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Social and Emotional Development

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

The first of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, basic trust versus basic mistrust, begins at birth and lasts about one-and-a-half to two years. For Erikson basic trust means that “one has learned to rely on the sameness and continuity of the outer providers, but also that one may trust oneself and the capacity of one’s organs to cope with urges,”5 Whether children develop a pattern of trust or mistrust depends on the “sensitive care of the baby’s individual needs and a firm sense of personal trustworthiness within the trusted framework of their culture’s life-style.”6

Basic trust develops when children are reared, cared for, and educated in an environment of love, warmth, and support. An environment of trust reduces the opportunity for conflict between child, parent, and caregiver.

Social Behaviors

Social relationships begin at birth and are evident in the daily interactions between infants, parents, and teachers. Infants are social beings who possess many behaviors that they use to initiate and facilitate social interactions. Everyone uses social behaviors to begin and maintain a relationship with others. Consequently, healthy social development is essential for young children. Regardless of their temperament, all infants are capable of and benefit from social interactions.

Crying is a primary social behavior in infancy. It attracts parents or caregivers and promotes a social interaction of some type and duration, depending on the skill and awareness of the caregiver. Crying also has a survival value; it alerts caregivers to the presence and needs of the infant. However, merely meeting the basic needs of infants in a matter of fact manner is not sufficient to form a firm base for social development. You must react to infants with enthusiasm, attentiveness, and concern for them as unique persons.

Imitation is another social behavior of infants. They have the ability to mimic the facial expressions and gestures of adults. When a mother sticks out her tongue at a baby, after a few repetitions, the baby will also stick out his tongue! This imitative behavior is satisfying to the infant, and the mother is pleased by this interactive game. Since the imitative behavior is pleasant for both persons, they continue to interact for the sake of interaction, which in turn promotes more social interaction. Social relations develop from social interactions, but we must always remember that both occur in a social context, or culture.

Attachment and Relationships

Bonding and attachment play major roles in the development of social and emotional relationships. Bonding is the process by which parents or teachers become emotionally attached, or bonded, to infants. It is the development of a close, personal, affective relationship. It is a one-way process, which some maintain occurs in the first hours or days after birth. Attachment is the enduring emotional tie between the infant and the parents and other primary caregivers; it is a two-way relationship.

Attachment behaviors serve the purpose of getting and maintaining proximity; they form the basis for the enduring relationship of attachment. Parent and teacher attachment behaviors include kissing, caressing, holding, touching, embracing, making eye contact, and looking at the face. Infant attachment behaviors include crying, sucking, eye contact, babbling, and general body movements. Later, when infants are developmentally able, attachment behaviors include following, clinging, and calling.

Adult speech has a special fascination for infants. Interestingly enough, given the choice of listening to music or listening to the human voice, infants prefer the human voice. This preference plays a role in attachment by making the baby more responsive. Infants attend to language patterns they will later imitate in their process of language development; they move their bodies in rhythmic ways in response to the human voice. Babies’ body movements and caregiver speech synchronize to each other: adult speech triggers behavioral responses in the infant, which in turn stimulate responses in the adult, resulting in a “waltz” of attention and attachment.

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