1.1 Social Interaction in Early Childhood: What is social interaction? What are the various types social interaction? What is its rationale?

Chapter 1


1.1 Define social interaction.


Welcome to the first Chapter in social interaction in early childhood. To begin with, we will try to understand the meaning of social interaction. We will try to discuss the facts that make social interaction as a unit necessary for professionals in early childhood. We will also focus on basic mechanisms that influence social interaction patterns.



You have heard people say that human beings are social animals. This may simply mean that one cannot live in total isolation but must relate with others in some way. As one lives with others there must be some form of contact that involves at least two people.

Describe the various types social interaction.

Social interaction as a concept is basically a combination of two separate terms that could be defined singly. Let us define the two words according to the Winston Dictionary,

  • Social- The term is used to describe the aspect of men living in association with one another.
  • Interaction- Refers to the effect of one thing on another or mutual influence

From the two definitions, we may generally define social interaction as a process through which human beings influence each other by way of mutual exchange of feelings, reactions and thoughts.  In social interaction people come into reciprocal contact. The contact could be verbal or non verbal but basically, the individuals have some influence on each other.

We may further describe social interaction as a dynamic, changing sequence of relationships and communication between individuals who modify their actions and reactions to match the actions by their companions. This indicates that in social interaction one attaches meaning to a situation and responds accordingly. It is through social interaction that individuals understand each other and build relationships.

There are various modes of social interaction. Such include:

  1. Accidental or social contact: this is also referred to as social contact. There are times when individuals meet and have some kind of unplanned communication. For example when a passerby who may not know a child smiles and the child smiles back. Such events occur as by the way and are not likely to be repeated.
  2. Repeated interaction: this refers to unplanned interaction that occurs on several occasions. For example, a neighbour, who is not a child’s caregiver may meet the child and hold some kind of communication with her or him. Due to proximity the interaction is bound to occur.
  3. Regular interaction:  this is a scenario when unplanned interaction is so frequent that a child wonders whether there is something wrong when he or she fails to meet with a particular individual. For example a milkman who meets the child when he delivers milk and initiates some kind of interaction.
  4. Regulated interaction: this is the interaction that is expected according to the prevailing set-up, traditions or customs. For example, the normal interaction between a parent and her or his child.

Although the impact of the different types of interaction on a child varies, it is through these forms of social interaction that a child acquires a repertoire of behaviour that he or she uses throughout life.  It is also worthy noting that we cannot live completely free from some form of social interaction. Indeed human beings have others in their thoughts even in times of solitude. This means that social interaction runs through an individual’s lifespan.


Activity 1.1

In a public setting, for example, a health unit or church, observe the interaction patterns between a mother and her infant for a thirty minutes period. Record their interaction patterns and describe the likely influences on each other.


1.2 Discuss  the rationale of  the study of Social Interaction as an area of focus in the Early Childhood  programme.


Try to remember the people you interacted with in your childhood. I am sure you recall some with a lot of pleasure while you wish you never interacted with others. What is it that you liked or did not like about such interactions? What kind of impact would you like to have on the lives of children you interact with? How can you improve the social interactions of children? These questions underlie the study of social interaction in early childhood.  Precisely, Social Interaction as a unit for professionals in early childhood is necessary because it:

  • Creates awareness on the social nature of the child
  • Helps one understand the effect of social interaction practices on the life of a child.
  • Prepares one to be able to deal with changing social needs of a child.
  • Enables one to assist children in adjusting to new settings
  • Helps one to guide children on social matters
  • Helps one to correct inappropriate interactions and to reinforce positive interactions in day to day life.
  • Minimizes chances  child emotional abuse
  • Prepares one to deal with the various types of children
  • Equips one with information that may be used to guide parenting

Activity 1.2

Try to recall your Standard One teacher and your interaction with her or him. Describe an interaction session that between the teacher and you and discuss the effect the encounter on your life.


Kate, Robinson & Pullan, (2003). Early years care and Education. UK: Heinemann

Santrock W. J., (1992). Life -span Development. USA: Wm. C. Brown.


Testing Exercise 1

  1. Define social interaction.
  2. Describe social interaction as a dynamic process.
  3. Citing relevant examples describe the various types of social interaction in early childhood.
  4. Describe a situation in which accidental social contract may impact on a child
  5. Discuss the reasons why you think it is necessary for early childhood professional should be competent in matters pertaining to social interaction in early Childhood.




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