Social Development

Socialization is the process by which the child learns to live with others and acquires the patterns of behavior and thought that characterize his culture.There has been a great deal of interest in child rearing practices partly because of the immediate practical applicability of this sort of knowledge and partly because of the importance of early socialization experience in theories of personality.


The first socializing influence is the family, and in particular the mother or other caretaker. During the first months of life the mother usually attends to the child's needs. She feeds him, changes his diapers, and makes him comfortable. Thus the mother or caretaker is associated with the reduction of needs.

As we have seen earlier, the child begins to recognize the person or persons who care for him and to distinguish them from strangers in the second half of the first year of life. At this time the child first begins to turn away from strangers and shows a strong preference for his mother. A few months later the child begins to show separation anxiety. That is, when his mother leaves, the baby may protest loudly, crying and showing every sign of extreme distress. Fleener and Cairns (1970) tested infants ranging from 3 to 19 months, to determine their reactions to maternal separation. The test involved the departure and then return of the mother and another female and the results showed that only the infants of 12 months and over showed a greater tendency to cry upon the departure of the mother than of the other adult female.

Social demands begin sometime during the second year. The infant begins the process of weaning, in which he must give up sucking the breast or bottle and drink from a cup instead. The sucking response is very strong in babies. Weaning means the loss of the nipple and its pleasures.

Many of the child's first social adjustments (e.g., weaning and toilet training) depend on physiological maturity.

Another social demand placed on the developing child is toilet training. The child had no restrictions at all placed on his urination and defecation when he was a very young infant. Other people looked after his needs and kept him dry and clean. During the second year of life, however, the child is usually required to try to control his bowels and bladder. Toilet training is the growing child's first real experience with social discipline.

Socialization requires that many unaccustomed new behaviors be learned and that many natural behaviors be eliminated

Before the twelfth month, the child is usually not physiologically mature enough for toilet training. Training is accomplished more smoothly if it is put off until later. If toilet training is started sooner than 18 or 20 months it is likely to be very slow and difficult. The mother may resort to harsh disciplinary techniques. Some therapists claim that severe toilet training can cause later personality problems, including aggressiveness, rigidity, and sexual anxieties.

The second year is also the time when the child first explores his environment on his feet. The toddler now requires close attention and must undergo considerable frustration and punishment as he is restricted from dangerous areas, from touching fragile things, and from many activities in which he would otherwise have engaged. His behavior is no longer unrestrained, and his needs are not always met without any demands on him. The process of socialization is underway.

Small children learn to meet most new demands by imitating their parents

Many studies have confirmed the common sense conclusion that parental models play a central role in the child's social development. Children have opportunities to observe and imitate their parents in many day-to-day activities. Such observational learning usually leads children to share their parents' values, attitudes, and characteristic response styles. The pervasiveness of imitation as a learning process is clearly evident in the naturalistic observation of children's play in which they frequently reproduce the entire parental role including the appropriate mannerisms, voice inflections and attitudes, much to the parents' surprise and embarrassment.

The parents train the child to their standards of behavior. They urge him to act in certain ways that are acceptable to them, and punish him if he fails to meet their standards. As the child learns what is expected of him, he begins to try to control his own activities. He nevertheless takes the values of his parents as his own. Then, whenever he fails to meet these standards he may provide his own punishment, i.e., that unpleasant, anxious emotion that we call guilt.

Sears, Maccoby and Levine (1957) conducted a large-scale study of American child-rearing practices. They found that parents use two major techniques of punishment: love-oriented punishment and object-oriented punishment.

Punishment is an unreliable way to eliminate unwanted behavior

Love-oriented techniques involve punishments by isolation and punishment by temporary withdrawal of affection. Object-oriented techniques involve physical punishment and restricting or removing desired objects and privileges. Their studies indicate that children who score high on measures of self-control and conscience were those whose mothers were warmly affectionate but who used love-oriented techniques of punishment. Other studies have indicated that the use of physical punishment does not lead to effective self-control procedures. Glueck and Glueck (1950) found that boys who were delinquent were more likely to come from homes where the threat or use of physical punishment was common. In their study Sears, et al.,(1957) concluded:

The unhappy effects of punishment have run like a dismal thread through our findings Mothers who punished aggressive behavior severely had more aggressive children than mothers who punished lightly. Mothers who punished toilet accidents severely ended up with bed wetting children.Mothers who punished dependency to get rid of it had more dependent children than mothers who did not punish. Our evaluation of punishment is that it is ineffectual over the long term as a technique for eliminating the kind of behavior toward which it is directed.


The child also learns sex roles from the parents and from the society around him. The little girl, identifying with her mother, usually learns that she is expected to cook, sew, and care for children. The little boy may see that his father is strong and does not show emotion. The sex roles accepted by the parents are soon reflected in the playthings of the child-little girls play with dolls and boys play with more aggressively oriented toys. In one study cited by L. Kohlberg, three- and five-year-old children were asked, "When you grow up, would you like to be a mamma or a daddy?" The three-year-olds gave no consistent preferences, but 97% of the five-year-olds named the parent of the same sex. The sex typing is also apparent in the child's attitudes: little girls are often gentler and more emotional, while boys may try hard to be tough and hide their feelings.

These roles, whether biological or learned, last way into the older years -- even to age 90 and 101.

There seems to be considerable evidence, however, that some cultural leaders resist the idea that the roles might be biologically determined. Christina Hoff Sommers, in her book "The War Against Boys: how misguided feminism is harming our young men" (2000) marshalls considerable data to support the notion that young men are being feminized in an attempt to further the "equalization" of our society. She claims that in order to produce changes in our society, based on the premise that girls are being made to feel inferior, that boys are being encouraged by educators and psychologists to play with dolls, to feel guilty about being competitive, and in general punished for acting in ways that might be different from girls.


The types of play in which a child engages reflect his attention span and degree of socialization

Solitary Play

When toddlers play, they have very little to do with each other. They may play in the same room, or playground, or sand pile, but they characteristically play with their own toys without involving other children. This type of play has been called solitary play to differentiate it from the more mutual kinds of play that develop as the child matures.

Parallel Play

In parallel play, two or more children play near each other and exchange materials or comments, but do not play together at one activity.

Associative Play

The third developmental step comes when the child joins with others in one activity, in a loosely defined group whose membership shifts as children come and go. When several children make sand castles at the beach, for example, they may share the job of making walls and turrets, digging the moats, and perhaps consult with one another about digging a channel to these. As members of the group lose interest and wander off, others may joining the activity.

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play occurs most often within peer groups.

Children playing cooperatively help each other to accomplish a joint venture, such as selling lemonade or building a hut for their club, and each member of the group remains with the task until it is finished or the group decides together to go on to other activities.

The progression from solitary to parallel to associative to cooperative play reflects the child's growing ability to sustain his interest in an effort and to relate to other children.

Gelfand (1969) has pointed out that in the development of self-control in a social situation a very important question is how the young child learns to delay the considerable immediate gratification often gained from physically attacking someone who has displeased him or from hoarding toys for his exclusive use. Several studies (Aaronfreed and Reber, 1965; Kagan,Pearson and Welch, 1966) suggest that at least two factors are important in the acquisition of self-control: (1) exposure to adults and children who serve as appropriate models for a young child to imitate; (2) a social environment that rewards restraint and perhaps also punishes self-indulgence.

Children of different ages sometimes play well together, but often the older child becomes bored or irritated by the younger child's lack of skill or understanding. The typical play group consists of children of about the same age -- called peers. The group formed by children of the same age is called a peer group. The importance of the peer group increases when the child goes to school, since most schools segregate children into grades composed of children of about the same age and level of social development.

School-age children are socialized by their teachers, their families, and by their peers. The peer group assumes an important function in the life of children from the age of 6 onward. It helps the child to develop a concept of himself, to evaluate the standards and values of adults in his life, and to assess his own worth. The child may assume a position of leadership and dominance, or he may learn to be docile and submissive. His experience with his peers influences the formation of character traits that may last his entire life.

Some Current Changes in Children's Play

A new book, "Children at Play: An American History," by Howard Chudacoff, (reviewed in The New York Times, August 14, 2007, page B1), suggests that children's play has changed considerably in recent years. Children of baby boomers appear to engage in more controlled and supervised play, suggesting that there is less freedom, imagination, and taking of risks by modern children. Television and commercial toys have provided programmed entertainment, substituting for improvised play by children themselves. Parents have used commercial games to baby sit and pacify children. And parents have been all to eager to supervise and control play and to tote children from one activity to another, leaving children little choice for creating their own forms of amusement. Parents often pressure children to show success and expertise (little league baseball, music lessons, gymnastics, hobby clubs, etc.) anything that would look good on later applications to prviate schools or colleges. Chudacoff points out that neighborhood playgrounds are now virtually deserted during off school and summer hours and that even during school, children are overly supervisd caution children against potential accidents and inappropriate behavior. In summary, children are seldom seen outdoors, spend much time inside by supervised or programmed activities, and may be prevented from learning the rough and tumble consequences that come with living in an unpredictable world.


Children imitate both desired and undesired behavior

Bandura (1963) pointed out that theories in the past have not adequately accounted for the development of novel social behaviors in children. In order to rectify this state of affairs he and his students began a series of experiments to determine the effects of social imitation. The experimental procedures typically used are as follows: (1 ) children are allowed to observe a model reacting to some situation; (2) this is then followed by a test period in which the child may be presented with a similar situation and observations are made as to his tendency to imitate the behavior of the model.

In one such study (Bandura, Ross, and Ross, 1963) children were shown movies of models exhibiting aggressive acts which were rewarded. Upon subsequent testing, they found that such exposure heightened the children's aggressive responses. It is interesting to note that these findings are contrary to the predictions of the psychoanalytic model which views aggressive behavior as a way for the child to discharge pent-up energies. In the past such theories have often led educators and mental health workers to encourage hyper aggressive activity in order to ``drain off" all the aggressive energies. But Bandura's work as well as that of others (Lovaas, 1961; Parke and Walters, 1967; Kanfer, 1965) have indicated that vicarious participation in aggressive activities increases, rather than decreases, aggressive behavior. From these studies one could conclude that if we wish to prevent the child from behaving violently, we should minimize the child's exposure to violence, especially those situations in which violence is rewarded.

Other courses in developmental psychology:

After this introductory course in psychology, you may be interested in taking other courses in developmental psychology. Such an area is a natural next step after this general course.

Developmental Courses in Psychology
Psych 330Child Developmenta (for non-majors only)General Psych
Psych 430Adolescent PsychPsych 330 or 431
Psych 431Developmental PsychGeneral Psych
Psych 435Behavior Problems of ChildrenPsych 330 or 431
Psych 436Development of Femaleness and Maleness



Now test yourself without looking back.

1. Number the following events in social development from 1 to 4 in the order in which they occur.

a. Toilet training may begin.
b.Separation anxiety appears.
c.Child recognizes caretakers.
d.Sex typing is initiated.

2. A baby is left by his mother in a room full of attractive toys. The minute she leaves the room, the baby begins to cry loudly, paying no attention to the toys. This reaction is called___________________

3. The development of guilt reactions is most highly affected by:

a. the amount of separation anxiety a child develops.
b. the age at which the child was weaned.
c. the process of adopting the sex role of the parent of the same sex as the child. d. none of the above.

4. At what age is a baby typically old enough to begin toilet training?

a. 6 months.
b.12 months.
c. 18months.
d. 24months.

5. Match each type of play below to the description(s) that is(are) appropriate to it which follows (more than one may be correct).

1 ) Solitary play
2) Parallel play
3) Associative play
4) Cooperative play

a. A group of boys and girls play store. Some children stack old boxes on the shelves, some buy and sell, and some make mud pies for sale. As children drift out of the game, others join in.

b. Two children sit in a sand pile, each making his own mound of sand. They exchange pails and shovels but do not make any sand piles together.

c. Several children swing on swings, talking to each other and trying to imitate each other's actions.

d. Many children play in a playground, each engaged in his own activity of digging,exploring, or pretending. These children do not interact -- each goes his own way.

e. Two children try to fly a kite. Each takes part of the work, and they manage to get the kite into the air by working together.

6. Identification with the parents causes the child to take their values as his own. If he then behaves unacceptably, regardless of whether or not he is punished, he will feel_____________________________

7. A department store sets up its toy department so that girls' toys are on one side of an aisle and boys' toys are on the other. The difference in preferences for playthings is due to:______________________________________________________________

8. What is a peer group?___________________________________________________

9. Bandura's research indicates that if children are shown movies depicting acts of aggression which are rewarded, the viewing child would tend to:

a. become more aggressive.
b.become less aggressive.
c. be unaffected by the film.




Number the following in the order of occurrence:

a. Toilet training
b. Separation anxiety
c. Sex typing is initiated
d. Child recognizes caretakers

Match each example with the type of play it illustrates.

1. Solitary play (Children may be in a room together but they play by themselves with their own toys.)

2. Parallel play (Two or more children play near each other but do not play with each other in any one activity. They do, however,exchange materials and comments.)

3. Associative play (Child joins with others in one activity. Loosely defined group membership. Children come and go.)

4. Cooperative play (Children play together and help each other to accomplish a joint venture. Group remains together until the task is completed.)

a. Several young children walk into a room, pick up some toys from the toy box, sit down, and play with these toys the remainder of the morning. The children seem oblivious of each other.

b. Eight boys decide to build a tree house. They gather boards, nails, and tools. By noon the materials are neatly stacked and the steps are nailed up the tree.They devise a method of moving the materials up the tree and by dinnertime the platform is completed.

c Two children of about the same age are playing in the park. One is swinging and the other is climbing on the jungle gyms. They periodically change activities and demonstrate different ways to play on the playground equipment. The children never play on the same piece of equipment at the same time.

d. A group of children are playing cowboys and Indians.The activity continues throughout the morning,although some children leave the activity and other children join in.

______________________________________________________ 2

It has been fairly well established that children Who are physically punished for aggression later behave more aggressively than other children. On the surface this seems contradictory but if we examine Sandra's findings it becomes clear that parents who punish their children physically for aggressive behavior also provide a model for that very behavior. So when a parent punishes a child's misbehavior, the child may not only learn what not to do but may also learn:

a. how to be more gentle.
b. not to punish others. to punish others.

Suppose someone wanted to teach a child to be totally lacking in reasonable self-control and quick to use physical aggression.From your analysis of the research which was discussed in this module, what might they do?

a. Be warm and use withdrawal of love as a means of discipline.

b. Punish him physically and quite often.

c. Let him view TV programs which depict violent behaviors being rewarded.

d. Encourage him to discharge his pent-up aggressions by beating up on dolls and destroying playthings.

Answers to above exercises:

Exercise 1 b,c,d

Exercise 2
1 ) a
2) c
3) d
4) b

Exercise 3 c

Exercise 4
b. 2
c. 4
d. 1


1. The development of guilt reactions is most highly affected by:______________________________________________

2. The initial appearance of separation anxiety is around the age of:

a. 6 months.
b.10 months.
c. 18months.
d. 24months.

3. A group formed by children of the same age is commonly referred to as a:

a. social group.
b. parallel-play group.
c. peer group.
d. (none of these)

4. The type of play which involves the attainment of a goal by the united efforts of several children is:

a. associative play.
b. parallel play.
c. cooperative play.
d.solitary play.

5. Parten's concept of parallel play involves the play of several children:

a. who are in a room together, periodically trading comments and toys. a room together but playing separately and not sharing toys.
c. who work together actively in a group with stable membership.
d. (none of these)

6. Which of the following is not true in the associative play of children?

a. Several children involved in one activity
b.Definite group membership
c. Children tend to come and go
d. (none of these)

7. There are two children in a room. One is playing with blocks, and the other is painting. They ignore one another completely. What type of play is this?

a. Parallel play
b. Associative play
c. Solitary play
d. Cooperative play

8. Little Billy is watching two other children playing in the next room. One of these children grabs a toy away from the other child. An adult in the room praises the bully's behavior by saying, `'Tom, you certainly know how to get what you want." On the basis of Bandura's findings, what effect would you think this might have on Billy's behavior?

a. no effect.
b. It would allow him to vicariously discharge his pent-up aggressions and therefore make him less likely to be aggressive.
c. It would tend to encourage him to become aggressive, too.

9. Which of the following illustrate(s) the effect of sex typing?

a. Girls playing with dolls, boys playing with tanks
b. Girls are gentle and emotional while boys are aggressive and try to hide their feelings.
c. Department stores display little girls' clothing in different areas from little boys' clothes.
d. (none of these)




September 8, 2007