Social development in early childhood

  • H. R. Schaffer
Part of the Psychology for Professional Groups book series (PPG)


Psychologists study children for two main reasons. First, they want to find out how a helpless, naïve and totally dependent baby manages in due course to become a competent, knowledgeable adult. They are interested therefore in studying the process of development. The second reason stems from the many social problems associated with childhood. Should we protect children from viewing violence on television? Are children of mothers who go out to work more likely to become delinquent? Does hospitalization in the early years produce later difficulties? How can one mitigate the effects of divorce on children? Why do some parents become baby batterers? Increasingly the psychologist is asked to examine such problems and produce answers useful to society. It is primarily to this aspect of child psychology that we pay attention here.


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Annotated reading

  1. Booth, T. (1975) Growing up in Society. London: Methuen (Essential Psychology Series). A general account of the influences that determine the way in which people grow up together. It takes into account not only the contribution of psychology but of such other social sciences as sociology, anthropology and social history. Its main value lies in the way child development is seen as occurring within the social context of each particular culture.Google Scholar
  2. Bowlby, J. (1965) Child Care and the Growth of Love. Harmondsworth: Penguin. A more widely available version of Bowlby’s classic report, first published in 1951, concerning the link between maternal deprivation and mental pathology. It should be read in conjunction with Rutter’s book (see below).Google Scholar
  3. Clarke, A.M. and Clarke, A.D.B. (1976) Early Experience: Myth and evidence. London: Open Books. A collection of contributions by different authors, all concerned with the question of whether early experience exerts a disproportionate influence on later development. A wide range of research studies are reviewed, and the consensus is against seeing the early years as in some sense more important than later stages of development.Google Scholar
  4. Dunn, J. (1977) Distress and Comfort. London: Fontana/Open Books. Discusses some of the issues that concern parents during the early stages of the child’s life, with particular reference to the causes and alleviation of distress, but places these issues in the wider context of the parent-child relationship and its cultural significance.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Kempe, R.S. and Kempe, H. (1978) Child Abuse. London: Fontana/Open Books. An account by the foremost experts on child abuse of the state of knowledge regarding all aspects of this vexed area: causation, treatment and prevention.Google Scholar
  6. Lewin, R. (1975) Child Alive. London: Temple-Smith. Various researchers summarize in brief and popularized form what we have learnt about child development in recent years. Most contributions deal with young children, and the book as a whole emphasizes how babies are already psychologically sophisticated.Google Scholar
  7. Rutter, M. (1972) Maternal Deprivation Reassessed. Harmondsworth: Penguin. A systematic review of the evidence on this controversial topic that has accumulated since Bowlby highlighted its importance. Discusses the various studies that have been carried out on the effects, both short- and long-term, of early deprivation of maternal care.Google Scholar
  8. Schaffer, H.R. (1971) The Growth of Sociability. Harmondsworth: Penguin. A description of work on the earliest stages of social development. It shows how sociability in the early years has been studied, and reviews what we have learnt about the way in which a child’s first social relationships are formed.Google Scholar
  9. Schaffer, H.R. (1977) Mothering. London: Fontana/Open Books. An account of what is involved in being a parent. Brings together the evidence from recent studies of the motherchild relationship, and examines different conceptions of the parent’s task. Gives special emphasis to the theme of mutuality in the relationship.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Tizard, B. (1977) Adoption: A second chance. London: Open Books. An account of an important research study on children in residential care who were subsequently adopted. Raises some crucial issues regarding the effects of early experience and the public care of young children.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The British Psychological Society 1982

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  • H. R. Schaffer

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