The purpose of this essay is to evaluate how friendships and social interactions with peers, influence the social development of children. Furthermore, to consider the links between family relationships societal influences and the effects that these have on children’s social development in early life. In addition to understand the complexities of an adult’s role when supporting children’s social development, in the nursery setting.
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Research suggests that friendships are fundamental in providing future relationships, which help children cope with the stresses of life; learning to make and keep friends is one of the most important influences in the social development of children Early Excellence for Childhood Development (2009). Establishing relationships with peers is one of the major development tasks of early childhood, and how well they fare at this time, matters not only to the children themselves, but also to their future Shonkoff and Phillips (2000:163). This is in line with Phal (2000) ‘it is not friendships per se that is important but the trust security feelings of self-esteem and of love are important’ (:148). Children’s friendships with others build upon two individual interactions based on trust respect and security Shaffer (1996:324). Shaffer further suggests that ‘sociability plays a key part in the social development of children and that this depends on the skills children acquire during the first years of life’ (:325).
By the age of two years, children begin ‘enjoy playing with peers, laughing, talking, yet with trial and error; they learn to carry out their social skills’ (Development Milestones 2006), talking helps children make sense of things, and this puts things into perspective. However, children become protective of their possessions, which results in them not sharing, nevertheless, ‘children’s interactions grow out of egocentric modes of thinking and by being confronted with peer’s points of view and through peer interactions’ (Piaget 1932). Even so, ‘children learn ways in which, their cooperation is welcomed, and how they can take part for what they want’ (Elkin and Handel, 1978). Furthermore, they start imitating their peers at early ages, spending lots of time watching what they do, even though, children between the ages of two to three years, are more likely to be self-centred and are not interested in others feelings’.
Piaget also states “as children get older they learn how to share and take turns, and start to make friends with peers within their social groups, and in social situations” (1932:47), such as swimming clubs, dance or football lessons. Equally as children become aware of the world around them, in particular how everything in it relates to them, they learn to make friends, and start communicating with their peers, both within their own age group and older. ‘Children move in peer environments offering opportunities for support, and develop an understanding of others’ (Piaget 1932:42). Such as befriending younger peers, as some children need help in bridging their differences, in finding ways to learn from and enjoy the company of one another. Additionally, once children learn to empathise with their peers, they will learn how much fun it is to have friendships, and that these may turn into long-lasting relationships. Equally, children’s acceptance by their peers are influenced by factors such as, relationships at home including relationships with siblings, children’s own behaviour, relationships with parents and parents own relationships with each other. Families give children their social networks and social support, but children, who construct themselves in relationships with peers and friends, as well as parents, identify the rule of reciprocity and understand that personal and shared resources can have mutual benefits. Research suggests that this is especially true when making friendships. Therefore, children who show negative behaviour towards their peers will find it difficult to make friends. ‘Peer difficulties in the early years are predictors of future problems, such as, feelings of loneliness, aggression anxiety and depression (Shaffer 1996: 326).
However, some children differ in their social behaviour such as, individual personality’s temperaments extended family relationships, and cultural environments, which affect their social behaviour, (Rothbart & Bates, 1998; Kagan1992). What is right, or effective social behaviour in one culture, may not be in another. Such as eating food with fingers, this is acceptable in some eastern society; however, this is not acceptable in that of western society.
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Evidence suggests, children enter society at the mercy of others, from the time they are born children have innate responses, these influence their social development outcomes, which will then continue and change throughout their lifespan. Family influences start from the time of conception with genetic makeup provided by parents, such as the colour of hair and eyes, height bone structure and temperament Shaffer (1996:163). However, the mother is the ‘primary caregiver, providing an environment to which the child will grow and mature; she provides the child with nourishment, a safe environment, and the necessary health care for her and her child’ (Elkin and Handle 1978). Consequently, the mother provides the child with the first smile sound touch taste, and attachment. According to Bowlby (1944) ‘for children to form relationships, they must first learn to develop an attachment with others’ this will lead children to form bonds and secure attachments with others later in life (:62). Children become dependent on their family to provide clothing food shelter a clean safe environment, support, access to necessary health care and education. Children come to feel loved, valued, and learn to believe in a shared set of values and beliefs The Family Paediatrics Report (2003). Children also receive; care for their dependency and attention for their sociability, however, the kind of care and attention children receive during their early years will affect their management of important issues in later life, such as trust and distrust, Shonkoff and Phillips (2000:265). Therefore, the kind of parenting styles influence children’s social development and children’s characteristics according to Baumrind (1971) children who have authoritative parents tend to be self-reliant self-controlled cooperative socially responsible and keen to achieve, because parents have the power control, and how they direct their children. Children with permissive parents tend to lack confidence in voicing their opinions, are not interested in success and have no direction, as parents have limited control over them, over indulgence and inconsistencies regarding discipline. However, these parents are very loving and affectionate. Authoritarian parents on the other hand, tend to be in control over their children, giving them strict rules but in ways that encourages communication and mutual respect. Whereas Authoritarian parents are more involved, are more responsive sensitive and attentive to their children’s individual needs. However, children whose parents use this parenting style have children that are more likely to be impolite, rebellious and especially in boys socially incompetent. Rejecting-Neglecting parents however, shows an emotionally detached style of parenting with little effort of providing food and clothes for their children, they are uncaring do not watch or support their children’s activities they do not provide structure for the social rules or an understanding of the world they live in, and actively reject their responsibilities to rearing of their children. In addition, they have a combination of low approval and low involvement with little interest in the control of general indifferences to issues autonomy. Therefore, their children tend to be immature in cognitive and social development. However, personality may also influence and affect parent’s responses to some behaviour’s showing that parents may not in nature adopt these styles but be forced into them (Johnson and Nohamond-Williams). Although family is an important factor in influencing the social development of children, research suggests that ‘normal family’ is forever changing Shonkoff and Phillips (2000:263) with increases in divorce, one-parent families stepparents, cohabitation as well as civil partnerships and the growing diversity of values, beliefs ground rules culture, social and economic status. Shonkoff and Phillips (2000:264). However, the fundamentals of family life are to provide their children with a stable environment for children to learn through the process of socialisation to become acceptable members of society, besides social status recreation, and leisure pursuits. The family has also seen changes in terms of social values, attitudes and structure, such as that within the British Royal family and their conformity to social trends, with three out of the four children now divorced. Studies also show that children of divorced parents are at greater risk of emotional and behavioural problems, including depression The Family paediatrics Report (2003). Such children tend to have social difficulties and more problem relationships with one or, both parents, however, children’s inability to cope without the social support of their families can stem from social strains such as parental mental illness, substance abuse, violence, and divorce, Family Paediatrics Report, (2003). Studies show that parental abusive behaviour results from “parents negative interpretations of a child’s behaviour, poor social skills, and how they cope with stress” Goldsmith, (2001:184). Goldsmith (2001) further suggested, stress leads to problems of parent’s feelings of depression helplessness anger, exhaustion and marital tension. Nevertheless parent’s who develop better management skills will find it easy to form tactics, solve problems, and amend to change, therefore will have a sense of being in control Goldsmith, (2000:186). However, if the needs within family cannot be fulfilled the fulfilment of those needs can be sought after in the community, by dishonesty such as theft. Research suggests that unemployment and poverty can also affect the social development of children, with unemployment increasing the financial strain on family; this may compromise parent-child relationship by inducing hostility as well as reducing support and love in the home. Therefore, having an impact on the social environment to which the child develops, relating to Brofenbrenner’s ecological system theory, referring to the multiplicity of social influences that influence on children’s development.