It was the first day of kindergarten. The children arrived with new clothes, lunch boxes, book bags stuffed with wide-line tablets, fat pencils, a blanket for naptime, and a box of 100 crayons. As a teacher, I watched the children’s faces and those of their parents and realized that some of these children were not ready to leave home. Small hands clutched a parent’s hand, eyes brimmed with tears, and even a few sobs echoed from one corner of the room. For some, the socialization process had not occurred.
Specific tasks related to social development occur in early childhood, just like developmental tasks occur in cognitive growth. The term social refers to a relationship or interaction between two or more people, who by definition respond to each other and influence each other’s behavior. Socialization is an important process in child development. Stated simply, it is the process whereby individuals, especially children, become functioning members of a particular group and take on the values, behaviors, and beliefs of the group’s other members. Although the process begins shortly after birth and continues into adulthood, the age of early childhood is a crucial period of socialization. How children are disciplined, how they respond to this discipline, and how they develop independent behavior are all connected to the process in which socialization occurs.
The Family and Parental Influences
Families are different, and the role of the family is changing. According to Smart and Smart (1980), “Each family is unique in the expectations of the people in various roles, in its patterns of interaction, its history of development, and its relationship with other systems” (p.21). However, family categories usually fall into three groups:
- The nuclear family consists of a mother, father, and offspring living together.
- When two or more families live together, this is known as an extended family. Within this group are grandparents, uncles, aunts, or other relatives.
- The third family group is that of single parent households. The proportion of children living in single-parent homes more than doubled between 1970 and 1998 – from 12% to 28%. Children living only with their mothers were more than twice as likely to live in poverty than those living with only their fathers (47% vs. 20%). (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census. Current Population Survey: Families and Living Arrangements).
Dimensions of Parental Behavior
Researchers believe that acceptance-rejection and control-autonomy are contributing factors that determine a family’s attitude toward child rearing. The structure of the family and the personality characteristics of individual parents make a difference in socialization as will be demonstrated in the following examples.
Will, a father of two young children, believes that spending time each day with his kids is vital to developing strong family ties. During this time, the children talk about their day, engage in some type of physical activity, such as going for a walk, playing with their dog, or enjoying simple games. Hugging his children, telling them how important they are in Will’s life is a part of each day. In return, his children feel accepted in this warm environment. His friends often remark, “Your children show such responsibility and self-control. What are you doing that makes a difference?” When children feel this level of acceptance, they want to please and parents become their best role model.
Next, let’s look at Susan a mother of a six-year-old. At the end of a long workday, Susan is exhausted. Instead of giving her daughter a few minutes of quality time when she comes home, she immediately starts working on the home chores. “Every time I want to talk to my mother, she is too busy, too tired, or says ‘wait till later’,” remarks her daughter. Later never seems to come. Parents who use rejection in parental behavior may have children who are hostile and aggressive toward others.
I recall a home of six youngsters where the children were extremely well behaved. Some years later I talked with one of the adolescent boys in that home and he said, “On occasion, my father had to watch us while our mother ran to the grocery store. He made each one of us sit on the couch and dared us to move. A large paddle stood nearby. We were scared to death of him.” Restrictive parents who use strict control usually have children who are well behaved. However, these children may be highly dependent on the parents.
On the other hand, parents and teachers that are highly permissive allow children to make the rules. In these settings, the child is clearly the “boss.” Take for example, Lorri and her three year-old son. “Whenever my friends visit, my son interrupts constantly, jumps on the furniture, and is loud and noisy,” says Lorri. “Often I have to count to three several times. Nothing seems to help.” Children who see autonomy as a form of parental and caregiver behavior may be sociable and assertive youngsters who are aggressive.
Achieving a balance between these dimensions of parental behavior seems to be the ideal, yet it is difficult to accomplish.
The Effects of Punishment and Discipline
The approach to punishment and discipline is another developmental task of learning. When children misbehave, teachers or parents may use some form of discipline. This approach may be in the form of spanking, scolding, yelling, embarrassing, or making the child feel inferior or unloved. Often a combination of these is involved. These negative approaches may have unwanted results (Park, 1977).
Parents and teachers that rely on a positive approach to discipline teach the child the appropriate behavior and reinforce that behavior, which makes it less likely to recur in the future. For example, if a child turns over their milk at the table, have them clean up the spill instead of punishing. This positive approach teaches the child what to do when an accident happens.
Consistency is vital in guiding children to a higher level of socialization. Often teachers scold or punish a child for a behavior one day, and the next appear to ignore the same behavior. This happens due to the mood of the teacher at the moment. Consistency in discipline allows the child to know what he can and cannot do. Parents and teachers can assist children in socialization by building a sense of trust and a feeling they can have some control over their life (Maccoby, 1980).
Children who are disruptive and seek attention may draw attention to self through silly behaviors, immature or regressive actions, loud talking, and making inappropriate noises or gestures. Educators suggest that parents terminate disruptive attention-seeking behaviors and increase cooperative, prosocial interactions. (Jongsma, Peterson, McInnis, 2000)
Educators and sociologists seem to agree that socialization of the child determines how the adult relates to life. Society often dictates expectations. Teachers and parents working together as a team can help children reach higher standards of socialization.