Social and Personality Development in Babyhood


University of California, Davis

Childhood social and personality development emerges through the interaction of social influences, biological maturation, and the child’s representations of the social globe and the self. This interaction is illustrated in a discussion of the influence of significant relationships, the development of social understanding, the growth of personality, and the evolution of social and emotional competence in childhood.

Learning Objectives

  • Provide specific examples of how the interaction of social experience, biological maturation, and the child’s representations of experience and the self provide the ground for growth in social and personality development.
  • Describe the meaning contributions of parent–child and peer relationships to the development of social skills and personality in childhood.
  • Explain how achievements in social agreement occur in childhood. Moreover, do scientists believe that infants and young children are egocentric?
  • Describe the association of temperament with personality development.
  • Explain what is “social and emotional competence“ and provide some examples of how information technology develops in babyhood.


“How have I become the kind of person I am today?” Every adult ponders this question from fourth dimension to time. The answers that readily come to mind include the influences of parents, peers, temperament, a moral compass, a strong sense of self, and sometimes disquisitional life experiences such as parental divorce. Social and personality development encompasses these and many other influences on the growth of the person. In improver, information technology addresses questions that are at the heart of agreement how nosotros develop equally unique people. How much are we products of nature or nurture? How enduring are the influences of early experiences? The study of social and personality development offers perspective on these and other issues, oft by showing how complex and multifaceted are the influences on developing children, and thus the intricate processes that take made you the person you are today (Thompson, 2006a).

Humans are inherently social creatures. More often than not, we work, play, and live together in groups. [Image: The Daring Librarian,, CC By-NC-SA 2.0,]

Understanding social and personality development requires looking at children from three perspectives that interact to shape development. The kickoff is the social context in which each kid lives, especially the relationships that provide security, guidance, and knowledge. The second is biological maturation that supports developing social and emotional competencies and underlies temperamental individuality. The third is children’s developing representations of themselves and the social globe. Social and personality evolution is best understood as the continuous interaction between these social, biological, and representational aspects of psychological development.


This interaction can be observed in the development of the primeval relationships between infants and their parents in the first yr. Virtually all infants living in normal circumstances develop strong emotional attachments to those who care for them. Psychologists believe that the development of these attachments is as biologically natural as learning to walk and non only a byproduct of the parents’ provision of nutrient or warmth. Rather, attachments have evolved in humans because they promote children’due south motivation to stay close to those who care for them and, as a consequence, to do good from the learning, security, guidance, warmth, and affirmation that close relationships provide (Cassidy, 2008).

A mother looks lovingly at her son as she holds him in her arms and kisses him on the cheek.
One of the first and near important relationships is between mothers and infants. The quality of this relationship has an consequence on after psychological and social development. [Image: Premnath Thirumalaisamy,, CC By-NC 2.0,]

Although virtually all infants develop emotional attachments to their caregivers–parents, relatives, nannies– their sense of security in those attachments varies. Infants become
attached when their parents respond sensitively to them, reinforcing the infants’ confidence that their parents will provide support when needed. Infants become
attached when care is inconsistent or neglectful; these infants tend to respond avoidantly, resistantly, or in a disorganized style (Belsky & Pasco Fearon, 2008). Such insecure attachments are not necessarily the consequence of deliberately bad parenting but are ofttimes a byproduct of circumstances. For instance, an overworked single female parent may discover herself overstressed and fatigued at the terminate of the day, making fully-involved childcare very difficult. In other cases, some parents are simply poorly emotionally equipped to accept on the responsibility of caring for a child.

The dissimilar behaviors of deeply- and insecurely-attached infants tin exist observed especially when the babe needs the caregiver’s support. To assess the nature of attachment, researchers use a standard laboratory process chosen the “Strange Situation,” which involves brief separations from the caregiver (due east.g., female parent) (Solomon & George, 2008). In the Strange Situation, the caregiver is instructed to leave the child to play lone in a room for a short time, and so render and greet the child while researchers observe the child’s response. Depending on the child’southward level of attachment, he or she may refuse the parent, cling to the parent, or simply welcome the parent—or, in some instances, react with an agitated combination of responses.

Infants can be deeply or insecurely fastened with mothers, fathers, and other regular caregivers, and they can differ in their security with different people. The security of zipper is an important cornerstone of social and personality development, because infants and young children who are securely attached take been found to develop stronger friendships with peers, more advanced emotional understanding and early on censor development, and more positive self-concepts, compared with insecurely attached children (Thompson, 2008). This is consistent with attachment theory’s premise that experiences of care, resulting in secure or insecure attachments, shape young children’south developing concepts of the self, also as what people are like, and how to interact with them.

As children mature, parent-child relationships naturally change. Preschool and class-school children are more than capable, have their ain preferences, and sometimes refuse or seek to compromise with parental expectations. This can lead to greater parent-child conflict, and how conflict is managed past parents further shapes the quality of parent-child relationships. In full general, children develop greater competence and self-confidence when parents accept high (but reasonable) expectations for children’s behavior, communicate well with them, are warm and responsive, and employ reasoning (rather than coercion) as preferred responses to children’southward misbehavior. This kind of parenting manner has been described as authoritative (Baumrind, 2013). Administrative parents are supportive and bear witness involvement in their kids’ activities simply are not overbearing and let them to make constructive mistakes. By contrast, some less-constructive parent-kid relationships result from authoritarian, uninvolved, or permissive parenting styles (run across Table ane).

Table summarizes key aspects of the four parenting styles discussed in the preceding paragraphs.
Table 1: Comparing of Four Parenting Styles

Parental roles in relation to their children change in other ways, likewise. Parents increasingly get mediators (or gatekeepers) of their children’south involvement with peers and activities outside the family. Their communication and practice of values contributes to children’south academic achievement, moral evolution, and activeness preferences. Every bit children reach adolescence, the parent-child human relationship increasingly becomes 1 of “coregulation,” in which both the parent(south) and the child recognizes the child’s growing competence and autonomy, and together they rebalance authorization relations. We ofttimes encounter evidence of this every bit parents start accommodating their teenage kids’ sense of independence by allowing them to get cars, jobs, attend parties, and stay out later.

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Family relationships are significantly affected by atmospheric condition outside the abode. For instance, the Family unit Stress Model describes how financial difficulties are associated with parents’ depressed moods, which in turn pb to marital problems and poor parenting that contributes to poorer child aligning (Conger, Conger, & Martin, 2010). Within the home, parental marital difficulty or divorce affects more than than one-half the children growing up today in the United States. Divorce is typically associated with economical stresses for children and parents, the renegotiation of parent-child relationships (with i parent typically as primary custodian and the other assuming a visiting human relationship), and many other significant adjustments for children. Divorce is frequently regarded by children as a lamentable turning signal in their lives, although for well-nigh it is non associated with long-term problems of adjustment (Emery, 1999).

Peer Relationships

A sad looking girl stands in the foreground as a group of her classmates stands behind looking at her and whispering behind their hands.
Peer relationships are peculiarly important for children. They can be supportive just likewise challenging. Peer rejection may pb to behavioral problems later in life. [Image: Twentyfour Students,, CC Past-SA 2.0,]

Parent-child relationships are not the merely significant relationships in a child’s life. Peer relationships are also of import. Social interaction with some other kid who is similar in age, skills, and noesis provokes the development of many social skills that are valuable for the rest of life (Bukowski, Buhrmester, & Underwood, 2011). In peer relationships, children learn how to initiate and maintain social interactions with other children. They learn skills for managing disharmonize, such as turn-taking, compromise, and bargaining. Play as well involves the mutual, sometimes complex, coordination of goals, deportment, and understanding. For example, as infants, children go their first encounter with sharing (of each other’southward toys); during pretend play equally preschoolers they create narratives together, choose roles, and collaborate to act out their stories; and in principal schoolhouse, they may join a sports squad, learning to work together and support each other emotionally and strategically toward a common goal. Through these experiences, children develop friendships that provide additional sources of security and back up to those provided by their parents.

However, peer relationships tin can be challenging as well equally supportive (Rubin, Coplan, Chen, Bowker, & McDonald, 2011). Existence accustomed by other children is an important source of affidavit and cocky-esteem, but peer rejection tin foreshadow afterwards behavior problems (especially when children are rejected due to aggressive behavior). With increasing age, children confront the challenges of bullying, peer victimization, and managing conformity pressures. Social comparison with peers is an important means by which children evaluate their skills, knowledge, and personal qualities, just it may cause them to feel that they do not measure up well against others. For example, a boy who is not athletic may feel unworthy of his football-playing peers and revert to shy beliefs, isolating himself and avoiding chat. Conversely, an athlete who doesn’t “get” Shakespeare may feel embarrassed and avoid reading altogether. Also, with the approach of adolescence, peer relationships become focused on psychological intimacy, involving personal disclosure, vulnerability, and loyalty (or its betrayal)—which significantly affects a child’s outlook on the world. Each of these aspects of peer relationships requires developing very different social and emotional skills than those that emerge in parent-kid relationships. They also illustrate the many ways that peer relationships influence the growth of personality and cocky-concept.

Social Understanding

As we take seen, children’s experience of relationships at domicile and the peer group contributes to an expanding repertoire of social and emotional skills and also to broadened social understanding. In these relationships, children develop expectations for specific people (leading, for example, to secure or insecure attachments to parents), understanding of how to interact with adults and peers, and developing cocky-concept based on how others reply to them. These relationships are too pregnant forums for emotional development.

Remarkably, young children begin developing social understanding very early on in life. Earlier the end of the get-go year, infants are aware that other people accept perceptions, feelings, and other mental states that affect their behavior, and which are different from the child’s own mental states. This tin can exist readily observed in a process called social referencing, in which an infant looks to the mother’s face when confronted with an unfamiliar person or state of affairs (Feinman, 1992). If the mother looks at-home and reassuring, the baby responds positively as if the situation is safe. If the female parent looks fearful or distressed, the infant is likely to respond with wariness or distress because the female parent’south expression signals danger. In a remarkably insightful fashion, therefore, infants show an awareness that even though they are uncertain almost the unfamiliar state of affairs, their mother is not, and that by “reading” the emotion in her face, infants tin can acquire most whether the circumstance is safe or dangerous, and how to reply.

Although developmental scientists used to believe that infants are egocentric—that is, focused on their own perceptions and experience—they at present realize that the contrary is true. Infants are aware at an early on stage that people have dissimilar mental states, and this motivates them to try to effigy out what others are feeling, intending, wanting, and thinking, and how these mental states touch on their beliefs. They are beginning, in other words, to develop a theory of mind, and although their understanding of mental states begins very simply, it rapidly expands (Wellman, 2011). For example, if an 18-month-old watches an adult try repeatedly to drop a necklace into a cup just inexplicably fail each fourth dimension, they volition immediately put the necklace into the cup themselves—thus completing what the developed intended, but failed, to practice. In doing then, they reveal their awareness of the intentions underlying the developed’s behavior (Meltzoff, 1995). Carefully designed experimental studies show that by late in the preschool years, immature children understand that another’s beliefs tin exist mistaken rather than correct, that memories can affect how you experience, and that one’s emotions can be hidden from others (Wellman, 2011). Social understanding grows significantly as children’s theory of mind develops.

How practice these achievements in social understanding occur? I reply is that young children are remarkably sensitive observers of other people, making connections betwixt their emotional expressions, words, and behavior to derive simple inferences nearly mental states (e.g., concluding, for example, that what Mommy is looking at is in her heed) (Gopnik, Meltzoff, & Kuhl, 2001). This is especially likely to occur in relationships with people whom the child knows well, consistent with the ideas of zipper theory discussed higher up. Growing language skills requite immature children words with which to represent these mental states (eastward.g., “mad,” “wants”) and talk about them with others. Thus in conversation with their parents about everyday experiences, children learn much about people’s mental states from how adults talk well-nigh them (“Your sister was sad considering she idea Daddy was coming habitation.”) (Thompson, 2006b). Developing social agreement is, in other words, based on children’southward everyday interactions with others and their careful interpretations of what they see and hear. At that place are also some scientists who believe that infants are biologically prepared to perceive people in a special way, as organisms with an internal mental life, and this facilitates their interpretation of people’southward behavior with reference to those mental states (Leslie, 1994).

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A father and son smile and shout after finishing an exciting race called The Color Run. Both are covered from head to toe in many shades of brightly colored powder.
Although a kid’s temperament is partly determined by genetics, environmental influences also contribute to shaping personality. Positive personality development is supported by a “good fit” between a child’due south natural temperament, environment and experiences. [Image: Thomas Hawk,, CC BY-NC 2.0,]

Parents look into the faces of their newborn infants and wonder, “What kind of person will this kid will become?” They scrutinize their baby’southward preferences, characteristics, and responses for clues of a developing personality. They are quite right to practise then, because temperament is a foundation for personality growth. But temperament (defined equally early-emerging differences in reactivity and cocky-regulation) is not the whole story. Although temperament is biologically based, it interacts with the influence of feel from the moment of birth (if non before) to shape personality (Rothbart, 2011). Temperamental dispositions are affected, for example, by the back up level of parental care. More than generally, personality is shaped past the goodness of fit between the kid’s temperamental qualities and characteristics of the environs (Chess & Thomas, 1999). For example, an adventurous child whose parents regularly accept her on weekend hiking and fishing trips would be a good “fit” to her lifestyle, supporting personality growth. Personality is the result, therefore, of the continuous interplay between biological disposition and feel, as is truthful for many other aspects of social and personality development.

Personality develops from temperament in other ways (Thompson, Winer, & Goodvin, 2010). As children mature biologically, temperamental characteristics emerge and change over time. A newborn is not capable of much cocky-control, only every bit brain-based capacities for self-control advance, temperamental changes in self-regulation become more credible. For example, a newborn who cries often doesn’t necessarily have a grumpy personality; over time, with sufficient parental support and increased sense of security, the kid might be less likely to cry.

In addition, personality is fabricated upwardly of many other features besides temperament. Children’s developing self-concept, their motivations to achieve or to socialize, their values and goals, their coping styles, their sense of responsibility and conscientiousness, and many other qualities are encompassed into personality. These qualities are influenced past biological dispositions, only even more past the kid’southward experiences with others, particularly in shut relationships, that guide the growth of private characteristics.

Indeed, personality development begins with the biological foundations of temperament merely becomes increasingly elaborated, extended, and refined over time. The newborn that parents gazed upon thus becomes an adult with a personality of depth and dash.

Social and Emotional Competence

Social and personality development is congenital from the social, biological, and representational influences discussed above. These influences result in important developmental outcomes that matter to children, parents, and society: a young developed’due south capacity to appoint in socially effective actions (helping, caring, sharing with others), to curb hostile or aggressive impulses, to live according to meaningful moral values, to develop a healthy identity and sense of cocky, and to develop talents and achieve success in using them. These are some of the developmental outcomes that denote social and emotional competence.

These achievements of social and personality development derive from the interaction of many social, biological, and representational influences. Consider, for example, the development of conscience, which is an early foundation for moral development. Censor consists of the cognitive, emotional, and social influences that cause young children to create and human activity consistently with internal standards of comport (Kochanska, 2002). Censor emerges from young children’s experiences with parents, particularly in the evolution of a mutually responsive human relationship that motivates young children to respond constructively to the parents’ requests and expectations. Biologically based temperament is involved, every bit some children are temperamentally more capable of motivated self-regulation (a quality called effortful command) than are others, while some children are dispositionally more prone to the fear and feet that parental disapproval tin can evoke. Censor development grows through a skillful fit between the child’south temperamental qualities and how parents communicate and reinforce behavioral expectations. Moreover, equally an illustration of the interaction of genes and experience, 1 enquiry grouping found that immature children with a item factor allele (the v-HTTLPR) were low on measures of conscience evolution when they had previously experienced unresponsive maternal care, but children with the same allele growing upward with responsive care showed strong subsequently performance on conscience measures (Kochanska, Kim, Barry, & Philibert, 2011).

Conscience development also expands as young children begin to represent moral values and remember of themselves as moral beings. Past the cease of the preschool years, for example, young children develop a “moral self” past which they call up of themselves as people who want to do the right affair, who feel badly after misbehaving, and who feel uncomfortable when others misbehave. In the evolution of conscience, young children become more socially and emotionally competent in a fashion that provides a foundation for later moral conduct (Thompson, 2012).

A brother and sister stand side by side. He is dressed in a camouflage military uniform and is holding a toy gun. She is dressed in a pretty pink princess dress.
Social influences such every bit cultural norms bear on children’south interests, apparel, style of voice communication and fifty-fifty life aspirations. [Image: Amanda Westmont,, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,]

The evolution of gender and gender identity is likewise an interaction among social, biological, and representational influences (Ruble, Martin, & Berenbaum, 2006). Young children learn about gender from parents, peers, and others in guild, and develop their own conceptions of the attributes associated with maleness or femaleness (called gender schemas). They also negotiate biological transitions (such as puberty) that crusade their sense of themselves and their sexual identity to mature.

Each of these examples of the growth of social and emotional competence illustrates not just the interaction of social, biological, and representational influences, only as well how their evolution unfolds over an extended flow. Early influences are important, but non determinative, because the capabilities required for mature moral conduct, gender identity, and other outcomes keep to develop throughout childhood, adolescence, and fifty-fifty the adult years.


As the preceding sentence suggests, social and personality evolution continues through adolescence and the adult years, and it is influenced by the aforementioned constellation of social, biological, and representational influences discussed for childhood. Changing social relationships and roles, biological maturation and (much subsequently) decline, and how the individual represents feel and the cocky continue to form the bases for evolution throughout life. In this respect, when an adult looks forwards rather than retrospectively to ask, “what kind of person am I becoming?”—a similarly fascinating, complex, multifaceted interaction of developmental processes lies ahead.

Exterior Resources

Web: Eye for the Developing Child, Harvard University
Web: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Give-and-take Questions

  1. If parent–child relationships naturally change as the child matures, would yous look that the security of attachment might also modify over fourth dimension? What reasons would account for your expectation?
  2. In what means does a child’s developing theory of heed resemble how scientists create, refine, and use theories in their work? In other words, would information technology exist appropriate to recollect of children as informal scientists in their development of social understanding?
  3. If at that place is a poor goodness of fit between a child’due south temperament and characteristics of parental care, what can be washed to create a better match? Provide a specific instance of how this might occur.
  4. What are the contributions that parents offer to the development of social and emotional competence in children? Answer this question again with respect to peer contributions.
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A parenting style characterized by high (merely reasonable) expectations for children’s beliefs, skillful communication, warmth and nurturance, and the use of reasoning (rather than coercion) as preferred responses to children’s misbehavior.
The cognitive, emotional, and social influences that cause immature children to create and act consistently with internal standards of bear.
Effortful control
A temperament quality that enables children to exist more than successful in motivated self-regulation.
Family Stress Model
A description of the negative furnishings of family financial difficulty on child adjustment through the effects of economic stress on parents’ depressed mood, increased marital bug, and poor parenting.
Gender schemas
Organized beliefs and expectations virtually maleness and femaleness that guide children’s thinking nigh gender.
Goodness of fit
The friction match or synchrony between a child’s temperament and characteristics of parental intendance that contributes to positive or negative personality development. A good “fit” means that parents take accommodated to the child’southward temperamental attributes, and this contributes to positive personality growth and better adjustment.
Security of zipper
An baby’s conviction in the sensitivity and responsiveness of a caregiver, particularly when he or she is needed. Infants can exist securely attached or insecurely attached.
The procedure by which one private consults another’s emotional expressions to determine how to evaluate and respond to circumstances that are ambiguous or uncertain.
Early emerging differences in reactivity and cocky-regulation, which constitutes a foundation for personality evolution.
Theory of heed
Children’south growing understanding of the mental states that affect people’s behavior.


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