Social development in children starts at birth through interaction between the baby and the parent in the initial stages. Peers and older children start to play a bigger role in social development as they grow up.
A baby's social development begins even before birth, when he is in his mother's womb. He listens to his mother's voice and is able to recognise and differentiate it from other voices. After birth, baby begins his first interaction with a smile when looked into his eyes by the parent. The parent is baby's first playmate as well as his first teacher of skills. With the parent's help, baby gets to know others, and also likes to be in their company. Newborns show great signs of interest in faces and imitate their facial expressions. He begins to express his needs through various facial expression which is another means of social interaction.
Within 2 months, the social development advances to the ability of differentiating between facial expressions related to happiness, anger, fear and surprise. The baby differentiates and responds to these expressions appropriately, though he is unaware of the meanings-smiling when smiled at and feeling upset when you dont respond to his smile.
At 3 or 4 months, he starts smiling even at strangers, when they give him a smile. Though too young to play with other children, he loves to see other children play, and shows a liking to play with them. Game of peekaboo helps baby to know that the mother will be back even if separated for a brief time. Tickling the baby, develops a sense of humour and he learns to differentiate between serious human interactions and playful ones. A feeling of empathy develops. He starts reacting to the feeling of others i.e crying when he sees another baby crying. Baby's inborn temperament is made known to the parent through periods of his rest and activity. Baby's temperament is the early determinant of his later social interactions, which will proceed all through his life. Response of parent to baby's babbles teaches him polite conversation.
By 6 to 8 months, baby will be more capable of reading faces and understands that he is an independent self and that his safety rests with the parent. So he develops separation and stranger anxiety. He doesn't like to be separated from the parent even for a brief time and shows fear for strangers. Babies are born with varying social styles. Some are attracted to self-elated and over-expressive people. And others towards soft-spoken, calm people. Throughout the first year, baby is interested in discovering what he is capable of and in interacting with parents.
When he reaches two years, he enjoys interacting with other infants in play. Social behaviour develops with sharing of toys. To begin with, baby is less inclined to share any of his materials with other babies. As he gets along in play, he learns to develop a friendship with them. Their friendship develops with development of speech. Most of the babies at this age are self-centred, looking at things from their own perspective, as to how it relates to them. They engage in "parallel play", being at the same play site but actively involved in their own activity. This is perhaps a negative social behaviour. Parents can guide them towards a social co-operative play. Babies like to do things independently on their own effort, at this stage. Utmost love and care are the requisites for a normal, healthy development of social behaviour. The baby should be guided to look at the world and relationship with others in a positive manner, set on the secure basis of the parents' love and care. Babies model their behaviours on those of their parents, other children, and teachers (once they enter into school). Pre-schoolers learn social co-operative play on their own, may be through trial and error method. They understand taking turns in games and also develop good sportsmanship. The feeling of empathy for others and expression of their own feelings are common during pre-school years. Children become socially competent when their parents take time to talk with them about their social activities at day-care centres and at pre-school. Real social situations provide opportunities for children to learn and practice social skills.
Social development in children can be enhanced in different ways according to the age of the children. Here is a step by step guide to enhance social development in your child.
Keep yourself engaged with the baby during this stage. During this time, baby smiles when smiled at, mimics your movements, recognises your voice and is attentive towards you. She turns to you when you look, smile or talk to her. Baby is just born and is unaware of the world around her. The comfort and care you provide makes her feel secure and enables her to engage with people and be curious about her world. You respond to her needs and reply to her sounds instantly, without going away when she needs your attention.
Your baby starts babbling by now. She draws your attention with a pleasing smile and loud scream when you do not notice her. She understands words when you speak and responds when you call out her name. She loves to see her image in the mirror. Keep an eye on your baby and pay attention to her even amidst your house-hold chores. Take time to talk to her and play with her. You are the first teacher of social skills to your baby. So, interact with your baby as much as possible in a variety of ways. Smile when she smiles at you, engage in physical play, ask her questions and appreciate her answers and encourage her to converse with you without any apprehensions. Free communication is the route to social development in children and babies. Help your baby to communicate. Keep her engaged always, except for naptime and bedtime. When you talk to her, she may take some time to respond. Be patient enough to allow your baby to vocalize and take turns in your conversation. Let your baby express all of her feelings, even the times when she is bored or frustrated. You should provide her support without imposing any restrictions. Pay more attention to her when she is quiet without any kind of interaction. Interactions will make her a social-being.
Baby begins to express himself through gestures and simple words. At this stage respond to all of his gestures and words enthusiastically. He comes to you both when happy, as well as when distressed. Pacify him when he comes to you while he is disturbed and share his joy when he is joyful. Make your baby know what various emotions mean. Separation and stranger anxiety develops at this stage. To ease separation anxiety, allow him to crawl or walk away from you and provide him with toys to play independently. This redirects his attention away from you for brief periods. To avert stranger anxiety, let the strangers approach the baby slowly with attractive toys instead of picking up the baby abruptly. Games like peekaboo help baby to understand that separation is not permanent, and it will relieve him from the anxiety of separation. Offer his favourite toy to be comforted with until you return.
Baby enters into toddlerhood. He takes his first independent steps like walking, feeding himself and learning to talk. He doesn't like to be restricted. He likes the company of other kids, but does not know how to play co-operatively. He engages only in "parallel play". You can guide him in playing together with other kids, show him how to take turns in play, reducing the nature of grabbing, and teach him to talk politely.
He plays with other toddlers but does not know sharing. He shows feeling of empathy. His speech improves enough that outsiders too are able to understand him. He can make the parents understand what he is interested in by pointing out to his object of interest. He becomes interested in trying to find out his own solutions to problems. At this stage, you can teach him the greatness of sharing and about the joy he would get by sharing. Feeling of empathy which occurs naturally can be guided towards sharing. Pass an encouraging comment when he begins to share his toys or his feelings. You can develop the toddlers' independent nature, allowing him time to solve his problems before you interfere in it. Make him understand that he is part of a large family by introducing him to family gatherings and routine family meals. Let him feel that he is part of a large community, by taking him on outings quite often.