. Always remember, however, that the relationship between the child and parents is most important. Work to support that relationship and resist the temptation to enter into competition with parents.
As infants become toddlers, they show the beginnings of what Erikson calls autonomy; that is, making their own decisions. For example, they say “no” to many things people ask them to do. This stage, when the previously compliant infant suddenly starts rejecting food, sleep, riding in the stroller, and everything that had seemed so enjoyable before, can be very frustrating for the parent or caregiver who does not realize that it is an important sign of growth. You can avoid entering into a contest of wills with children in this stage by having only those few rules essential for safety and health. It is best to use positive guidance: “Here's your bottle,” rather than, “Would you like your bottle?” because the latter will surely bring a “no,” even if the child is hungry.
In Erikson's third stage, children begin to develop initiative; that is, they set their own tasks and carry them out for the sheer pleasure of the activity rather than to assert their independence. Because the development of this quality is so important at this stage, appropriate programs for children ages three through five will provide plenty of time for children to select and carry out their own tasks. Another name for this self-initiated activity is play.
Babies experience a number of emotions during the first year, including fear, anger, jealousy, curiosity, joy, and love. The importance of these emotional experiences for overall development cannot be overestimated. Stressful and traumatic experiences in infancy show up as physical changes in brain structure as well as problems with attention regulation, self-control, and learning (Shore, 1997, pp. 28–29). You can reduce stress for babies by giving them time to get to know you before approaching them directly. You can avoid power struggles with toddlers by ignoring lots of little things.
Psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan (1997) argues that early emotional experiences are the foundation from which intelligence, morality, empathy, and self-reflection grow. According to Greenspan, each child must successfully pass through six developmental levels or stages:
- Babies learn to organize physical sensations and regulate their reactions to those sensations.
- They develop the ability to feel intimate connections with others.
- They develop intentionality or the ability to behave in purposeful, organized ways.
- They learn to read the intentions and expectations of others.
- They use ideas to express emotions.
- They become able to think about feelings and interactions with others (pp. 42–85).
Temperament refers to the general way people respond to experiences, beginning in earliest infancy. It includes characteristics such as the intensity and duration of reactions, the tendency to approach or avoid new things, mood, perseverance, and distractibility. Many babies fall into one of three distinct temperament groups: flexible, fearful, or feisty. Flexible children adapt easily to their environments and make few demands on caregivers. Fearful children are slow to warm up and react with hesitation to changes in their surroundings. Feisty children express their strong likes and dislikes in unmistakable terms. These variations in temperament occur in all children—those children with disabilities and those without disabilities. The expectation that children with Down's syndrome have happy, easy-going temperaments, for example, is a stereotype that is not supported by evidence from research (Pelco & Reed-Victor, 2003, p. 3).
Understanding temperament is basic to understanding behavior, which is an essential component of guidance. Armed with this understanding, adults can think of ways to make the environment more comfortable for the very active child, for example, or for the child who is extremely sensitive to frustration. In addition, adults can help children develop strategies for managing their own impulses.
Occasionally an adult's temperament makes it difficult to relate well to a particular child. Generally, however, adults can adjust their interactions according to a child's temperamental needs. Feisty children need gentle guidance to learn acceptable ways of expressing their strong desires. Fearful children need calm support to try new experiences. It is important for caregivers to make sure that flexible children get adequate attention and don't get overlooked because they are so undemanding. Whether adjusting the environment, fine-tuning your own interactions, or teaching the child to use coping strategies, the basic idea is to improve the “goodness of fit” between child and environment to facilitate positive development (Chess & Thomas, 1996).
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