Social Development: Why It Is Important and What To Do About It

Developing social competencies enhances a person’s ability to succeed in school and work, improves mental health, and makes people better citizens.

Social Intelligence, according to Albrecht (2006:3) is ‘the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you’. (Goleman 2006) says this involves being

• socially aware = empathy, attunement, empathetic accuracy, and social cognition, and

• social skill = synchrony*, self-preservation, influence, and concern.

*Simultaneous action, development, or occurrence


Social Competence includes a person‘s knowledge, attitudes, and skills, including

• being aware of one‘s own and others’ emotions,

• managing impulses and behaving appropriately,

• communicating effectively,

• forming healthy and meaningful relationships,

• working well with others, and

• resolving conflict.


Children who need particular support:

About 1/3 of children do not form a secure attachment as infants. This puts them at risk of later behavioral problems, including aggressive conduct. These children need opportunities to repair the original attachment relationship or construct some form of attachment outside the home, perhaps through interaction with a teacher or mentor.


What young children need to learn

• According to Erikson, very young children can develop an inability to take action on their own and/or developing a sense of inferiority, unproductiveness, and feelings of incompetence in regards to their peers and their social roles and abilities if not supported adequately to be trusting, autonomous and to take initiative.

• Vygotsky (1978) says children learn in a systematic and logical way as a result of dialogue and interaction with a skilled helper within a zone of proximal development (ZPD). The lower boundary of the ZPD are activities the learner can do on his or her own without the assistance of a teacher or mentor. Similarly, the upper limit of the ZPD are those learning outcomes that the learner could not achieve at this time even with the assistance of a competent teacher or mentor.

• Vygotsky‘s concept of scaffolding - the process by which the teacher constantly changes the level of assistance given to the learner as the learning needs change – is also vital in helping a child become socially competent.

• Bronfenbrenner‘s work identifies the importance of communication and collaboration between the family and school in a child‘s social development.


Social Competence and Academic Achievement

The single best predictor of adult adaptation is not academic achievement or intelligence, but rather the ability of the child to get along with other children (Hartup, 1992). When this skill is not learnt in early childhood, numerous difficulties arise for the child in their later schooling.

As the infant becomes a toddler and then moves into early childhood, Baumrind (1989, 1993) found that parental warmth (e.g., being aware and responsive to a child‘s needs) and demandingness (e.g. limiting inappropriate behaviours and reinforcing socially acceptable behaviours) are what shapes the child’s social development. Brooks-Gunn, Berlin, and Fuligni (2000) suggested that these skills neither come naturally nor are developed automatically by all parents and, therefore, it is necessary to include the education of the family in any effective early childhood development program.

Much of the current research on the importance of social-emotional learning points to the pre-school years as the sensitive period for social development. Not only are young brains still developing rapidly during these years (Sigelman & Rider, 2006), but normally children are having their first social interactions outside of the home. Brooks-Gunn, et al. (2000) found that one of the most important factors in successful social development is a strong, healthy relationship between home and school.


How to positively influence social development

• Build positive relationships with children, families and colleagues

• Design supportive and engaging environments

• Teach social and emotional awareness and skills

• Develop individualised interventions for children with the most challenging behaviour, such as children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Huitt, W. & Dawson, C. (2011, April). Social development: Why it is important and how to impact it. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University.

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