Socioemotional Development in Early Childhood

By Santrock, J.W.

Edited by Paul Ducham


You read about Erik Erikson’s (1968) eight developmental stages that are encountered during certain time periods in the human life span. Erikson’s first two stages—trust versus mistrust and autonomy versus shame and doubt—describe what he considers to be the main developmental tasks of infancy. Erikson’s psychosocial stage associated with early childhood is initiative versus guilt. By now, children have become convinced that they are persons in their own right; during early childhood, they begin to discover what kind of person they will become. They identify intensely with their parents, who most of the time appear to them to be powerful and beautiful, although often unreasonable, disagreeable, and sometimes even dangerous. During early childhood, children use their perceptual, motor, cognitive, and language skills to make things happen. They have a surplus of energy that permits them to forget failures quickly and to approach new areas that seem desirable—even if dangerous—with undiminished zest and some increased sense of direction. On their own initiative, then, children at this stage exuberantly move out into a wider social world.
The great governor of initiative is conscience. Their initiative and enthusiasm may bring them not only rewards but also guilt, which lowers self-esteem.


Recent research studies have revealed that young children are more psychologically aware—of themselves and others—than used to be thought (Easterbrooks & others, 2013; Thompson, 2013c). This psychological awareness reflects young children’s expanding psychological sophistication.

Self-Understanding In Erikson’s portrait of early childhood, the young child clearly has begun to develop self-understanding, which is the representation of self, the substance and content of self-conceptions (Harter, 2012). Though not the whole of personal identity, self-understanding provides its rational underpinnings. Mainly through interviews, researchers have probed children’s conceptions of many aspects of self-understanding.
“Socioemotional Development in Infancy,” early self-understanding involves self-recognition. In early childhood, young children think that the self can be described by many material characteristics, such as size, shape, and color. They distinguish themselves from others through physical and material attributes. Says 4-year-old Sandra, “I’m different from Jennifer because I have brown hair and she has blond hair.” Says 4-year-old Ralph, “I am different from Hank because I am taller and I am different from my sister because I have a bicycle.” Physical activities are also a central component of the self in early childhood (Keller, Ford, & Meacham, 1978). For example, preschool children often describe themselves in terms of activities such as play. In sum, during early childhood, children often provide self-descriptions that involve body attributes, material possessions, and physical activities.
Although young children mainly describe themselves in terms of concrete, observable features and action tendencies, at about 4 to 5 years of age as they hear others use words describing psychological traits and emotions, they begin to include these in their own self-descriptions (Marsh, Ellis, & Craven, 2002). Thus, in a self-description, a 4-year-old might say, “I’m not scared. I’m always happy.” Young children’s self-descriptions are typically unrealistically positive, as refl ected in the comment of this 4-year-old who says he is always happy, which he is not (Harter, 2012). They express this optimism because they don’t yet distinguish between their desired competence and their actual competence, tend to confuse ability and effort (thinking that differences in ability can be changed as easily as can differences in effort), don’t engage in spontaneous social comparison of their abilities with those of others, and tend to compare their present abilities with what they could do at an earlier age (which usually makes their abilities look quite good). This overestimation of their attributes helps to protect young children from negative self-evaluations.
However, as in virtually all areas of human development, there are individual variations in young children’s self-conceptions, and there is increasing evidence that some children are vulnerable to negative self-attributions (Thompson, 2011, 2013a). For example, one study revealed that insecurely attached preschool children whose mothers reported a high level of parenting stress and depressive symptoms had a lower self-concept than other young children in more positive family circumstances (Goodvin & others, 2008). This research indicates that young children’s generally optimistic self-ascriptions do not buffer them from adverse, stressful family conditions (Thompson, 2013a).
Understanding Others Children also make advances in their understanding of others and learn from others in early childhood (Harter, 2012; Mills & others, 2012). “Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Childhood,” young children’s theory of mind includes understanding that other people have emotions and desires. And, at about 4 to 5 years, children not only start describing themselves in terms of psychological traits, but they also begin to perceive others in terms of psychological traits. Thus, a 4-year-old might say, “My teacher is nice.”
Something important for children to develop is an understanding that people don’t always give accurate reports of their beliefs (Mills, Elashi, & Archacki, 2011). Researchers have found that even 4-year-olds understand that people may make statements that aren’t true to obtain what they want or to avoid trouble (Lee & others, 2002). For example, one study revealed that 4- and 5-year-olds were increasingly skeptical of another child’s claim to be sick when the children were informed that the child was motivated to avoid having to go to camp (Gee & Heyman, 2007). Another study found that at 3 years of age, children mistrusted people who made a single error, but it wasn’t until 4 years of age that in deciding whom to trust, children took into account the relative frequency of errors informants made (Pasquini & others, 2007).
Another important aspect of understanding others involves understanding joint commitments. As children approach their third birthday, their collaborative interactions with others increasingly involve obligations to the partner (Tomasello & Hamann, 2012). A recent study revealed that 3-year-olds, but not 2-year-olds, recognized when an adult is committed and when they themselves are committed to joint activity that involves obligation to a partner (Grafenhain & others, 2009).
Both the extensive theory of mind research and the recent research on young children’s social understanding underscore that young children are not as egocentric as Piaget envisioned (Sokol, Snjezana, & Muller, 2010; Thompson, 2012). Piaget’s concept of egocentrism has become so ingrained in people’s thinking about young children that too often the current research on social awareness in infancy and early childhood has been overlooked. Research increasingly shows that young children are more socially sensitive and perceptive than was previously envisioned, suggesting that parents and teachers can help them to better understand and interact in the social world by how they interact with them (Thompson 2013b, d). If young children are seeking to better understand various mental and emotional states (intentions, goals, feelings, desires) that they know underlie people’s actions, then talking with them about these internal states can improve young children’s understanding of them (Thompson, 2011, 2013c, d).
However, debate continues to surround the question of whether young children are socially sensitive or basically egocentric. Ross Thompson (2012, 2013a, b) comes down on the side of viewing young children as socially sensitive, while Susan Harter (2012) argues that there is still evidence to support the conclusion that young children are essentially egocentric.


Even young infants experience emotions such as joy and fear, but to experience self-conscious emotions children must be able to refer to themselves and be aware of themselves as distinct from others (Lewis, 2010). Pride, shame, embarrassment, and guilt are examples of self-conscious emotions. Selfconscious emotions do not appear to develop until self-awareness appears at approximately 15 to 18 months of age.
During the early childhood years, emotions such as pride and guilt become more common. They are especially influenced by parents’ responses to children’s behavior. For example, a young child may experience shame when a parent says, “You should feel bad about biting your sister.”


One of the most important advances in emotional development in early childhood is an increased understanding of emotion (Bassett & others, 2012; Denham & others, 2012). During early childhood, young children increasingly understand that certain situations are likely to evoke particular emotions, facial expressions indicate specific emotions, emotions affect behavior, and emotions can be used to influence others’ emotions (Cole & others, 2009). A recent study also found that young children’s understanding of emotions was linked to their prosocial behavior (Ensor, Spencer, & Hughes, 2011).
Between 2 and 4 years of age, children considerably increase the number of terms they use to describe emotions. During this time, they are also learning about the causes and consequences of feelings (Denham & others, 2011).
When they are 4 to 5 years of age, children show an increased ability to refl ect on emotions. They also begin to understand that the same event can elicit different feelings in different people. Moreover, they show a growing awareness that they need to manage their emotions to meet social standards.


“Socioemotional Development in Infancy,” emotion regulation is an important aspect of development. Emotion regulation especially plays a key role in children’s ability to manage the demands and conflicts they face in interacting with others (Lewis, 2013; Thompson, 2011, 2013c, d).
Many researchers consider the growth of emotion regulation in children as fundamental to becoming socially competent (Cole & Hall, 2012; Nelson & others, 2012; Perry & others, 2012; Thompson, 2013c, d). Emotion regulation can be conceptualized as an important component of self-regulation or of executive functioning. Executive functioning is increasingly thought to be a key concept in describing the young child’s higherlevel cognitive functioning (Carlson & White, 2013; Conway & Stift er, 2012). Cybele Raver and her colleagues (Blair & Raver, 2012; McCoy & Raver, 2012; Raver & others, 2011, 2012; Zhai, Raver, & Jones, 2012) are using interventions, such as increasing caregiver emotional expressiveness, to improve young children’s emotion regulation and reduce behavior problems in Head Start families.

Emotion-Coaching and Emotion-Dismissing Parents Parents can play an important role in helping young children regulate their emotions. Depending on how they talk with their children about emotion, parents can be described as taking an emotioncoaching or an emotion-dismissing approach (Gottman, 2012). The distinction between these approaches is most evident in the way the parent deals with the child’s negative emotions (anger, frustration, sadness, and so on). Emotioncoaching parents monitor their children’s emotions, view their children’s negative emotions as opportunities for teaching, assist them in labeling emotions, and coach them in how to deal effectively with emotions. In contrast, emotiondismissing parents view their role as to deny, ignore, or change negative emotions. Emotion-coaching parents interact with their children in a less rejecting manner, use more scaffolding and praise, and are more nurturant than are emotion-dismissing parents. Moreover, the children of emotion-coaching parents are better at soothing themselves when they get upset, more effective in regulating their negative affect, focus their attention better, and have fewer behavior problems than the children of emotion-dismissing parents (Gottman, 2012). Recent researcher studies found that fathers’ emotion coaching was related to children’s social competence (Baker, Fenning, & Crnic, 2011) and that mothers’ emotion coaching was linked to less oppositional behavior (Dunsmore, Booker, & Ollendick, 2012).
Parents’ knowledge of their children’s emotional world can help them to guide their children’s emotional development and to teach them how to cope effectively with problems. A recent study found that mothers’ knowledge about what distresses and comforts their children predicts the children’s coping, empathy, and prosocial behavior (Vinik, Almas, & Grusec, 2011).
A problem that parents face is that young children typically don’t want to talk about difficult emotional topics, such as being distressed or engaging in negative behaviors. Among the strategies young children use to avoid these conversations is to not talk at all, change the topic, push away, or run away. In a recent study, Ross Thompson and his colleagues (2009) found that young children were more likely to openly discuss difficult emotional circumstances when they were securely attached to their mother and when their mother conversed with them in a way that validated and accepted the child’s views. Links between parenting and children’s emotional development are further explored in Connecting Th rough Research. Regulation of Emotion and Peer Relations Emotions play a strong role in determining the success of a child’s peer relationships (Denham & others, 2011). Specifically, the ability to modulate one’s emotions is an important skill that benefits children in their relationships with peers. Moody and emotionally negative children are more likely to experience rejection by their peers, whereas emotionally positive children are more popular. One study revealed that 4-year-olds recognized and generated strategies for controlling their anger more than did 3-year-olds (Cole & others, 2009).


Feelings of anxiety and guilt are central to the account of moral development provided by Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. According to Freud, to reduce anxiety, avoid punishment, and maintain parental affection, children identify with parents and internalize their standards of right and wrong, thus forming the superego—the moral element of personality.
Freud’s ideas are not backed by research, but guilt certainly can motivate moral behavior. Other emotions, however, also contribute to the child’s moral development, including positive feelings. One important example is empathy, which involves responding to another person’s feelings with an emotion that echoes the other’s feelings (Denham & others, 2011).
Infants have the capacity for some purely empathic responses, but empathy often requires the ability to discern another’s inner psychological states, or what is called perspective taking. Learning how to identify a wide range of emotional states in others and to anticipate what kinds of action will improve another person’s emotional state help to advance children’s moral development (Thompson, 2011, 2012).


Interest in how children think about moral issues was stimulated by Piaget (1932), who extensively observed and interviewed children from the ages of 4 through 12. Piaget watched children play marbles to learn how they applied and thought about the game’s rules. He also asked children about ethical issues—theft, lies, punishment, and justice, for example. Piaget concluded that children go through two distinct stages in how they think about morality.

• From about 4 to 7 years of age, children display heteronomous morality, the first stage of moral development in Piaget’s theory. Children think of justice and rules as unchangeable properties of the world, removed from the control of people.
• From 7 to 10 years of age, children are in a transition showing some features of the first stage of moral reasoning and some stages of the second stage, autonomous morality.
• At about 10 years of age and older, children show autonomous morality. They become aware that rules and laws are created by people, and in judging an action they consider the actor’s intentions as well as the consequences.

Because young children are heteronomous moralists, they judge the rightness or goodness of behavior by considering its consequences, not the intentions of the actor. For example, tothe heteronomous moralist, breaking 12 cups accidentally is worse than breaking one cup intentionally. As children develop into moral autonomists, intentions become more important than consequences.
The heteronomous thinker also believes that rules are unchangeable and are handed down by all-powerful authorities. When Piaget suggested to young children that they use new rules in a game of marbles, they resisted. By contrast, older children—moral autonomists—accept change and recognize that rules are merely convenient conventions, subject to change.
The heteronomous thinker also believes in immanent justice, the concept that if a rule is broken, punishment will be meted out immediately. The young child believes that a violation is connected automatically to its punishment. Immanent justice also implies that if something unfortunate happens to someone, the person must have transgressed earlier. Older children, who are moral autonomists, recognize that punishment occurs only if someone witnesses the wrongdoing and that even then, punishment is not inevitable.
How do these changes in moral reasoning occur? Piaget concluded that the changes come about through the mutual give-and-take of peer relations. In the peer group, where others have power and status similar to the child’s, plans are negoti and coordinated, and disagreements are reasoned about and eventually settled. Parent-child relations, in which parents have the power and children do not, are less likely to advance moral reasoning, because rules are oft en handed down in an authoritarian way.

Ross Thompson’s proposed that young children are not as egocentric as Piaget envisioned. Thompson (2012) recently further elaborated on this view, arguing that recent research indicates that young children oft en show a nonegocentric awareness of others’ goals, feelings, and desires and how such internal states are influenced by the actions of others. Theory of mind research indicates that young children possess cognitive resources that allow them to be aware of others’ intentions and to recognize when someone violates a moral prohibition. One study of 3-year-olds found that they were less likely to offer assistance to an adult they had previously observed being harmful to another person (Vaish, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2010). However, because of limitations in their self-control skills, social understanding, and cognitive flexibility, young children’s moral advancements often are inconsistent and vary across situations. They still have a long way to go before they have the capacity for developing a consistent moral character and making ethical judgments.


The behavioral and social cognitive approaches, focus on moral behavior rather than moral reasoning. It holds that the processes of reinforcement, punishment, and imitation explain the development of moral behavior. When children are rewarded for behavior that is consistent with laws and social conventions, they are likely to repeat that behavior. When models who behave morally are provided, children are likely to adopt their actions. And, when children are punished for immoral behavior, those behaviors are likely to be reduced or eliminated. However, because punishment may have adverse side effects, it should be used judiciously and cautiously.
In the moral behavior view, the situation also influences behavior. More than a half century ago, a comprehensive study of thousands of children in many situations—at home, at school, and at church, for example—found that the totally honest child was virtually nonexistent; so was the child who cheated in all situations (Hartshorne & May, 1928–1930). Behavioral and social cognitive researchers emphasize that what children do in one situation is oft en only weakly related to what they do in other situations. A child might cheat in class but not in a game; a child might steal a piece of candy when alone but not steal it when others are present.
Social cognitive theorists also stress that the ability to resist temptation is closely tied to the development of self-control. To achieve this self-control, children must learn to delay gratification. According to social cognitive theorists, cognitive factors are important in the child’s development of self-control (Bandura, 2009, 2010a, b, 2012).


Conscience refers to an internal regulation of standards of right and wrong that involves an integration of all three components of moral development we have described sofar—moral thought, feeling, and behavior (Kochanska & others, 2010). Reflecting the presence of a conscience in young children, researchers have found that young children are aware of right and wrong, have the capacity to show empathy toward others, experience guilt, indicate discomfort following a transgression, and are sensitive to violating rules (Kochanska & Aksan, 2007; Kochanska & others, 2009).
A major interest in young children’s conscience focuses on children’s relationship with their caregivers (Kochanska & Kim, 2012a, b; Thompson, 2012). Especially important in this regard is the emergence of young children’s willingness to embrace the values of their parents, an orientation that flows from a positive, close relationship (Kochanska & Aksan, 2007). For example, children who are securely attached are more likely to internalize their parents’ values and rules (Kochanska & Kim, 2012a, b; Thompson, 2013a).


In Ross Thompson’s (2006, 2009, 2012) view, young children are moral apprentices, striving to understand what is moral. Among the most important aspects of the relationship between parents and children that contribute to children’s moral development are relational quality, parental discipline, proactive strategies, and conversational dialogue.
Parent-child relationships introduce children to the mutual obligations of close relationships (Kochanska & Kim, 2012a, b). Parents’ obligations include engaging in positive caregiving and guiding children to become competent human beings. Children’s obligations include responding appropriately to parents’ initiatives and maintaining a positive relationship with parents.
An important parenting strategy involves proactively averting potential misbehavior by children before it takes place (Thompson, 2009). With younger children, being proactive means using diversion, such as distracting their attention or moving them to alternative activities. With older children, being proactive may involve talking with them about values that the parents deem important.
Conversations related to moral development can benefit children, regardless of whether they occur as part of a discipline encounter or outside the encounter in the everyday stream of parent-child interaction (Thompson, Meyer, & McGinley, 2006). The conversations can be planned or spontaneous and can focus on topics such as past events (for example, a child’s prior misbehavior or positive moral conduct), shared future events (for example, going somewhere that may involve a temptation and requires positive moral behavior), and immediate events (for example, talking with the child about a sibling’s tantrums).


Biology clearly plays a role in gender development (Arnold, 2012; Hines, 2013). Among the possible biological influences are chromosomes, hormones, and evolution.
Chromosomes and Hormones Biologists have learned a great deal about how sex differences develop. Recall that humans normally have 46 chromosomes arranged in pairs. The 23rd pair consists of a combination of X and Y chromosomes, usually two X chromosomes in a female and an X and a Y in a male. In the first few weeks of gestation, however, female and male embryos look alike.
Males start to differ from females when genes on the Y chromosome in the male embryo trigger the development of testes rather than ovaries; the testes secrete copious amounts of the class of hormones known as androgens. Low levels of androgens in the female embryo allow the normal development of female sex organs.
Thus, hormones play a key role in the development of sex differences (Hines, 2011). The two main classes of sex hormones, estrogens and androgens, are secreted by the gonads (ovaries in females, testes in males). Estrogens, such as estradiol, influence the development of female physical sex characteristics. Androgens, such as testosterone, promote the development of male physical sex characteristics. Sex hormones also can influence children’s socioemotional development.

The Evolutionary Psychology View How might physical differences between the sexes give rise to psychological differences between males and females? Evolutionary psychology offers one answer. According to evolutionary psychology, adaptation during human evolution produced psychological differences between males and females (Buss, 2012; Mader, 2013). Because of their differing roles in reproduction, males and females faced differing pressures when the human species was evolving. In particular, because having multiple sexual liaisons improves the likelihood that males will pass on their genes, natural selection favored males who adopted short-term mating strategies. These are strategies that allow a male to win the competition with other males for sexual access to females. Therefore, say evolutionary psychologists, males evolved dispositions that favor violence, competition, and risk taking.
In contrast, according to evolutionary psychologists, females’ contributions to the gene pool were improved when they secured resources that ensured that their offspring would survive. As a consequence, natural selection favored females who devoted effort to parenting and chose successful, ambitious mates who could provide their offspring with resources and protection.
Critics of evolutionary psychology argue that its hypotheses are backed by speculations about prehistory, not evidence, and that in any event people are not locked into behavior that was adaptive in the evolutionary past. Critics also claim that the evolutionary view pays little attention to cultural and individual variations in gender differences (Hyde & Else-Quest, 2013; Matlin, 2012).


Many social scientists do not locate the cause of psychological gender differences in biological dispositions. Rather, they argue that these differences reflect social experiences. Explanations for how gender differences come about through experience include both social and cognitive theories.

Social Theories of Gender Three main social theories of gender have been proposed—social role theory, psychoanalytic theory, and social cognitive theory. Alice Eagly (2001, 2010, 2012; Eagly & Wood, 2012) proposed social role theory, which states that gender differences result from the contrasting roles of women and men. In most cultures around the world, women have less power and status than men, and they control fewer resources (UNICEF, 2011). Compared with men, women perform more domestic work, spend fewer hours in paid employment, receive lower pay, and are more thinly represented in the highest levels of organizations. In Eagly’s view, as women adapted to roles with less power and less status in society, they showed more cooperative, less dominant profiles than men. Thus, the social hierarchy and division of labor are important causes of gender differences in power, assertiveness, and nurturing.
The psychoanalytic theory of gender stems from Freud’s view that the preschool child develops a sexual attraction to the opposite-sex parent. This is the process known as the Oedipus (for boys) or Electra (for girls) complex. At 5 or 6 years of age, the child renounces this attraction because of anxious feelings. Subsequently, the child identifies with the same-sexparent, unconsciously adopting the same-sex parent’s characteristics. However, developmentalists have observed that gender development does not proceed as Freud proposed. Children become gender-typed much earlier than 5 or 6 years of age, and they become masculine or feminine even when the same-sex parent is not present in the family.
The social cognitive approach provides an alternative explanation of how children develop gender-typed behavior. According to the social cognitive theory of gender, children’s gender development occurs through observing and imitating what other people say and do, and through being rewarded and punished for gender-appropriate and gender-inappropriate behavior (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). From birth onward, males and females are treated differently from one another. When infants and toddlers show gender differences, adults tend to reward them. Parents often use rewards and punishments to teach their daughters to be feminine (“Karen, you are being a good girl when you play gently with your doll”) and their sons to be masculine (“Keith, a boy as big as you is not supposed to cry”). Parents, however, are only one of many sources through which children learn gender roles (Leaper, 2013; Leaper & Bigler, 2011). Culture, schools, peers, the media, and other family members also provide gender role models. For example, children also learn about gender by observing the behavior of other adults in the neighborhood and on television (Bugental & Grusec, 2006). As children get older, peers become increasingly important. Let’s take a closer look at the influence of parents and peers.
Parental Influences Parents, by action and by example, influence their children’s gender development (Cookston & McHale, 2012; Hilliard & Liben, 2012; Leaper, 2013). Both mothers and fathers are psychologically important to their children’s gender development (Hyde & Else-Quest, 2013; Leaper, 2013). Cultures around the world, however, tend to give mothers and fathers different roles (Chen & others, 2011). A research review yielded the following conclusions (Bronstein, 2006):

Mothers’ socialization strategies. In many cultures, mothers socialize their daughters to be more obedient and responsible than their sons. They also place more restrictions on daughters’ autonomy.
Fathers’ socialization strategies. Fathers show more attention to sons than daughters, engage in more activities with sons, and put forth more effort to promote sons’ intellectual development.

Thus, according to Bronstein, “Despite an increased awareness in the United States and other Western cultures of the detrimental effects of gender stereotyping, many parents continue to foster behaviors and perceptions that are consonant with traditional gender role norms.”

Peer Influences Parents provide the earliest discrimination of gender roles, but before long peers join the process of responding to and modeling masculine and feminine behavior (Bukowski, Ittel, & Juang, 2012; Goble & others, 2012). In fact, peers become so important to gender development that the playground has been called “gender school” (Luria & Herzog, 1985).
Peers extensively reward and punish gender behavior (Leaper, 2013; Leaper & Bigler, 2011). For example, when children play in ways that the culture says are sex-appropriate, their peers tend to reward them. But peers often reject children who act in a manner that is considered more characteristic of the other gender (Handrinos & others, 2012; Matlin, 2012). A little girl who brings a doll to the park may find herself surrounded by new friends; a little boy might be jeered at. However, there is greater pressure for boys to conform to a traditional male role than for girls to conform to a traditional female role (Fagot, Rogers, & Leinbach, 2000). For example, a preschool girl who wants to wear boys’ clothing receives considerably more approval than a boy who wants to wear a dress. The very term “tomboy” implies broad social acceptance of girls’ adopting traditional male behaviors.
Gender molds important aspects of peer relations (Field & others, 2012; Zozuls & others, 2012). It influences the composition of children’s groups, the size of groups, and interactions within a group (Maccoby, 1998, 2002):

Gender composition of children’s groups. Around the age of 3, children already show a preference to spend time with same-sex playmates. From 4 to 12 years of age, thispreference for playing in same-sex groups increases, and during the elementary school years children spend a large majority of their free time with children of their own sex (see Figure 8.1).
Group size. From about 5 years of age onward, boys are more likely to associate together in larger clusters than girls are. Boys are also more likely to participate in organized group games than girls are. In one study, same-sex groups of six children were permitted to use play materials in any way they wished (Benenson, Apostolaris, & Parnass, 1997). Girls were more likely than boys to play in dyads or triads, while boys were more likely to interact in larger groups and seek to attain a group goal.
Interaction in same-sex groups. Boys are more likely than girls to engage in rough-andtumble play, competition, conflict, ego displays, risk taking, and seeking dominance. By contrast, girls are more likely to engage in “collaborative discourse,” in which they talk and act in a more reciprocal manner.

fig 8.1


One influential cognitive theory is gender schema theory, which states that gender typing emerges as children gradually develop gender schemas of what is gender-appropriate and gender-inappropriate in their culture (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). A schema is a cognitive structure, a network of associations that guide an individual’s perceptions. A gender schema organizes the world in terms of female and male. Children are internally motivated to perceive the world and to act in accordance with their developing schemas. Bit by bit, children pick up what is gender-appropriate and gender-inappropriate in their culture, and develop gender schemas that shape how they perceive the world and what they remember (Conry-Murray, Kim, & Turiel, 2012). Children are motivated to act in ways that conform to these gender schemas. Thus, gender schemas fuel gender typing.


Diana Baumrind (1971) argues that parents should be neither punitive nor aloof. Rather, they should develop rules for their children and be affectionate with them. She has described four types of parenting styles:

Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punitive style in which parents exhort the child to follow their directions and respect their work and effort. The authoritarian parent places firm limits and controls on the child and allows little verbal exchange. For example, an authoritarian parent might say, “You do it my way or else.” Authoritarian parents also might spank the child frequently, enforce rules rigidly but not explain them, and show rage toward the child. Children of authoritarian parents are oft en unhappy, fearful, and anxious about comparing themselves with others, fail to initiate activity, and have weak communication skills.
Authoritative parenting encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions. Extensive verbal give-and-take is allowed, and parents are warm and nurturing toward the child. An authoritative parent might put his arm around the child in a comforting way and say, “You know you should not have donethat. Let’s talk about how you can handle the situation better next time.” Authoritative parents show pleasure and support in response to children’s constructive behavior. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior from their children. Children whose parents are authoritative are often cheerful, self-controlled and self-reliant, and achievement-oriented; they tend to maintain friendly relations with peers, cooperate with adults, and cope well with stress.
As was just indicated, authoritative parents do exercise some direction and control over their children. The children of authoritative parents who engage in behavioral or psychological control without being coercive or punitive often show positive developmental outcomes (Baumrind, Larzelere, & Owens, 2010).
Neglectful parenting is a style in which the parent is uninvolved in the child’s life. Children whose parents are neglectful develop the sense that other aspects of the parents’ lives are more important than they are. These children tend to be socially incompetent. Many have poor self-control and don’t handle independence well. They frequently have low self-esteem, are immature, and may be alienated from the family. In adolescence, they may show patterns of truancy and delinquency.
Indulgent parenting is a style in which parents are highly involved with their children but place few demands or controls on them. Such parents let their children do what they want. As a result, the children never learn to control their own behavior and always expect to get their way. Some parents deliberately rear their children in this way because they believe the combination of warm involvement and few restraints will produce a creative, confident child. However, children whose parents are indulgent rarely learn respect for others and have difficulty controlling their behavior. They might be domineering, egocentric, noncompliant, and have difficulties in peer relations.

These four classifications of parenting involve combinations of acceptance and responsiveness on the one hand and demand and control on the other (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). How these dimensions combine to produce authoritarian, authoritative, neglectful, and indulgent parenting is shown in Figure 8.2.
Keep in mind that research on parenting styles and children’s development is correlational, not causal, in nature. Thus, if a study reveals that authoritarian parenting is linked to higher levels of children’s aggression, the possibility that aggressive children elicited authoritarian parenting is just as likely as the possibility that authoritarian parenting produced aggressive children. In correlational studies, a third factor may influence the correlation between two factors. Thus, in the example of the correlation between authoritarian parenting and children’s aggression, possibly authoritarian parents (first factor) and aggressive children (second factor) share genes (third factor) that predispose them to behave in ways that produced the correlation.

fig 8.2


Do the benefits of authoritative parenting transcend the boundaries of ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), and household composition? Although occasional exceptions have been found, evidence linking authoritative parenting with competence on the part of the child occurs in research across a wide range of ethnic groups, social strata, cultures, and family structures (Steinberg & Silk, 2002).
Nonetheless, researchers have found that in some ethnic groups, aspects of the authoritarian style may be associated with more positive child outcomes than Baumrind predicts (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). Elements of the authoritarian style may take on different meanings and have different effects depending on the context. For example, Asian American parents oft en continue aspects of traditional Asian child-rearing practices that have sometimes been described as authoritarian. The parents exert considerable control over their children’s lives. However, Ruth Chao (2001, 2005, 2007; Chao & Otsuki-Clutter, 2011; Chao & Tseng, 2002) argues that the style of parenting used by many Asian American parents is distinct from thedomineering control of the authoritarian style. Instead, Chao argues that this type of parental control refl ects concern and involvement in their children’s lives and is best conceptualized as a type of training. The high academic achievement of Asian American children may be a consequence of their “training” parents (Stevenson & Zusho, 2002). In recent research involving Chinese American adolescents and their parents, parental control was endorsed, as were the Confucian parental goals of perseverance, working hard in school, obedience, and being sensitive to parents’ wishes (Russell, Crockett, & Chao, 2010).
An emphasis on requiring respect and obedience is also associated with the authoritarian style, but in Latino child rearing this focus may be positive rather than punitive. Rather than suppressing the child’s development, it may encourage the development of a self and an identity that are embedded in the family and require respect and obedience (Dixon, Graber, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008).
Even physical punishment, another characteristic of the authoritarian style, may have varying effects in different contexts. African American parents are more likely than non-Latino White parents to use physical punishment (Deater-Deckard & Dodge, 1997). However, the use of physical punishment has been linked with increased externalized child problems (such as acting out and high levels of aggression) in non-Latino White families but not in African American families. One explanation of this finding points to the need for African American parents to enforce rules in the dangerous environments in which they are more likely to live (Harrison-Hale, McLoyd, & Smedley, 2004). As we see next, though, overall the use of physical punishment in disciplining children raises many concerns.


For centuries, corporal (physical) punishment, such as spanking, has been considered a necessary and even desirable method of disciplining children. Use of corporal punishment is legal in every state in America. A national survey of U.S. parents with 3- and 4-year-old children found that 26 percent of parents reported spanking their children frequently, and 67 percent of the parents reported yelling at their children frequently (Regalado & others, 2004). A cross-cultural comparison found that individuals in the United States were among those with the most favorable attitudes toward corporal punishment and were the most likely to remember it being used by their parents (Curran & others, 2001) (see Figure 8.3).
An increasing number of studies have examined the outcomes of physically punishing children, although those that have been conducted are correlational (Lansford & Deater-Deckard, 2012; Lansford & others, 2012). Clearly, it would be highly unethical to randomly assign parents to either spank or not spank their children in an experimental study. Recall that cause and effect cannot be determined in a correlational study. In one correlational study, spanking by parents was linked with children’s antisocial behavior, including cheating, telling lies, being mean to others, bullying, getting into fights, and being disobedient (Strauss, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997).
A research review concluded that corporal punishment by parents is associated with higher levels of immediate compliance and aggression by the children (Gershoff, 2002). The review also found that corporal punishment is linked to lower levels of moral internalization and mental health (Gershoff, 2002). A study in six countries revealed that mothers’ use of physical punishment was linked to the highest rates of aggression in their children (Gershoff & others, 2010). And several recent longitudinal studies also have found that physical punishment of young children is associated with higher levels of aggression later in childhood and adolescence (Berlin & others, 2009; Gershoff & others, 2012; Lansford & others, 2011; Taylor & others, 2010).
What are some reasons for avoiding spanking or similar punishments? The reasons include the following:

• When adults punish a child by yelling, screaming, or spanking, they are presenting children with out-of-control models for handling stressful situations. Children may imitate this aggressive, out-of-control behavior.
• Punishment can instill fear, rage, or avoidance. For example, spanking the child may cause the child to avoid being around the parent and to fear the parent.
• Punishment tells children what not to do rather than what to do. Children should be given feedback, such as “Why don’t you try this?”
• Punishment can be abusive. Parents might unintentionally become so aroused when they are punishing the child that they become abusive (Knox, 2010).

Most child psychologists recommend handling misbehavior by reasoning with the child, especially explaining the consequences of the child’s actions for others. Time out, in which the child is removed from a setting that offers positive reinforcement, can also be effective. For example, when the child has misbehaved, a parent might take away TV viewing for a specified time.
Another point about the use of punishment with children is that debate about its effects on children’s development continues (Gershoff & others, 2012; Grusec, 2011; Grusec & others, 2013). Some experts (including Diana Baumrind) argue that much of the evidence for the negative effects of physical punishment is based on studies in which parents acted in an abusive manner (Baumrind, Larzelere, & Cowan, 2002). She concludes from her research that when parents use punishment in a calm, reasoned manner (which she says characterized most of the authoritative parents in her studies), children’s development benefits. Thus, she emphasizes that physical punishment does not need to present children with an out-of-control adult who is yelling and screaming, as well as spanking. A research review of 26 studies concluded that only severe or predominant use of spanking, not mild spanking, compared unfavorably with alternative discipline practices with children (Larzelere & Kuhn, 2005).
In addition to considering whether physical punishment is mild or out-of-control, another factor in evaluating effects on children’s development involves cultural contexts. Recent research has indicated that in countries such as Kenya where physical punishment is considered normal and necessary for handling children’s transgressions, the effects of physical punishment are less harmful than in countries such as Thailand where physical punishment is perceived as more harmful to children’s development (Lansford & others, 2005, 2012).
In the view of some experts, based on the research evidence available, it is still difficult to tell whether the effects of physical punishment are always harmful to children’s development, although such a view might be distasteful to some individuals (Grusec, 2011). One thing that is clear regarding research on punishment of children is that if physical punishment is used it needs to be mild, infrequent, age-appropriate, and used in the context of a positive parent-child relationship (Grusec, 2011). It is also clear that when physical punishment involves abuse, it can be very harmful to children’s development (Cicchetti, 2013).

fig 8.3


The support that parents provide one another in jointly raising a child is called coparenting. Poor coordination between parents, undermining of the other parent, lack of cooperation and warmth, and disconnection by one parent are conditions that place children at risk for problems (McHale & Sullivan, 2008; Solmeyer & others, 2011). For example, one study revealed that coparenting influenced young children’s effortful control above and beyond maternal and paternal parenting by themselves (Karreman & others, 2008). And a recent study found that greater father involvement in young children’s play was linked to an increase in supportive coparenting (Jia & Schoppe-Sullivan, 2011). Parents who do not spend enough time with their children or who have problems in child rearing can benefit from counseling and therapy.


The four main types of child maltreatment are physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse (National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect, 2004):

Physical abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking, or otherwise harming a child. The parent or other person may not have intended to hurt the child; the injury may have resulted from excessive physical punishment (Hornor, 2012).
Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child’s basic needs. Neglect can be physical (abandonment, for example), educational (allowing chronic truancy, for example), or emotional (marked inattention to the child’s needs, for example). Child neglect is by far the most common form of child maltreatment. In every country where relevant data have been collected, neglect occurs up to three times as often as abuse (Benoit, Coolbear, & Crawford, 2008).
Sexual abuse includes fondling a child’s genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials (Preer, Sorrentino, & Newton, 2012).
Emotional abuse (psychological/verbal abuse/mental injury) includes acts or omissions by parents or other caregivers that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, or emotional problems (van Harmelen & others, 2010).

Although any of these forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they oft en occur in combination. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.


No single factor causes child maltreatment (Cicchetti, 2011, 2013; Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2012). A combination of factors, including the culture, family, and developmental characteristics of the child, likely contribute to child maltreatment.
The extensive violence that takes place in American culture, including TV violence, is reflected in the occurrence of violence in the family (Durrant, 2008). The family itself is obviously a key part of the context of abuse (Cicchetti, 2013; Trickett & Negriff, 2011). Among the family and family-associated characteristics that may contribute to child maltreatment are parenting stress, substance abuse, social isolation, single parenting, and socioeconomic difficulties (especially poverty) (Cicchetti, 2013; Laslett & others, 2012; Turner & others, 2012). The interactions of all family members need to be considered, regardless of who performs the violent acts against the child. For example, even though the father may be the one who physically abuses the child, the behavior of the mother, the child, and siblings also should be evaluated.
Were parents who abuse children abused by their own parents? About one-third of parents who were abused themselves when they were young go on to abuse their own children (Cicchetti & Toth, 2006). Thus, some, but not a majority, of parents are involved in an intergenerational transmission of abuse.


Among the consequences of child maltreatment in childhood and adolescence are poor emotion regulation, attachment problems, problems in peer relations, difficulty in adapting to school, and other psychological problems such as depression and delinquency (Cicchetti, 2011, 2013; Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2012). As shown in Figure 8.4, maltreated young children in foster care were more likely to show abnormal stress hormone levels than middle-SES young children living with their birth family (Gunnar, Fisher, & The Early Experience, Stress, and Prevention Network, 2006). In this study, the abnormal stress hormone levels were mainly present in the foster children who were neglected, best described as “institutional neglect” (Fisher, 2005). Abuse also may have this effect on young children (Gunnar & others, 2006). Adolescents who experienced abuse or neglect as children are more likely than adolescents who were not maltreated as children to engage in violent romantic relationships, delinquency, sexual risk taking, and substance abuse (Shin, Hong, & Hazen, 2010; Trickett, Negriff, & Peckins, 2011). And a recent study revealed that a significant increase in suicide attempts before age 18 occurred with repeated child maltreatment (Jonson-Reid, Kohl, & Drake, 2012).
Later, during the adult years, individuals who were maltreated as children are more likely to experience physical ailments, mental illness, and sexual problems (Lacelle & others, 2012). A 30-year longitudinal study found that middle-aged adults who had experienced maltreatment in childhood were at increased risk for diabetes, lung disease, malnutrition, and vision problems (Widom & others, 2012). Another study revealed that child maltreatment was linked to depression in adulthood and to unfavorable outcomes for treatment of depression (Nanni, Uher, & Danese, 2012). Further, adults who were maltreated as children often have difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy intimate relationships (Dozier, Stovall-McClough, & Albus, 2009). As adults, maltreated children are also at higher risk for violent behavior toward other adults—especially dating partners and marital partners—as well as substance abuse, anxiety, and depression (Miller-Perrin, Perrin, & Kocur, 2009). One study also revealed that adults who had experienced child maltreatment were at increased risk for financial and employment-related difficulties (Zielinski, 2009).
An important research agenda is to discover how to prevent child maltreatment or to intervene in children’s lives when they have been maltreated (Cicchetti & others, 2012; Preer, Sorrentino, & Newton, 2012; Shapiro, Prinz, & Sanders, 2012). In one study of maltreating mothers and their 1-year-olds, two treatments were effective in reducing child maltreatment: (1) home visitation that emphasized improved parenting, coping with stress, and increasing support for the mother; and (2) parent-infant psychotherapy that focused on improving maternal-infant attachment (Cicchetti, Toth, & Rogusch, 2005).

fig 8.4


Approximately 80 percent of American children have one or more siblings—that is, sisters and brothers (Dunn, 2007). If you grew up with siblings, you probably have a rich memory of aggressive, hostile interchanges. Siblings in the presence of each other when they are 2 to 4 years of age, on average, have a conflict once every 10 minutes and then the conflicts go down somewhat from 5 to 7 years of age (Kramer, 2006). What do parents do when they encounter siblings having a verbal or physical confrontation? One study revealed that they do one of three things: (1) intervene and try to help them resolve the conflict, (2) admonish or threaten them, or (3) do nothing at all (Kramer & Perozynski, 1999). Of interest is that in families with two siblings 2 to 5 years of age, the most frequent parental reaction is to do nothing at all.
Laurie Kramer (2006), who has conducted a number of research studies on siblings, says that not intervening and letting sibling conflict escalate are not good strategies. She developed a program titled “More Fun with Sisters and Brothers” that teaches 4- to 8-year-old siblings social skills for developing positive interactions (Kramer & Radey, 1997). Among the social skills taught in the program are how to appropriately initiate play, how to accept and refuse invitations to play, how to take another person’s perspective, how to deal with angry feelings, and how to manage conflict.
However, conflict is only one of the many dimensions of sibling relations (Howe, Ross, & Recchia, 2011). Sibling relations include helping, sharing, teaching, fighting, and playing, and siblings can act as emotional supports, rivals, and communication partners.
Judy Dunn (2007), a leading expert on sibling relationships, recently described three important characteristics of sibling relationships:

Emotional quality of the relationship. Intense positive and negative emotions are oft en expressed by siblings toward each other. Many children and adolescents have mixed feelings toward their siblings.
Familiarity and intimacy of the relationship. Siblings typically know each other very well, and this intimacy suggests that they can either provide support or tease and undermine each other, depending on the situation.
Variation in sibling relationships. Some siblings describe their relationships more positively than others. Thus, there is considerable variation in sibling relationships. We just discussed that many siblings have mixed feelings about each other, but some children and adolescents mainly describe their siblings in warm, affectionate ways, whereas others primarily talk about how irritating and mean a sibling is. Research indicates that a high level of sibling conflict is linked to negative developmental outcomes (Fosco & others, 2012).


Whether a child has older or younger siblings has been linked to development of certain personality characteristics. For example, a recent review concluded that “firstborns are the most intelligent, achieving, and conscientious, while later-borns are the most rebellious, liberal, and agreeable” (Paulhus, 2008, p. 210). Compared with later-born children, firstborn children have also been described as more adult-oriented, helpful, conforming, and self-controlled. However, when such birth-order differences are reported, they often are small.
What accounts for differences related to birth order? Proposed explanations usually point to variations in interactions with parents and siblings associated with being in a particular position in the family. In one study, mothers became more negative, coercive, and restraining and played less with the firstborn following the birth of a second child (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982).
What is the only child like? The popular conception is that the only child is a “spoiled brat,” with such undesirable characteristics as dependency, lack of self-control, and self-centered behavior. But researchers present a more positive portrayal of the only child. Only children often are achievement-oriented and display a desirable personality, especially in comparison with later-borns and children from large families (Falbo & Poston, 1993; Jiao, Ji, & Jing, 1996).
So far, our discussion suggests that birth order might be a strong predictor of behavior. However, an increasing number of family researchers stress that when all of the factors that influence behavior are considered, birth order by itself shows limited ability to predict behavior. Think about some of the other important factors beyond birth order in children’s lives that influence their behavior. They include heredity, models of competency or incompetency that parents present to children on a daily basis, peer influences, school influences, socioeconomic factors, sociohistorical factors, and cultural variations. When someone says firstborns are always like this but last-borns are always like that, the person is making overly simplistic statements that do not adequately take into account the complexity of influences on a child’s development.


More than one of every two U.S. mothers with a child under the age of 5 is in the labor force; more than two of every three with a child from 6 to 17 years of age is employed. Maternal employment is a part of modern life, but its effects continue to be debated.
Most research on parental work has focused on the role of maternal employment on young children’s development (Brooks-Gunn, Han, & Waldfogel, 2010). However, the effects of working parents involve the father as well as the mother when such matters as work schedules and work-family stress are considered (O’Brien & Moss, 2010; Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). Recent research indicates that the nature of parents’ work has more influence on children’s development than the fact that one parent works outside the home (Han, 2009; Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). Work can produce positive and negative effects on parenting (Crouter & McHale, 2005). Ann Crouter (2006) described how parents bring their experiences at work into their homes. She concluded that parents who face poor working conditions such as long hours, overtime work, stressful work, and lack of autonomy on the job are likely to be more irritable at home and to engage in less effective parenting than their counterparts with better working conditions. A consistent finding is that children (especially girls) of working mothers engage in less gender stereotyping and have more egalitarian views of gender than children whose mothers are not employed outside the home (Goldberg & Lucas-Thompson, 2008).


Divorce rates changed rather dramatically in the United States and many countries around the world in the late twentieth century (Amato & Dorius, 2010). The U.S. divorce rate increased dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s but has declined since the 1980s. However, the divorce rate in the United States remains much higher than it is in most other countries.
It is estimated that 40 percent of children born to married parents in the United States will experience their parents’ divorce (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 2002). Let’s examine some important questions about children in divorced families.
Are children better adjusted in intact, never-divorced families than in divorced families? Most researchers agree that children from divorced families show poorer adjustment than their counterparts in nondivorced families (Amato & Dorius, 2010; Hetherington, 2006; Lansford, 2012; Robbers & others, 2012; Wallerstein, 2008) (see Figure 8.6). Those who have experienced multiple divorces are at greater risk. Children in divorced families are more likely than children in nondivorced families to have academic problems, to show externalized problems (such as acting out and delinquency) and internalized problems (such as anxiety and depression), to be less socially responsible, to have less competent intimate relationships, to drop out of school, to become sexually active at an early age, to take drugs, to associate with antisocial peers, to have low self-esteem, and to be less securely attached as young adults (Conger & Chao, 1996). Nonetheless, keep in mind that a majority of children in divorced families do not have significant adjustment problems (Ahrons, 2007). One study found that 20 years after their parents had divorced when they were children, approximately 80 percent of adults concluded that their parents’ decision to divorce was a wise one (Ahrons, 2004).
Should parents stay together for the sake of the children? Whether parents should stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of their children is one of the most commonly asked questions about divorce (Hetherington, 2006). If the stresses and disruptions in family relationships associated with an unhappy, conflictual marriage that erode the well-being of children are reduced by the move to a divorced, single-parent family, divorce can be advantageous. However, if the diminished resources and increased risks associated with divorce also are accompanied by inept parenting and sustained or increased conflict, not only between the divorced couple but also among the parents, children, and siblings, the best choice for the children would be that an unhappy marriage is retained (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 2002). It is difficult to determine how these “ifs” will play out when parents either remain together in an acrimonious marriage or become divorced.
Note that marital conflict may have negative consequences for children in the context of marriage or divorce (El-Sheikh & others, 2012). And many of the problems that children from divorced homes experience begin during the predivorce period, a time when parents are oft en in active conflict with each other. Thus, when children from divorced homes show problems, the problems may not be due only to the divorce but also to the marital conflict that led to it.
E. Mark Cummings and his colleagues (Cummings & Davies, 2010; Cummings, El-Sheikh, & Kouros, 2009; Cummings & Schatz, 2012; Koss & others, 2011, 2012) have proposed emotion security theory, which has its roots in attachment theory and states that children appraise marital conflict in terms of their sense of security and safety in the family. They make a distinction between marital conflict that is negative for children (such as hostile emotional displays and destructive conflict tactics) and marital conflict that can be positive for children (such as marital disagreement that involves calmly discussing each person’s perspective and then working together to reach a solution).
How much do family processes matter in divorced families? Family processes matter a great deal (Lansford, 2012; Sigal & others, 2011; Sutherland, Altenhofen, & Biringen, 2012). For example, when divorced parents’ relationship with each other is harmonious and when they use authoritative parenting, the adjustment of children improves (Hetherington, 2006). When the divorced parents can agree on childrearing strategies and can maintain a cordial relationship with each other, frequent visits by the noncustodial parent usually benefit the child (Fabricius & others, 2010). Following a divorce, father involvement with children drops off more than mother involvement, especially for fathers of girls. Also, a recent study in divorced families revealed that an intervention focused on improving the mother-child relationship was linked to improvements in relationship quality that increased children’s coping skills over the short term (6 months) and long term (6 years) (Velez & others, 2011).
What factors influence an individual child’s vulnerability to suffering negative consequences from living in a divorced family? Among the factors involved in the child’s risk and vulnerability is the child’s adjustment prior to the divorce, as well as the child’s personality and temperament, gender, and custody situation (Hetherington, 2006). Children whose parents later divorce show poorer adjustment before the breakup (Amato & Booth, 1996). Children who are socially mature and responsible, who show few behavioral problems, and who have an easy temperament are better able to cope with their parents’ divorce. Children with a difficult temperament oft en have problems coping with their parents’ divorce (Hetherington, 2000).
Earlier studies reported gender differences in response to divorce, with divorce being more negative for boys than girls in mother-custody families. However, more recent studies have shown that gender differences are less pronounced and consistent than was previously believed. Some of the inconsistency may be due to the increase in father custody, joint custody, and increased involvement of noncustodial fathers, especially in their sons’ lives (Ziol-Guest, 2009). Research on whether different types of custodial arrangements are better for children in divorced families has yielded inconsistent results (Spruijt & Duindam, 2010). An analysis of studies found that children in joint-custody families were better adjusted than children in sole-custody families (Bauserman, 2002). However, joint custody works best for children when the parents can get along with each other (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). What role does socioeconomic status play in the lives of children in divorced families? Custodial mothers experience the loss of about one-fourth to one-half of their predivorce income, in comparison with a loss of only one-tenth by custodial fathers. This income loss for divorced mothers is accompanied by increased workloads, high rates of job instability, and residential moves to less desirable neighborhoods with inferior schools (Sayer, 2006). In sum, many factors are involved in determining how divorce influences a child’s development (Hetherington, 2006; Lansford, 2012). fig 8.6


Increasingly, gay and lesbian couples are creating families that include children (Patterson & D’Augelli, 2013). Approximately 20 percent of lesbians and 10 percent of gays are parents. There may be more than 1 million gay and lesbian parents in the United States today.
Like heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian parents vary greatly. They may be single or they may have same-gender partners. Many lesbian mothers and gay fathers are noncustodial parents because they lost custody of their children to heterosexual spouses after a divorce. In addition, gays and lesbians are increasingly choosing parenthood through donor insemination or adoption. Researchers have found that the children created through new reproductive technologies—such as in vitro fertilization—are as well adjusted as their counterparts conceived by natural means (Golombok, 2011a, b; Golombok & Tasker, 2010).
Parenthood among lesbians and gays is controversial. Opponents claim that being raised by gay or lesbian parents harms the child’s development. But researchers have found few differences between children growing up with lesbian mothers or gay fathers on the one hand, and children growing up with heterosexual parents on the other (Golombok & Tasker, 2010; Patterson, 2012; Patterson & Farr, 2012). For example, children growing up in gay or lesbian families are just as popular with their peers, and no differences are found in the adjustment and mental health of children living in these families when they are compared with children in heterosexual families (Hyde, & Else-Quest, 2013). Contrary to the once-popular expectation that being raised by a gay or lesbian parent would result in the child growing up to be gay or lesbian, in reality the overwhelming majority of children from gay or lesbian families have a heterosexual orientation (Golombok & Tasker, 2010; Tasker & Golombok, 1997).


Parenting can be influenced by culture, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (Parra Cardona & others, 2012; Taylor & others, 2012; Widom & Nikulina, 2012). Recall from Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory that a number of social contexts influence the child’s development. In Bronfenbrenner’s theory, culture, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are classified as part of the macrosystem because they represent broader, societal contexts.

Cross-Cultural Studies Different cultures often give different answers to basic questions such as what the father’s role in the family should be, what support systems are available to families, and how children should be disciplined (Bekman & Aksu-Koc, 2012). There are important cross-cultural variations in parenting and the value placed on children (Trommsdorff, 2012). In some cultures, such as rural areas of many countries, authoritarian parenting is widespread.
Cultural change, brought about by factors such as increasingly frequent international travel, the Internet and electronic communications, and economic globalization, is coming to families in many countries around the world. There are trends toward greater family mobility, migration to urban areas, separation as some family members work in cities or countries far from their homes, smaller families, fewer extended-family households, and increases in maternal employment (Brown & Larson, 2002). These trends can change the resources that are available to children. For example, when several generations no longer live near each other, children may lose support and guidance from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. On the positive side, smaller families may produce more openness and communication between parents and children.

Ethnicity Families within different ethnic groups in the United States differ in their typical size, structure, composition, reliance on kinship networks, and levels of income and education (Conger & others, 2012; Gonzales & others, 2012). Large and extended families are more common among minority groups than among the non-Latino White majority. For example, 19 percent of Latino families have three or more children, compared with 14 percent of African American and 10 percent of White families. African American and Latino children interact more with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more distant relatives than do White children.
Single-parent families are more common among African Americans and Latinos than among White Americans (Zeiders, Roosa, & Tein, 2011). In comparison with two-parent households, single parents oft en have more limited resources of time, money, and energy (Wright & others, 2012). Ethnic minority parents also are less educated and more likely to live in low-income circumstances than their White counterparts. Still, many impoverished ethnic minority families manage to find ways to raise competent children (Hattery & Smith, 2007). Of course, individual families vary, and how ethnic minority families deal with stress depends on many factors (Nieto & Bode, 2012). Whether the parents are native-born or immigrants, how long the family has been in this country, its socioeconomic status, and its national origin all make a difference (Gonzales & others, 2012). The characteristics of the family’s social context also influence its adaptation. What are the attitudes toward the family’s ethnic group within its neighborhood or city? Can the family’s children attend good schools? Are there community groups that welcome people from the family’s ethnic group? Do members of the family’s ethnic group form community groups of their own?
Recently immigrated families may face special problems. Many individuals in immigrant families are dealing with problems associated with being undocumented. Living in an undocumented family can affect children’s developmental outcomes because of parents’ unwillingness to sign up for services for which they may be eligible, conditions linked to low-wage work and lack of benefits, stress, and a lack of cognitive stimulation in the home (Yoshikawa, 2011).
Ethnic minority/immigrant children and their parents are expected to move beyond their own cultural background and identify with aspects of the dominant culture. They undergo varying degrees of acculturation, which refers to cultural changes that occur when one culture comes in contact with another. Asian American parents, for example, may feel pressed to modify the traditional training style of parental control discussed earlier as they encounter the more permissive parenting typical of the dominant culture.
Recent research indicates that many members of families that have recently immigrated to the United States adopt a bicultural orientation, selecting characteristics of the U.S. culture that help them to survive and advance, while still retaining aspects of their culture of origin (Mok & Morris, 2012). In adopting characteristics of the U.S. culture, Latino families are increasingly embracing its emphasis on education (Cooper, 2011). Although their school dropout rates have remained higher than those of other ethnic groups, toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century they declined considerably (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). However, while many ethnic/immigrant families adopt a bicultural orientation, parenting in many ethnic minority families also focuses on issues associated with promoting children’s ethnic pride, knowledge of their ethnic group, and awareness of discrimination (Ho & others, 2012; Hughes & others, 2009; Rogers & others, 2012; Simpkins & others, 2012).

Socioeconomic Status Low-income families have less access to resources than higherincome families do (Conger & others, 2012; Duncan, 2012; Evans & others, 2012). The differential in access to resources encompasses nutrition, health care, protection from danger, and enriching educational and socialization opportunities such as tutoring and lessons in various activities (Glick & Clark, 2012; Huston, 2012). These differences are compounded in low-income families characterized by long-term poverty (Maholmes & King, 2012; Widom & Nikulina, 2012). A recent study found that persistent economic hardship and very early poverty were linked to lower cognitive functioning in children at 5 years of age (Schoon & others, 2012).
In the United States and most Western cultures, differences have been found in child rearing among families with different socioeconomic statuses (SES) (Hoff, Laursen, & Tardif, 2002, p. 246):

• “Lower-SES parents (1) are more concerned that their children conform to society’s expectations, (2) create a home atmosphere in which it is clear that parents have authority over children,” (3) use physical punishment more in disciplining their children, and (4) are more directive and less conversational with their children.
• “Higher-SES parents (1) are more concerned with developing children’s initiative” and delay of gratification, “(2) create a home atmosphere in which children are more nearly equal participants and in which rules are discussed as opposed to being laid down” in an authoritarian manner, (3) are less likely to use physical punishment, and (4) “are less directive and more conversational” with their children.


What are the functions of a child’s peer group? One of its most important functions is to provide a source of information and comparison about the world outside the family. Children receive feedback about their abilities from their peer group. Children evaluate what they do in terms of whether it is better than, as good as, or worse than what other children do. It is hard to make these judgments at home because siblings are usually older or younger.
Good peer relations can be necessary for normal socioemotional development (Ladd & others, 2012; Ryan & Ladd, 2012). Special concerns in peer relations focus on children who are withdrawn or aggressive (Roll, Koglin, & Petermann, 2012; Rubin & others, 2011, 2013). Withdrawn children who are rejected by peers or are victimized and feel lonely are at risk for depression. Children who are aggressive with their peers are at risk for developing a number of problems, including delinquency and dropping out of school (Bukowski, Buhrmester, & Underwood, 2011).


Recall from our discussion of gender that, by about the age of 3, children already prefer to spend time with same-sex rather than opposite-sex playmates, and this preference increases in early childhood. During these same years the frequency of peer interaction, both positive and negative, picks up considerably (Cillessen & Bellmore, 2011). Many preschool children spend considerable time in peer interaction conversing with playmates about such matters as “negotiating roles and rules in play, arguing, and agreeing” (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). And during early childhood children’s interactions with peers become more coordinated and involve longer turns and sequences (Coplan & Arbeau, 2009).


In early childhood, children distinguish between friends and nonfriends (Howes, 2009). For most young children, a friend is someone to play with. Young preschool children are more likely than older children to have friends who are of different gender and ethnicity (Howes, 2009).


Parents may influence their children’s peer relations in many ways, both directly and indirectly (Reich & Vandell, 2011). Parents affect such relations through their interactions with their children, how they manage their children’s lives, and the opportunities they provide to their children (Brown & Bakken, 2011).
Basic lifestyle decisions by parents—their choices of neighborhoods, churches, schools, and their own friends—largely determine the pool from which their children select possible friends. These choices in turn affect which children their children meet, their purpose in interacting, and eventually which children become their friends.
Researchers also have found that children’s peer relations are linked to attachment security and parents’ marital quality (Booth-LaForce & Kerns, 2009). Early attachments to caregivers provide a connection to children’s peer relations not only by creating a secure base from which children can explore social relationships beyond the family but also by conveying a working model of relationships (Hartup, 2009).
Do these results indicate that children’s peer relations always are wedded to parent-child relationships? Although parent-child relationships influence children’s subsequent peer relations, children also learn other modes of relating through their relationships with peers. For example, rough-and-tumble play occurs mainly with other children, not in parent-child interaction. In times of stress, children often turn to parents rather than peers for support. In parent-child relationships, children learn how to relate to authority figures. With their peers, children are likely to interact on a much more equal basis and to learn a mode of relating based on mutual influence. We will have much more to say about peer relations in “Socioemotional Development in Middle and Late Childhood.”


Play makes important contributions to young children’s cognitive and socioemotional development (Coplan & Arbeau, 2009; Pellegrini, 2013). Theorists have focused on different aspects of play and highlighted a long list of functions.
According to Freud and Erikson, play helps children master anxieties and conflicts. Because tensions are relieved in play, children can cope with life’s problems. Play permits children to work off excess physical energy and to release pent-up tensions. Therapists use play therapy both to allow children to work off frustrations and to analyze children’s conflicts and ways of coping with them (Sanders, 2008). Children may feel less threatened and be more likely to express their true feelings in the context of play.
Play also is an important context for cognitive development (Power, 2011). Both Piaget and Vygotsky concluded that play is a child’s work. Piaget (1962) maintained that play advances children’s cognitive development. At the same time, he said that children’s cognitive development constrains the way they play. Play permits children to practice their competencies and acquired skills in a relaxed, pleasurable way. Piaget thought that cognitive structures need to be exercised, and play provides the perfect setting for this exercise.
Vygotsky (1962) also considered play to be an excellent setting for cognitive development. He was especially interested in the symbolic and make-believe aspects of play, as when a child substitutes a stick for a horse and rides the stick as if it were a horse. For young children, the imaginary situation is real. Parents should encourage such imaginary play, because it advances the child’s cognitive development, especially creative thought.
Daniel Berlyne (1960) described play as exciting and pleasurable in itself because it satisfies our exploratory drive. This drive involves curiosity and a desire for information about something new or unusual. Play encourages exploratory behavior by offering children the possibilities of novelty, complexity, uncertainty, surprise, and incongruity.
More recently, play has been described as an important context for the development of language and communication skills (Harris, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2011; Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2013). Language and communication skills may be enhanced through discussions and negotiations regarding roles and rules in play as young children practice various words and phrases. These types of social interactions during play can benefit young children’s literacy skills (Gunning, 2013; Morrow, 2012). Play is a central focus of the child-centered kindergarten and is thought to be an essential aspect of early childhood education (Feeney, Moravcik, & Nolte, 2013; Henninger, 2013).


The contemporary perspective on play emphasizes both the cognitive and the social aspects of play (Fung & Cheng, 2012; Vong, 2012). Among the most widely studied types of children’s play today are sensorimotor and practice play, pretense/symbolic play, social play, constructive play, and games (Bergen, 1988).

Sensorimotor and Practice Play Sensorimotor play is behavior by infants that lets them derive pleasure from exercising their sensorimotor schemes. The development of sensorimotor play follows Piaget’s description of sensorimotor thought. Infants initially engage in exploratory and playful visual and motor transactions in the second quarter of the first year of life. At about 9 months of age, infants begin to select novel objects for exploration and play, especially responsive objects such as toys that make noise or bounce.
Practice play involves the repetition of behavior when new skills are being learned or when physical or mental mastery and coordination of skills are required for games or sports. Sensorimotor play, which oft en involves practice play, is primarily confined to infancy, whereas practice play can be engaged in throughout life. During the preschool years, children oft en engage in practice play.

Pretense/Symbolic Play Pretense/symbolic play occurs when the child transforms the physical environment into a symbol. Between 9 and 30 months of age, children increase their use of objects in symbolic play. They learn to transform objects—substituting them for other objects and acting toward them as if they were those other objects. For example, a preschool child treats a table as if it were a car and says, “I’m fixing the car,” as he grabs a leg of the table.
Many experts on play consider the preschool years the “golden age” of symbolic/ pretense play that is dramatic or sociodramatic in nature. This type of make-believe play often appears at about 18 months of age and reaches a peak at 4 to 5 years of age, then gradually declines.
Some child psychologists conclude that pretend play is an important aspect of young children’s development and oft en reflects advances in their cognitive development, especially as an indication of symbolic understanding. For example, Catherine Garvey (2000) and Angeline Lillard (2006) emphasize that hidden in young children’s pretend play narratives are remarkable capacities for role-taking, balancing of social roles, metacognition (thinking about thinking), testing of the reality-pretense distinction, and numerous nonegocentric capacities that reveal the remarkable cognitive skills of young children. In one recent analysis, a major accomplishment in early childhood is the development of children’s ability to share their pretend play with peers (Coplan & Arbeau, 2009). And researchers have found that pretend play contributes to young children’s self-regulation, mainly because of the self-monitoring and social sensitivity that is required in creating and enacting a sociodramatic narrative in cooperation with other children (Diamond & others, 2007).

Social Play Social play involves interaction with peers. Social play increases dramatically during the preschool years. For many children, social play is the main context for young children’s social interactions with peers (Power, 2011).

Constructive Play Constructive play combines sensorimotor/practice play with symbolic representation. It occurs when children engage in the self-regulated creation of a product or a solution. Constructive play increases in the preschool years as symbolic play increases and sensorimotor play decreases. It also becomes a frequent form of play in the elementary school years, both in and out of the classroom.


Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Golinkoff, and Dorothy Singer (Hirsh-Pasek & others, 2009; Singer, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006) are concerned about the amount of time for free play that young children have, reporting that it has declined considerably in recent decades. They especially are worried about young children’s playtime being restricted at home and school so they can spend more time on academic subjects. They also point out that many schools have eliminated recess. And it is not just the declining time for free play that bothers them. They underscore that learning in playful contexts captivates children’s minds in ways that enhance their cognitive and socioemotional development—Singer, Golinkoff, and Hirsh-Pasek’s (2006) first book on play was titled: PlayLearning. Among the cognitive benefits of play they described are skills in the following areas: creativity; abstract thinking; imagination; attention, concentration, and persistence; problem-solving; social cognition, empathy, and perspective taking; language; and mastery of new concepts. Among the socioemotional experiences and development they believe play promotes are enjoyment, relaxation, and selfexpression; cooperation, sharing, and turn-taking; anxiety reduction; and self-confidence. With so many positive cognitive and socioemotional outcomes of play, clearly it is important that we find more time for play in young children’s lives.

Games Games are activities that children engage in for pleasure and that have rules. Often they involve competition. Preschool children may begin to participate in social games that involve simple rules of reciprocity and turn taking. However, games take on a much stronger role in the lives of elementary school children. In one study, the highest incidence of game playing occurred between 10 and 12 years of age (Eiferman, 1971). After age 12, games decline in popularity (Bergen, 1988).


The extent to which children are exposed to violence and aggression on television raises special concerns (Matos, Ferreira, & Haase, 2012). For example, Saturday morning cartoon shows average more than 25 violent acts per hour. In one experiment, preschool children were randomly assigned to one of two groups: One group watched television shows taken directly from violent Saturday morning cartoons on 11 days; the second group watched television cartoon shows with all of the violence removed (Steur, Applefield, & Smith, 1971). The children were then observed during play at their preschool. The preschool children who had seen the TV cartoon shows with violence kicked, choked, and pushed their playmates more than did the preschool children who watched nonviolent TV cartoon shows. Because the children were randomly assigned to the two conditions (TV cartoons with violence versus nonviolent TV cartoons), we can conclude that exposure to TV violence caused the increased aggression in the children in this investigation.
Other research has found links between watching television violence as a child and acting aggressively years later. For example, in one study, exposure to media violence at 6 to 10 years of age was linked with young adult aggressive behavior (Huesmann & others, 2003).
In addition to television violence, there is increased concern about children who play violent video games, especially those that are highly realistic (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008). Recent research reviews have concluded that playing violent video games is linked to aggression in both males and females (Gentile, 2011; Holtz & Appel, 2011).


Television can have a positive influence on children’s development by presenting motivating educational programs, providing information about the world beyond their immediate environment, and displaying models of prosocial behavior (Wilson, 2008). Researchers have found that when children watch positive social interchanges in which children are taught how to use social skills on the TV show Sesame Street, they subsequently are likely to imitate these positive social behaviors (Bryant, 2007).