From the moment children are born, parents celebrate milestones such as the first time their child sits up, crawls, says her first words and stands up on her own. However, physical skills are only one measure of a child's development. Children also demonstrate intellectual development, emotional development and language development. All development types are important, but social development is critical at an early age, because it establishes the foundation for a child's interaction with adults and other children.
Three Year Olds
Three year olds are learning to play with other children and may also create invisible friends with whom they talk. They can undress with help from adults and are more concerned with trying to make their parents happy. Three year olds are more apt to follow directions, but will ask for help if a task is too difficult. Given a choice between two or more items, they can decide which one they like more. Three year olds are also easily frustrated, which is expressed through tantrums.
Four Year Olds
Four year olds cooperate with other children in play activities and are learning the concept of sharing. They may try resolving problems on their own but will still ask their parents for assistance on more difficult issues. Their imagination is becoming more creative and they may crave more independence and ask their parents to do more things on their own. Their need to be liked by others spurs them to do things that will garner praise from peers and from adults.
Five Year Olds
By the age of 5, children have developed a wider group of friends and may mimic behaviour of their peers to gain approval. They understand rules and are more apt to follow them now that they are aware of the consequences of disobedience. Their need for independence may grow stronger, as will their imagination, which may prompt them to create stories. Children at this age socialise mostly with their own gender, but will interact with the opposite sex at parties or other social events. They may also exhibit concern for the feelings of others. Many children at this age can dress and undress without help from an adult.
Erikson's Psychosocial Theory of Development
Several theories exist about the nature and stages of social development. One of the most well-known is by Erik Erikson, a German psychoanalyst influenced by Sigmund Freud. Erikson postulated that children experience three distinct stages of development: trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and initiative versus guilt. From birth to 2 years old, Erikson theorised that children develop hope based on trust in their caregivers. Between ages 2 and 3, children veer between independence and the shame of frustration. From ages 3 to 5, children develop initiative and create their own play activities, which instils a sense of purpose in their lives. They may experience guilt, however, if this newfound purpose is thwarted by adult disapproval.