Emotional & Social Development In Early Childhood

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Children develop or mature emotionally and socially at different rates. However, for the most part, child psychologists discovered that predictable stages are involved in the process. Becoming aware of these phases enables parents to better understand a child's behaviors while gauging progress. Psychiatrist Erik Erikson established specific categories of development that educators and healthcare providers commonly use as a guideline.

Trust vs. Mistrust

This phase occurs from birth to the age of two. During this time, a child learns about trusting and feeling secure in their immediate environment. Through interaction with parents, family members and friends, little ones develop a sense of self, learn to trust the people in their life and develop trust. Babies discover their fingers, hands, toes and feet. They become aware of and learn the names of body regions. Infants recognize and respond positively to parents and routine caregivers. Young children will also express anxiety and sadness when separated from the people that they have come to know and trust. They often display negative emotions when approached and touched by strangers.

Autonomy vs. Shame

From ages two to four, young children begin learning right from wrong, actions and behaviors that are permissible and actions and behaviors that cause disapproval. Children at this age learn about feeling proud over an accomplishment or shame when they misbehave. Youngsters during this phase often test their limits and respond with temper tantrums when confronted with disapproval. In fact, though out of the “terrible two” phase, toddlers continue exhibiting mood swings. During this stage, youngsters become more assertive, feel confident in directing others, understand the meaning of “no” and may correct others. Children also often begin displaying aggression toward others. At this age, children capably identify themselves by gender. They comprehend whether others view their behavior as bad or good. Young children are also aware of how others view their personal appearance in terms of attractive appeal.

Initiative vs. Guilt

This phase extends until about the age of six and involves social and emotional development through play. A well-adjusted child uses their imagination, cooperates with others and may follow or take the lead in situations. Children lacking in this phase often display guilt, are fearful and unable to interact with other children. They might not take the initiative to actively play or express imagination. As the child develops socially, they progress in their learning to interact with others and may compare themselves to their siblings or playmates. Young children often more readily explore the limits associated with what is considered good or bad behavior and actions. Educators recommend that parents teach children at this age to learn the difference between accidental and purposeful actions in addition to the difference between bad behaviors and bad people.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "Emotional & Social Development In Early Childhood," in PsychologyDictionary.org, January 10, 2016, https://psychologydictionary.org/emotional-social-development-in-early-childhood/ (accessed September 29, 2022).