Social Emotional Development

Essay by Rosie
13th October 2018

Social Emotional Development - a summary

Humans are social animals - an individual’s development is constantly being impacted on by a number of factors, including genes, and is changing as they grow older. It is important to understand the occasions when development is successful and an individual is able to contribute to society in a fully functioning way in order to understand when things do not work out or there are issues says in behavior, such as bullying.

The functionalist approach indicates that our “emotions result from how we interpret our internal and external environments.” In other words, thoughts and emotions trigger reactions. The old fight and flight analogy is a good example of this. 

Universally there are considered to by several innate emotions that all individuals have access to: happiness, fears, sadness, disgust, anger and surprise. Each of these develops from birth and becomes apparent to those around the child at differing stages. Happiness for instance appears 6-10weeks as babies develop a “social smile”. Whereas anger and sadness won’t appear until one year, which coincides with the infant’s awareness of the self and attachment theory, as they strive to have more control.
It is therefore important to consider ‘emotional regulation’; this meaning the ‘strategies we develop and use to regulate our emotions’. This is considerably influenced by environment and what is deemed socially acceptable and thus it changes between cultures. 
Infants co-regulate, winch means they are dependent on their care givers to help them regulate their emotions, through imitation for example. As a result, the quality of care from the caregiver has a huge influence on the development of these skills by the child. Another impact is social referencing, which refers to the distinguishment of facial expressions, and how much they learn from those around them. I.e. developing a fear of dogs if their care giver is fearful.

One major difference is the temperament of the child. A shy child will avoid social interaction and thus they reinforce that temperament, fortunately, temperament can change and does change over a persons lifetime. This is linked to attention strategies. 

Genes do play a part here as the production of Dopamine can affect the signals between neurons (Gottlieb). Also culture plays a part. In western and non western societies there are differences in emotional developments. Therefore it is important to consider multiple or cross-groups when studying or working with people. Likewise, it’s important to consider how the groups and characteristics contribute to the development of youths and their health behaviors.
But above all else the care giver is the most significant person/s. The emotional competence - “the set of self-orientated behavioral, cognitive and regulatory skills that emerge over time as a person develops in a social context” - will determine how well they exist in society and how healthy and happy they are.


To thrive an individual needs social interaction. Bowlby’s Attachment Theory outlined 4 stages. In all of them, the caregiver is the most important influencing factor as the earliest relationships most affect an individual’s expectations for future relationships and their understanding of the world.

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