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Children’s experiences in their earliest years affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress, and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, setting the stage for social and emotional development. Language blossoms, basic motor abilities form, thinking becomes more complex, and children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others. Social-emotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen and others 2005).
It encompasses both intra- and interpersonal processes. Forming relationships with others requires the development of social skills, a process that begins in childhood and should continue throughout life. These qualities allow communication with others, an essential component of interacting people in a way that brings success in a variety of ways. This paper will discuss some of the skills and personal qualities that are necessary for children to develop in their interactions with other children, the family system, and the classroom, referencing the theories of Erik Erickson and social development.
Personal skills that are vital to the process of developing socially include: the ability to listen to others, the ability to empathize with others, and tolerance of differences between people. These characteristics are essential for children to hone during the process of socialization, because they are skills that will determine the positive relationships they will develop academically, personally, and professionally throughout life A child may be accomplished in his or her academic studies, but without the social skills that are necessary to navigate interpersonal relationships, he or she may grow up to be unfulfilled in social and emotional areas. In fact, the realm of social and emotional learning studies the connections between biology, emotions, and intelligence and their relation to success and happiness. The education that takes place through social and emotional experiences with others boosts the child’s emotional intelligence, providing a tremendous advantage to his or her futures, both in one’s personal life and in one’s professional endeavors.
For a child to develop the qualities listed above, it is important that his or her family environment support the development of those characteristics. A family can reinforce the establishment of tolerance, empathy, and listening skills by modeling those skills at home. For example, a family that eats dinner together most nights during the week can practice listening to each member and demonstrating an understanding of what is being said by responding to that content accurately. Family members can show empathy to each other by verbally and/or physically comforting each other when difficult issues are being discussed or experienced. Finally, tolerance can be modeled by allowing differences of opinions to be expressed, accepted, and disagreed with in a respectful way. The family environment can provide a safe climate for its members to reveal their opinions, feelings, and beliefs.
In Erikson’s fourth stage of development, industry versus inferiority, during the period that he calls the school age, which can go up to and include junior high school, a child begins to achieve competence in the more formal skills of life, a significant part of which is relating to peers (Stages of Social-Emotional Development in Children and Teenagers, 2010.) This task includes learning to play or work within a system of formal rules, building skills that promote team work. The qualities that a child will develop in his or her interactions with individuals or within the family system are supported by this developmental stage.
If a family environment demonstrates the quality of intolerance to differences of opinion, for example, it may be difficult or impossible for a child to feel comfortable expressing himself, and that child may develop a tendency to criticize others who are different. In the worst-case scenarios, these children may take extreme measures of intolerance by becoming bullies, since they had no one to comfort them or empathize with them in their own family unit.
In the classroom environment, it is essential to establish a tolerant atmosphere where people feel that they are being listened to and respected, so that one particular quality that is essential to provide this is by reinforcing fellow students’ contributions by conveying verbal support or even physical support such as a pat on the back. In addition, a quality that can provide and reinforce tolerance, understanding, and listening skills would be sticking up for the “underdog,” a person who may be isolated and feel like an outcast. Finally, courtesy is an important quality for the classroom so that people feel they are respected and will in turn be respectful.
In addition, within the classroom environment, if someone exhibits a rude or a judgmental attitude towards others, the ability of other students to empathize, listen to their peers, and express tolerance will be inhibited because energy will be used to defend oneself against being attacked. Unfortunately, if this is the tone that is set in a classroom, it can result in an unsafe place where people are afraid to speak out for fear of being rejected, mocked, or seen as lesser than the others. The development of a solid base of social skills will assist an individual in becoming a stable, secure person who will reinforce those same qualities in others. On the other hand, the lack of such skills will produce an insecure person who will tend to avoid others, intimate relationships and opportunities to work with people as a team