Social development in Infancy and Childhood
By nature, people are social creatures—it is evolutionarily adaptive that, during all periods of life, interaction with others occurs. From infancy to adulthood, however, the way in which the interaction takes place, as well as with whom, changes. During infancy, interactions occur primarily with parents and family members. During childhood the frequency of interactions with same-age peers increases, though parental support is still important. Adolescence marks the increased centrality of interactions with peers and the emergence of romantic relationships. Both of these events forecast the progression into adulthood, during which individuals become autonomous from parents and often begin families of their own.
The developing person is affected by multiple socializing forces, including biological, parental, peer, and cultural factors. The results of these forces include one's views of the self and others, one's personality, and one's behaviors (e.g., aggression) when interacting with others. Moreover, these socializing forces and the complex array of outcomes show both normative trends and interindividual variability across development.
Biological and familial factors are important socializing agents in infancy, while peer relationships become more important in childhood and adolescence. This is not meant to imply, however, that other socializing agents play no role during certain periods of development. Similarly, the focus in this article on particular topics during only one period of development should not be taken to mean that these topics are not salient aspects of social development during other periods.
Even before a child is born, much has occurred in terms of social development. Genetic and prenatal biological factors play a large, persistent role in determining later social behavior. After birth, parents and other family members are the key socializing agents of the preschooler's development. By studying monozygotic (i.e., identical) and dizygotic (i.e., fraternal) twins, as well as ado…
Children spend much of their time with similar-age peers. Meaningful interactions between peers begin in infancy—infants direct and respond to each other's smiles and vocalizations. As preschoolers age, their interactions with peers become increasingly complex, progressing from solitary play to onlooking (child watches others but does not join), parallel play (child plays beside but…
Whereas opposite-sex interactions are infrequent in childhood, they increase during adolescence. Much of this increase is due to the emergence of romantic attraction, which is a product of both biology (i.e., pubertal maturation) and societal standards. Adolescent dating can be both a positive and negative socializing influence—it can be a source of intimacy, expanded social competency, and…
Despite all that is known about social development in the home and the peer context, there is still much to be learned about the bidirectional influences across these two contexts. The works of Ross Parke and Gary Ladd have illuminated some of the linkages from the home to the peer group. For instance, it is known that secure attachment is associated with peer acceptance and quality friendships, w…
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