Social Skills & Young Children - TeachersAndFamilies

Development of
Social Skills in
Young Children

Guidelines for Parents
From the National Association
of School Psychologists



Development: Babies

From early on, babies learn to respond to their parents and caregivers with smiles and coos. While they may have interest in others in the outside world, babies are unaware of the feelings and needs of others. They view parents as resources to meet their needs because they are dependent on them for everything. As they develop, babies learn that not all of their needs will be met immediately and they have to wait to have to be fed or for a parent to rock them back to sleep. It is important to remember that, during infancy, children are learning social skills primarily from their parents--children's first teachers. Children learn acceptance of others, sensitivity to feelings, and social entry skills by observing and experiencing how their parents interact to them, with friends, and strangers. When there is a close emotional bond or attachment with the parent, the child feels safe, loved, and ready to explore the larger world of social relationships.

Unconditional love and care are essential to the normal growth and development of social skills in the very young child. With lots of holding and comforting, loving and responsive parenting helps the child to see the world in a positive manner and to expect that relationships with others will be rewarding. Parents can encourage friendliness by talking and playing with their babies, and further can enhance their infant's social skills by offering them opportunities to interact with different adults and children, helping them to interpret accurately the thoughts and feelings of others and by praising them when they use age-appropriate social skills. When babies coo and even when they cry, they are using their first forms of language. Parents should respond appropriately by meeting any legitimate needs.

Parents and teachers who enjoy positive and agreeable interactions, demonstrate acceptance and responsiveness to the needs of others, and avoid the use of physical punishment and coercive discipline such as yelling and arguing raise and teach socially competent young children.

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This article is based a handout written by Professor Robert Harrington, Professor in the Department of Psychology and Research in Education at the University of Kansas, published by the National Association of School Psychologists in Helping Children at Home and School (Second Edition).
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