Chapter 8


Social and Personality Development in The Preschool Years




Chapter Outline



I.        Forming a Sense of Self

A.     PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT encompasses changes in the understanding individuals have of themselves as members of society, and in their comprehension of the meaning of others behavior.

1.      Erikson proposed an eight stage theory of psychosocial development, from infancy to old age.

2.      From age three to six, 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.

B.     Preschoolers begin to form their SELF-CONCEPT, their identity, or their set of beliefs about what one is like as an individual.

1.      The “Who am I?” question may affect children for the rest of their lives.

2.      Youngsters typically overestimate their skills and knowledge.

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

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

b)      Western cultures tend to embrace an INDIVIDUALISTIC ORIENTATION that emphasizes personal identity, uniqueness, and competition.

C.     Developing Racial and Ethnic Awareness

1.      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.

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

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

4.      Some may experience RACE DISSONANCE, the phenomenon in which minority youngsters indicate preference for white values or people.

D.     Gender Identity:  Developing Femaleness and Maleness

1.      Gender, the sense of being male or female, is well established in young children. (Sex typically refers to sexual anatomy.)

2.      One way gender is manifested is in play.

a)      During the preschool years boys increasingly play with boys.

b)      Girls tend to play with girls.

3.      Gender outweighs ethnic variables when it comes to play.

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

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

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

5.      Several theoretical explanations for gender related attitudes exist.

a)      Biological perspectives argue that physical characteristics associated with the different sexes, hormone differences, and differences in the structure of female and male brains might lead to gender differences.

b)      Psychoanalytic perspectives attribute gender differences to IDENTIFICATION, the process in which children attempt to be similar to their same-sex parent, incorporating the parent’s attitudes and values.

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

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

(1)   To do this they develop a GENDER SCHEMA or a cognitive framework that organizes information relevant to gender.

(2)   Preschoolers begin developing rules about what is right, and what is inappropriate, for males and females.

(3)   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.

(4)   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.

II.                 Friends and Family:  Preschoolers Social Lives

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

1.      Around age three, children develop real friendships.

2.      Peers come to be seen as individuals with special qualities.

3.      Relationships are based on companionship, play, and entertainment.

4.      Friendship is focused on the carrying out of shared activities.

B.     Playing by the Rules:  The Work of Play

1.      Three-year-olds typically engage in FUNCTIONAL PLAY which involves simple, repetitive activities, that is, doing something for the sake of  being active.

2.      By age four, children typically engage in CONSTRUCTIVE PLAY which involves manipulating objects to produce or build something.

a)      Constructive play allows children to test developing cognitive skills.

b)      Constructive play allows children to practice motor skills.

c)      Constructive play allows children to problem solve.

d)      Constructive play allows children to learn to cooperate.

3.      Mildred Parten (1932) noted various types of play.

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

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

c)      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.

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

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

5.      The nature of a childs play is influenced by their social experiences.

6.      Vygotsky argued that social play is important for developing cognitive skills.

7.      Cultural background also results in different styles of play.

C.     Preschoolers’ Theory of Mind:  Understanding What Others are Thinking

1.      Theory of mind refers to knowledge and beliefs about the mental world.

2.      Children are able to come up with explanations for how others think and the reasons for their behaving the way they do.

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

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

5.      How does theory of mind develop?

a)      Brain maturation

b)      Social interaction and make-believe play

6.      There are cultural differences in theory of mind.

a)      Western children are likely to regard others behavior as due to the kind of people they are, seeing it as a function of their personalities.

b)      Non-Western children may see others behavior as produced by forces that are less under their personal control, such as unhappy gods or bad fortune.

D.     Diana Baumrind (1980) notes three types of parenting or patterns of discipline.

1.      AUTHORITARIAN 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.

2.      PERMISSIVE PARENTS provide lax and inconsistent feedback and require little of their children.

a)      Permissive-indifferent parents are usually uninvolved in their children’s lives.

(1)   Their children tend to be dependent and moody.

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

b)      Permissive-indulgent parents are more involved with their children, but they place little or no limits or control on their behavior.

(1)   Their children typically show low control and low social skills.

(2)   However, these children tend to feel that they are especially privileged.

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

a)      Children of authoritative parents tend to fare best:  they are independent, friendly with their peers, self-assertive, and cooperative parents are not always consistent in their parenting or discipline styles.

b)      Children whose parents engage in aspects of the authoritative style related to supportive parenting which encompasses parental warmth, proactive teaching, calm discussion during disciplinary episodes, and interest and involvement in children’s peer activities show better adjustment and are protected from the consequences of later adversity.

4.      Childrearing practices that parents are urged to follow reflect cultural perspectives about the nature of children and the role of the parents.

a)      Childrearing practices in Eastern societies are more likely to involve strict control.  Such control is seen as a measure of parents involvement in and concern for the welfare of their children.

b)      In Western societies, and especially in the United States, parents are more often advised to use authoritative methods.

E.      Child Abuse and Psychological Maltreatment:  The Grim Side of Family Life

1.      Five children are killed by their caretakers every day.

2.      140,000 others are physically injured every year.

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

4.      Physical Abuse

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

(1)   Poverty

(2)   Single-parent homes

(3)   Families with high levels of marital discord

(4)   Most parents dont intend to abuse their children.

b)      Children who are fussy, resistant to control, slow to adapt to new situations, overly anxious, frequent bed wetters, and who have developmental delays are more prone to being victims of abuse.

c)      Labeling children as being at higher risk for abuse does not make them responsible for their abuse.

d)      There are many reasons for why child abuse occurs.

(1)   There is a vague demarcation between permissible and impermissible forms of physical punishment or violence.

(2)   Factors related to the privacy of child care in Western societies present unrealistic expectations about childrens abilities.

(3)   The CYCLE-OF-VIOLENCE HYPOTHESIS argues that the abuse and neglect that children suffer predisposes them as adults to be abusive.

5.      Not all abuse is physical:  PSYCHOLOGICAL MALTREATMENT is abuse that occurs when parents or other caregivers harm childrens behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or physical functioning.

6.      RESILIENCE refers to the ability to overcome circumstances that place a child at high risk for psychological or physical damage.

a)      Resilient children are affectionate, easygoing, good communicators, intelligent.

b)      They are able to elicit positive responses from others.

c)      They tend to feel that they can shape their own fate and are not dependent on others or luck.

III.               Moral Development and Aggression

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

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

a)      Piagets theory of moral development focuses on the moral reasoning of children.

(1)   According to Piaget, HETERONOMOUS MORALITY is the initial stage of moral development (from four to seven years old) in which rules are seen as invariant and unchangeable.

(a)    Youngsters in this stage do not take intention into account.

(b)   Children in the heteronomous stage also believe in IMMANENT JUSTICE, the notion that broken rules earn immediate punishment.

(2)   The next stage, according to Piaget, is the incipient cooperation stage (from age seven to ten).

(a)    Here children become more social and learn the rules.

(b)   They play according to a shared conception of the rules.

(3)   During the autonomous cooperation stage (beginning at age ten) children become fully aware that game rules can be modified if the people who play them agree.

(4)   Critics of Piagets theory argue that he underestimated the age at which childrens moral skills develop.

b)      Social-learning approaches to morality focus on how the environment influences childrens PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR, helping behavior that benefits others.

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

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

(3)   Children do more than simply mimic modeled behavior.

(a)    By observing others behavior, they begin to learn societys norms.

(b)   This leads to ABSTRACT MODELING, the process of developing more general rules and principles that underlie behavior.

c)      According to some developmentalists, EMPATHY the understanding of what another individual feels — lies at the heart of some kinds of moral behavior.

(1)   The roots of empathy grow early — one-year-old infants will cry when they hear other infants crying.

(2)   Positive emotions – sympathy and admiration, in addition to negative emotions – anger at an unfair situation or shame over a transgression – may promote moral behavior.

B.     AGGRESSION is the intentional injury or harm to another person.

1.      Infants do not act aggressively, however, by the preschool years children demonstrate true aggression.

2.      Aggressive acts in young children are often related to attaining a desired goal.

3.      Throughout the preschool years, children develop EMOTIONAL SELF-REGULATION, the capability to adjust emotions to a desired state and level of intensity.

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

5.      There are varying explanations for aggressive behavior among children.

a)      Freud claimed we all have a death drive, which leads us to act aggressively.

b)      Konrad Lorenz argues that humans, like all animals, share a fighting instinct.

c)      Sociobiologists, scientists who consider the biological roots of social behavior, argue that aggression facilitates the goal of strengthening the species and the gene pool in general.

d)      Social-learning approaches contend that aggression is based on prior learning, and how social and environmental conditions and models teach individuals to be aggressive.

(1)   Albert Bandura illustrated the power of models in a classic study of preschoolers   the Bobo doll experiment.

(2)   The average preschooler watches 3 hours of television each day and this medium can have a powerful influence on aggression.

e)      Cognitive approaches argue that aggression stems, in part, from the manner in which children interpret others’ actions and situations.




Key Terms and Concepts



Psychosocial development

Initiative-versus-guilt stage


Collectivistic orientation

Individualistic orientation

Race dissonance


Gender identity

Gender schema

Gender constancy


Functional play

Constructive play

Parallel play

Onlooker play

Associative play

Cooperative play

Authoritarian parents

Permissive parents

Authoritative parents

Uninvolved parents

Cycle of violence hypothesis

Psychological maltreatment


Moral development

Heteronomous morality

Immanent justice

Prosocial behavior

Abstract modeling



Emotional self-regulation