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Chapter 8
Social and Personality Development in the Preschool Years

Psychosocial Development (Erikson)

From age 3 to 6, children experience the INITIATIVE-VERSUS-GUILT STAGE, the period during which children experience conflict between independence of action and the sometimes negative results of that action.

The Initiative-versus-Guilt Stage, continued

Conflict occurs between the desire to become more independent and the guilt that may occur with failure.

Preschoolers with supportive parents become independent & autonomous.

Preschoolers with restrictive, overprotective parents may feel shame & self-doubt.

The foundational concept of this stage is that children become aware that they are people too. They begin to make decisions and shape the kind of person they are to become.

Self Concept in the Preschool Years

Preschoolers begin to form their SELF-CONCEPT (their identity, or their set of beliefs about what they are like as individuals).

Youngsters typically overestimate their skills and knowledge (their self concepts are NOT necessarily accurate).

They also begin to develop a view of self that reflects the way their particular culture considers the self.

Different cultural philosophies may lead to differences in how children view the self during the preschool years.

Asian societies tend to have a COLLECTIVISTIC ORIENTATION, promoting the notion of interdependence, blending in, and being interconnected.

In Western cultures preschoolers self-concepts are NOT only the result of parental influence, but also of social and cultural influence, and embrace an INDIVIDUALISTIC ORIENTATION that emphasizes personal identity, uniqueness, and competition.

Preschoolers develop their self-concepts as a result of how their parents treat them and based on the society and culture they live in.

Developing Racial & Ethnic Awareness

By the time they are 3 or 4 years of age, preschoolers distinguish between members of different races and begin to understand the significance of race in society.

Some youngsters begin to show preferential feelings for members of their own race.

Some preschool age children may experience RACE DISSONANCE, the phenomenon in which minority youngsters indicate preference for majority values or people.

Racial Ambivalence

Many minority children experience ambivalence over the meaning of their racial identity.

In some studies, as many as 90% of African American children reacted more negatively to drawings of black children than white children.

However, their self-esteem was not affected; rather their preferences appeared to be a result of the influence of the dominant culture rather than a disparagement of their own racial group.

Gender Identity:
Developing Femaleness & Maleness

Gender, the sense of being male or female, is well established in young children.

One way gender is manifested is in play.

During the preschool years boys increasingly play with boys, and girls tend to play with girls.

Gender outweighs ethnic variables when it comes to play.

An Asian-American boy would prefer to play with an African-American boy than with an Asian-American girl.

Gender Identity, continued

Preschoolers also begin to develop expectations about appropriate behavior for girls and boys.

Like adults, preschoolers expect males to be more independent, forceful and competitive and females to be warm, nurturing, expressive and submissive.

These are expectations and not truths about actual behavior, but viewing the world this way affects preschoolers behavior.

However, young children typically hold stronger gender-stereotypes than adults.

Theories about Gender-Related Attitudes

Social-learning approaches argue that children learn gender-related behavior and expectations from direct training and from their observation of others, including the media.

Cognitive approaches argue that people develop a GENDER IDENTITY, the perception of oneself as male or female.

To do this they develop a GENDER SCHEMA. Preschoolers begin developing "rules" about what is right vs. inappropriate for males and females.

The Cognitive Approach, continued)

By the time they are 4 or 5 years of age, children develop an understanding of GENDER CONSTANCY (the belief that people are permanently males or females, depending on fixed, unchangeable biological factors).

Sandra Bem believes that one can minimize rigid views of gender by encouraging children to be ANDROGYNOUS (a state in which gender roles encompass characteristics thought typical of both sexes).

Males as assertive & gentle.

Females as empathetic & competitive.

Others emphasize the need to develop each persons individual abilities regardless of gender.

Friends and Family: Preschoolers' Social Lives

The preschool years are marked by increased interactions with the world at large.

Around age 3, children begin to develop real friendships, and peers come to be seen as individuals with special qualities.

Relationships are based on companionship, play, and entertainment.

Friendship is focused on the carrying out of shared activities (rather than just being in the same place at the same time).

The Development of Friendships

Older preschoolers see friendship as a continuing state, and as a stable relationship that has meaning beyond the immediate moment.

Older preschoolers pay more attention to concepts such as trust, support, and shared interests.

Even by age 3, children are interested in maintaining smooth social relationships with their friends, trying to avoid disagreements.

Playing by the Rules: The Work of P lay

Categorizing play

Three-year-olds typically engage in FUNCTIONAL PLAY which involves simple, repetitive activities, that is, doing something for the sake of being active (playing with dolls, skipping, jumping rope, etc).

By age 4, children typically engage in CONSTRUCTIVE PLAY which involves manipulating objects to produce or build something (legos, puzzles, etc.) This helps cognitive & physical development, as well as problem-solving ability.

The Social Aspects of Play

PARALLEL PLAY is when children play with similar toys, in a similar manner, but do not interact with each other.


ONLOOKER PLAY occurs when children simply watch others play but do not actually participate themselves.

Types of Play, cont.

ASSOCIATIVE PLAY is where two or more children actually interact with one another by sharing or borrowing toys or materials, although they do not do the same thing.

In COOPERATIVE PLAY, children genuinely play with one another, taking turns, playing games, or devising contests.

Play, continued

Associative and cooperative play generally do not emerge until the end of the preschool years.

Children with preschool experience engage in more social behaviors earlier (associative & cooperative play, etc.)

Play becomes increasing unrealistic during the preschool period. Pretend play increases (using a matchbox as a car instead of a metal toy car).

Theory of Mind

During preschool years, children increasingly can see the world through others’ perspectives.

Preschool children can understand that people have motives and reasons for their behavior.

These changes in preschoolers theory of mind affect how they play (and contribute to social & personality development).

Effective Parenting

There are four major parenting styles:







Parenting Styles

Parenting Styles, continued


Encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions.

Extensive verbal give-and-take is allowed, & parents are warm and nurturing toward their children.

Firm, setting clear and consistent limits, but try to reason with their children, giving explanations for why they should behave in a particular way.

Children of authoritative parents are independent, cheerful, and friendly with their peers. They are also achievement-oriented, self-controlled, and self-reliant.

Parenting Styles, continued


A restrictive, punitive style in which parents are controlling, punitive, rigid, and cold, and whose word is law.

They value strict, unquestioning obedience from their children and do not tolerate expressions of disagreement.

Associated with childrens social incompetence

Children are often unhappy, fearful, anxious, fail to initiate activity, & have poor communication skills.

Parenting Styles, continued


Parents are highly involved with their children, but they place few or no demands or limits on their behavior.

Their children typically show low social skills, with a lack of self-control but expectation of always getting their own way.

Children of these parents may be aggressive, domineering, and noncompliant.

Parenting Styles, continued


The parent is very uninvolved in the childs life.

Their children tend to be dependent and moody. They often have low self-esteem, are immature, and may be alienated from the family.

Their children also tend to have low social skills and low self-control.

In adolescence, they may show patterns of truancy and delinquency.

Child Abuse and Psychological Maltreatment

Child abuse, neglect and maltreatment seriously affect the social & personality development of many preschoolers.

Five children are killed by their caretakers every day.

140,000 others are physically injured every year.

Three million children are abused or neglected annually in the U. S.

Child abuse can occur in any home, though it is most frequent in families living in stressful environment.


Single-parent homes

Families with high levels of marital discord



Moral Development

MORAL DEVELOPMENT refers to changes in people's sense of justice and of what is right and wrong, and in their behavior related to moral issues.

Several theoretical approaches have evolved for explaining moral development in children.

Piaget’s View of Moral Development

HETERONOMOUS MORALITY is the initial stage of moral development (from 4 to 7 years old) in which rules are seen as invariant & unchangeable.

Children in this stage do not take intention into account.

Children in the heteronomous stage also believe in IMMANENT JUSTICE, the notion that broken rules earn immediate and automatic punishment.

(Piagets View of Moral Development, continued)

The next stage, according to Piaget, is the INCIPIENT COOPERATION STAGE (from age 7 to 10).

Here children become more social and learn the rules.

They play according to a shared conception of the rules.

During the AUTONOMOUS COOPERATION STAGE (beginning at age 10) children become fully aware that game rules can be modified if the people who play them agree.

Other Theories of Moral Development in Children

Social-learning approaches to morality focus on how the environment influences children's moral behavior.

Prosocial behavior

In this view, moral conduct is learned through reinforcement and modeling.

Preschoolers are more apt to model the behavior of warm, responsive adults and models viewed as highly competent or high in prestige.

Empathy and Moral Development

Positive emotions such as empathy, sympathy, and admiration lead children to behave in a moral fashion and thus contributes to social and personality development.

Also, the desire to avoid negative feelings leads them to act in moral helpful ways (Freud).

Aggression and Violence in Preschoolers

AGGRESSION is the intentional injury or harm to another person.

Infants do not act aggressively.

By the preschool years, children demonstrate aggression in pursuit of a goal, but usually it is inadvertent.

The frequency and duration of aggressive acts should decline throughout early childhood.

Sustained, extreme aggression is a cause for concern.

Aggression and Violence in Preschoolers, continued

Aggression is a relatively stable trait, the most aggressive preschoolers tend to be the most aggressive school aged children.

Boys show higher levels of INSTRUMENTAL AGGRESSION, motivated by a desire to obtain concrete goal (obtain another child’s toy).

Girls more likely to practice RELATIONAL AGGRESSION, non-physical aggression intended to hurt another’s feelings (name-calling, friendship withdrawal).

Social Learning Approaches to Aggression

Social-learning approaches emphasize how social and environmental conditions and exposure to aggressive models teach individuals to be aggressive.

Research by Albert Bandura and colleagues with the "Bobo" doll, demonstrate that children act aggressively after viewing model doing so.

Surveys show that children who view violence are more likely to behave aggressively.



Increasing Moral Behavior and Reducing Aggression in Preschool-age Children

Provide opportunities to observe others acting in cooperative, helpful, prosocial manner.

Do not ignore aggressive behavior.

Help them develop alternative explanations for others’ behaviors.

Monitor television viewing.

Help them understand their own feelings.

Explicitly teach reasoning and self-control.