Social Interaction in Children

Interpersonal interactions in children play a central role in the Social Development Theory of Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

Unlike Jean Piaget, who believed that development always precedes learning, Vygotsky considered things the other way around. According to his theory, learning is a prerequisite for development and more specifically, for social development. Social interaction is a core issue in Vygotsky's theories of cognitive development. He believed community is crucial to defining the meaning of things.

Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that children are curious and actively participate in their own learning and reasoning development, however, Vygotsky stresses the contribution of the social interaction to that process.

According to Vygotsky, the development of higher mental functions, such as reasoning and understanding, is a social process rather than individual. The interpersonal interactions of children play the role of a mediator between the child and the world. Therefore, understanding the social interactions of children would help understand their process of learning, according to Vygotsky.

The concept of the "Zone of Proximal Development" is central for Vygotsky's theory. According to Vygotsky, children can have different achievements when left solving a problem on their own and when being helped. The Zone of Proximal Development is the area in which children receive instructions and guidance in order to develop their own skills and higher mental functions. For instance, a child can find solving a puzzle very difficult if unaided, but when another person gives him or her some clues and guidance he or she will solve it more easily and quickly.

According to Vygotsky, an essential part of children's learning takes place via interaction with a competent tutor, the so called "more knowledgeable other", who could be not only a teacher or parent, but any other person depending on the area of knowledge to be developed.

Vygotsky considered the interpersonal interaction a means of developing skills and strategies. He believed teaching should be based on cooperative learning where children should interact with more skillful and developed peers in order to learn in the Zone of Proximal Development.

In 1990 Freund carried out a research with children on the Zone of Proximal Development. Children had to arrange pieces of furniture in a doll house. Some of the children were left to play similar games with their mothers before the study, following Vygotsky's theory, while others had to manage it by themselves, in order to test Piaget's theory of discovery learning. Freund concluded that the children who had learned within the Zone of Proximal Development demonstrated better results at the first attempt.

According to Piaget's theory, children of pre-school age between 3 and 7 years old are considered at a "preoperational stage" of development, when their reasoning is still egocentric. Even at this age children have demonstrated they quickly develop social interaction skills, showing understanding of the emotions of peers. Vital social skills in early childhood include listener responsiveness and the ability to keep attention. At the age of 4 to 5, creating alternative solutions is considered a vital ability by peers. At this stage children gradually move forward from parallel play to coordinated play. According to Gottman, non-stereotyped coordinated games allow children to take up social roles or get rid of some fears. The idea of a friend in early childhood is transitory and it refers to a peer children play with.

During middle childhood, or the "concrete operations" stage in Piaget's theory, at the age of between 7 and 13, children learn how to interact with peers outside the family. The generation of alternative solutions becomes even more important skill, as it is related to the solution of interpersonal conflicts and social problems. Children start to consider a friend someone who helps and supports them.

Psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, known for his social development theory, identified eight stages of social development. The first four stages take place in childhood. According to his theory, during the first one or two years of people's lives children develop either security and trust, or insecurity and mistrust, depending on the interaction with their parents. By the fourth year children should grow proud and autonomous rather than ashamed via an appropriate interaction with their parents. In the pre-school period, during the so called "play age", children should learn to cooperate with peers by playing games and develop their imagination. After the sixth year, during the school period, children should improve their formal social skills and learn how to interact with peers under rules.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Social Interaction and the Development of Knowledge
Jeremy I. M. Carpendale; Ulrich Miiller.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Classroom Interaction and Social Learning: From Theory to Practice
Kristiina Kumpulainen; David Wray.
RoutledgeFalmer, 2002
Children at Play: An American History
Howard P. Chudacoff.
New York University Press, 2007
Early Years Play and Learning: Developing Social Skills and Cooperation
Pat Broadhead.
RoutledgeFalmer, 2004
Social Skills of Children and Adolescents: Conceptualization, Assessment, Treatment
Kenneth W. Merrell; Gretchen A. Gimpel.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Replays: Using Play to Enhance Emotional and Behavioral Development for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Karen Levine; Naomi Chedd.
Jessica Kingsley, 2007
Play and Social Interaction in Middle Childhood: Play Is Vital for a Child's Emotional and Cognitive Development. but Social and Technological Forces Threaten the Kinds of Play Kids Need Most
Bergen, Doris; Fromberg, Doris Pronin.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 90, No. 6, February 2009
Adolescents 'Vulnerability to Peer Victimization: Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Predictors
D'Esposito, Susan E.; Blake, Jamilia; Riccio, Cynthia A.
Professional School Counseling, Vol. 14, No. 5, June 2011
Social Skills and Emotional and Behavioral Traits of Preschool Children
Arslan, Emel; Durmusoglu-Saltali, Neslihan; Yilmaz, Hasan.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 39, No. 9, October 2011
Social Inclusion-The Next Step: User-Friendly Strategies to Promote Social Interaction and Peer Acceptance of Children with Disabilities
Batchelor, Denise; Taylor, Heather.
Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 30, No. 4, December 2005
Children with Visual Impairments: Social Interaction, Language and Learning
Alec Webster; João Roe.
Routledge, 1998
The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish
T. Berry Brazelton; Stanley I. Greenspan.
Perseus, 2000
Social Skills and Leadership Abilities among Children in Small-Group Literature Discussions
Lacina, Jan.
Childhood Education, Vol. 87, No. 4, Summer 2011
Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills
John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 19 "Parenting Skills and Social-Communicative Competence in Childhood"
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