Social Development Milestones – What to Expect
Often when we hear someone discussing social development, we assume they are referring to the development of friendships and the interactions we generally see in middle-school children and adolescents. However, social development begins at birth and the type of social experiences we have as infants and young children often dictate the way we interact and socialize as adults. In order to develop social skills and exhibit normative social development, there are particular milestones that each individual should successfully demonstrate or achieve as they progress from infancy to adolescence.
At birth until the age of five years old, children need the stability of early social relationships and essential needs available to them. These early social relationships are generally the primary caregivers of the infant, such as a mother or father, but it can also be an alternative constant caregiver such as a grandmother or foster parent. Infants need to know they are loved and cared for in order for them to learn its significance when they later reciprocate those feelings in their future relationships. The need for food and other essentials like shelter must be available as this can also influence the form of attachment the child develops to caregivers. For instance, an infant will quickly learn whether or not they can trust a caregiver if in their care they are deprived of their needs when needed. This will influence their ability to establish secure attachments with others and trust them in future relationships. There are several forms of attachment that are possible for children to develop as a result of their social experiences, but they are primarily categorized as secure attachment and insecure attachment. The preferred attachment is secure, where the child feels their caregiver is a secure base in their life and they feel comfortable exploring their environment or interacting with new people because their caregiver is always available if the novel stimuli or person is too overwhelming for them. An insecure attachment can be when the child depends on the parent and clings to them in novel environments or when they do not consider the caregiver as a secure base. In these circumstances, a child can have a difficult time developing trust, initiating social play or interactions with others, or distinguishing between a safe and unsafe environment. As a result of early interactions, future life strategies for developing social relationships can be modified or adapted.
...In the first year of life, infants also begin to respond to social stimuli by exhibiting a “social smile”, which is the ability for a child to respond to another person and illustrate to the parent that they are aware and can react to a social context, such as a parent talking to the child. Infants also demonstrate distinct facial expressions in their first year of life, including expressions of sadness, happiness, and anger. As their attachment style develops, the reaction to strangers generally becomes more fearful as the attachment to caregivers becomes stronger. This year of life is also a critical period in the development of separation anxiety as children are able to recognize familiar and unfamiliar people.
...In early and mid-childhood, children are engaging in more social interactions with their peers and start forming friendships and various attachments to people present in their lives. Children begin to develop their adult personality based on their social experiences that will introduce and solidify their values, interests, goals, and life strategies. Since children need and depend on both parents and peers for normal social developments, the absence of peers can have a detrimental impact on their ability to become socialized. A developing child receives their personality traits and values from their parents through learning and socialization, however peers and siblings have a measureable impact on personality development. Depending on the social dynamic, peer groups can influence which values and traits introduced by parents to accept and reject. Peer socialization is most important in late childhood and adolescence, where children will adopt the group’s attitudes and norms of behaviour and in adolescence groups will be segregated based on similar abilities and interests. It is during adolescence that the skills and milestones reached in infancy and childhood will play a crucial role in selecting and rejecting elements of the adult culture in the process of developing their own culture.
written by Orla Tyrrell of BODiWORKS Institute and Facilitator of SPP