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Children’s Social and Moral Development

Children grow and develop so rapidly that parents often cannot keep up. These children imbibe a lot from the people and environment around them that helps them develop their personalities. It is an accepted belief that no man is an island, and it is with other people that children learn how to relate. His own inborn personal traits likewise come into play, and together, nature and nurture work on another unique individual who seeks to have a place in the world!

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The process of growth and maturity of an individual entails development in all areas. Development in one area affects another. In children, this is very obvious, as they are in a stage in life when development occurs rapidly.

Social and Emotional Development

Socially, there are children who may be inherently shy or gregarious, as is likewise dictated by their genetic makeup or as an effect of exposure to shy or gregarious parents. However, as children get older, they are provided more opportunities to be with other people and learn to deal with different personalities. That is why children move from being very egocentric in their infancy and toddlerhood stages to becoming more others-oriented when they get into preschool. Here, they learn that they are not the center of the universe as they may have believed, because there are other people who, like them, have exactly the same needs and wants, and the only thing that would maintain peace and harmony in relating with them is to compromise. Thus, preschoolers learn to share, take turns, and accept others’ points of view (Piaget & Inhedler, 1969).

Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages propose that in each stage of a person’s life, he encounters various conflicts that pertain to his developmental stage. The following are the stages describing the psychosocial development from early childhood to late adolescence.

Early Childhood: Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt

Toddlers are at a stage when many developmental milestones occur. Consistent with Freud’s Anal stage, this second stage of psychosexual development is the time when autonomy or self-reliance is being developed as toddlers become more mobile in their explorations and limit-testing exploits. Body control is also a prevailing issue since toilet training commences at this stage. “To develop autonomy, a firmly developed and convincingly continued stage of early trust is necessary” (Erikson, 1959, p. 68)

Early Childhood: Initiative vs. Guilt

In this stage, preschoolers are so into doing things on their own and showing everyone how much they have grown in many ways. Having developed more skills, a child exhibits competence in some tasks more than before. He craves for freedom to make choices to have a positive view o himself and follow through on his projects. However, at this stage, children may be awkward, and their good intentions may backfire, as in destroying some things in the process. When this happens, they are overcome with guilt. Not being allowed to make their own decisions makes them develop guilt over taking the initiative. Hence, the tendency is to take a passive stance and let others choose for them (Erikson, 1963).

Middle Childhood: Industry vs. Inferiority

School-aged children aged 7-12 juggle multiple tasks to meet their goals: expansion of understanding of the world, development of appropriate gender-role identity, and learning basic skills required for school success. Their task is to achieve a sense of industry. They have gained enough skills that make them perform well in school. They become industrious to make their families and friends proud of their achievements, but if they fail, they may develop a sense of insecurity and inferiority (Brewer, 2001).

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Early Adolescence: Identity vs. Identity Diffusion

Adolescence, being the time of transition between childhood and adulthood, becomes a challenging time of testing limits, gaining more independence, and establishing a new identity. There surfaces the need to clarify self-identity, life goals, and life’s meaning, and failure to achieve a sense of identity results in role confusion (Erikson, 1963)

Late Adolescence: Intimacy vs. Distantiation vs. Self-Absorption

The developmental task of young adults is to form intimate relationships by seeking their lifetime mates through romantic relationships of very close friendships that form strong emotional bonds. However, when intimacy is not achieved, alienation and isolation take place (Erikson, 1963).

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (1975) has identified some behavioral patterns in their overview of patterns in Children’s Development. Some behaviors in terms of social development of preschoolers and first graders are itemized below:

Preschoolers First Graders
  • Becomes more aware of self
  • Develops more altruistic feelings
  • Becomes aware of racial/ethnic and sexual differences
  • Is able to take direction, follow some rules, has strong feelings toward home and family
  • Shows a growing sense of self-reliance
  • Parallel play is common; cooperative play begins; imaginary playmates are fairly common
  • Expresses rigid ideas about sex roles
  • Has best friends but for short periods of time
  • Quarrels often, but anger is short-lived
  • Is able to share and take turns
  • Is eager to participate in school experiences
  • Considers teacher very important
  • Wants to be first
  • Becomes possessive.
  • Is more competitive with peers
  • Depends on parents for expansion of interests, activities
  • Is influenced by peer opinions
  • Plays with opposite sex less often
  • Needs teacher approval
  • Is able to share
  • Wants to please
  • Is more independent at work and play
  • Forms more enduring friendships
  • Peer groups begin to form

(taken from Brewer, 2001, p. 14)

Moral Development

Children’s emotional development is also linked to their moral development. A man named Kohlberg (1984) even came up with a theory of moral development based on a hypothetical moral situation calling on children’s decision-making skills, and his theories attracted much attention from moral philosophers. His proposed dilemma was about a husband named Heinz who needed to decide whether to steal an overpriced drug to save his dying wife.

Early Childhood

It was theorized that young children conceptualize morality in terms of obedience to adults’ rules and regulations. They know that it makes them good children. This is so because they think in concrete, physical, egocentric ways, and their social worlds are dominated by adults.

Middle Childhood

On the other hand, older children think of morality in terms of cooperation with peers because they are cognitively able to comprehend the views of others and already understand concepts such as reciprocity and cooperation because their social worlds consist mainly of interactions with peers. Kohlberg based his work on this theory of cognitive development and emphasized reasoning as the key to moral development (Krebs & Denton, 2005).

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Barasch (1997) theorizes that by the time a child reaches 6 or 7 (First Grade), he gets to develop a conscience. This becomes his unconscious guide in distinguishing between right from wrong. Children at this age understand the logic and reasoning behind rules, and principles are strengthened when adults get to discuss with them thoroughly about what is right and wrong. Not learning to reason at this stage will make it more difficult for him later to understand and regulate his own behavior.

Also, it is at this stage when children test their limits and moral boundaries. They attempt to lie, steal, use language that is taboo or engage in “naughty” behavior to experience their need for the power of not taking into account rules of behavior (Barasch, 1997). It is essential for parents and teachers to make them understand how to reconcile their needs with the needs of the rest of the world and be considerate of the consequences of their behavior on others, and ultimately on themselves.

Growth and development are much more complicated than it seems if one is to analyze all the factors that affect it. Developmental researchers have unearthed a wealth of information on how human beings go through the life span in terms of various developmental aspects, and such research pursuits are currently being used to the advantage of parents, educators, and psychologists to understand the process of development of humans and what they may expect in certain stages of growth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, young children go through various stages in their social and moral development. Although they must be allowed the freedom to discover their capacities and boundaries, they would always need the support and guidance of adults around them to help them grow into mature, responsible, socially aware, and considerate members of society.

References

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (1975) Developmental Characteristics of Children and Youth. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Barasch, D. (1997) “Discipline: How a child develops through the years.”, Family Life, 1997, pp. 54-61.

Brewer, J.A. (2001) Introduction to Early Childhood Education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Erikson, E. H. (1959) Identity & the Life Cycle. N.Y.: International Universities Press, Inc.

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Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.

Kohlberg, L. (1984). Essays in moral development: Vol. 2. The psychology of moral development. New York: Harper & Row.

Krebs, D. L. & Denton, K. (2005), “Toward a More Pragmatic Approach to Morality: A Critical Evaluation of Kohlberg’s Model”, Psychological Review, Vol. 112, No. 3, 629–649.

Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969) The Psychology of the Child. New York: Basic Books.

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