2.1 Social Interaction in Early Childhood: Can you describe personality in relation to social interaction?

Chapter 2


2.1 Describe personality in relation to social interaction


You now understand the meaning of social interaction.  However, you may wonder why patterns of social interaction of individuals vary. It is important to note that the way an individual responds to influences their responses too because social interaction involves all the participants. One could simply associate the particular social responses with an individual’s personality. But what really influences the social aspects of personality? There are many explanations and ideas from psychologists in different schools of thought may help us explain the variation. Nonetheless, human beings are complex and it is not easy to distinctly pinpoint a single phenomenon as the sole antecedent of a certain interaction pattern. In this Chapter we are going to focus on some psychologists’ views of personality, in relation to social interaction. These include the maturation/biological, psychoanalytic, cognitive and behaviouristic approaches.




What is personality? Well there are various definitions to personality but for the purpose of this unit we will define personality as an individual’s unique constellation of consistent behavioral traits. As regards social interaction, a personality trait may be described as a durable disposition to behave in a particular way in a variety of social situations. Examples of such traits include honesty, dependability, mood, excitability, friendliness and domineering.


As we have observed earlier, children’s social interaction patterns and their effect are associated with personality types.  It is therefore important for us to understand the facets of personality. To understand this, we must focus on some of the approaches put forward by psychologists.

2.2 Describe maturation theory in relation to social interaction


As may be deduced from the term, maturation refers to development of specific faculties that are to a large extent controlled by hereditary factors.  This may also be referred to as the biological approach. According to some theorists such as Gesell (1925) human beings are born with packages of innate predispositions that are realized through maturation. The theory is pegged on the biological approach that presupposes influence of heredity on a person’s behaviour. The overriding approach to the biological perspective is the aspect of temperaments.


2.3 Expound the temperamental aspects observable in infants in regard  to social interaction

What is temperament?

Temperament may be defined as the relatively enduring innately determined characteristics. This simply refers to the traits that one is biologically endowed with.  This shows that temperaments are components of personality. It is worthy noting that temperament per se cannot explain personality. However, temperaments are believed to lay the springboard from which personality develops. Traits observed in infants( birth to 2years) lead to the argument that they are hereditary since at that early period, the child has not had an opportunity to learn from the environment.


According to the temperament approach, we can say that individuals’ social interaction patterns could be influenced by the innate characteristics. This does not rule out the contribution of other factors but suggests that temperaments make some contribution in children’s patterns of interaction. Besides, temperaments influence the responses of that a child gets from the caregiver.


Thomas (1970), Chess and Birch ( 1987) established  nine temperamental aspects that could be observed in infants. They are as follows:

  1. The activity level. This is proportion of active periods to inactive ones. This is later manifested in the ability of an individual to carry out tasks. This implies that it may be unfair to expect children to perform at the same level.
  2. Rhythmicity:  Regularity of hunger, sleep, wakefulness and excretion. Some children’s feeding, sleeping or bowels movement patterns are predictable while others keep on fluctuating. The rhythms also vary from one child to another. For example, there are those who can sleep for a long time while others will be comfortable with short periods of sleep. It is therefore punitive for whoever interacts with children to ignore the individual differences in regard to the associated needs.
  3. Distractibility: it is the degree to which extraneous stimuli alter behaviour. This may be observed when something like played music or the purring of a cat captures the interest of a child engaged in a task such as playing with a toy, listening to music or even breast feeding. Some babies are diverted by anything that comes their way while others may not be bothered.
  4. Approach /withdrawal: this is the response to a new object or person. When faced with an unfamiliar object, situation or person some children become interested in draw closer while others fret.
  5. Adaptability: it is the ease at which a child adjusts to changes in the environment. For some children a new environment causes little or no anxiety. There are others who will take very long to settle. This is seen even among adults who will keep on complaining about almost everyone and everything in a new environment.
  6. Attention span: this refers to the amount of time that one can remain focused on an activity and the effect of distraction. Time spent on a task varies with age but within a specified age some children will persist in tasks for long while others cannot concentrate for a reasonable period. There are some who will pause to pay some attention to a new stimulus and then continue with their previous task while some become completely diverted.
  7. Intensity of reaction: this is the energy of response regardless of the quality or direction. Individuals’ responses to frustrating or exciting situations differ according to this temperamental aspect. There are individuals whose negative or positive responses are intense while others’ are calm and mild.
  8. Threshold of responsiveness: this refers to the intensity of stimulation required to evoke the desirable response. For example, it may be very easy to make one baby smile while another may require much more effort.
  9. Quality of Mood: this is the amount of friendly, pleasant, joyful behaviour contrasted with unfriendly unpleasant behaviour. Some individuals are habitually happy and friendly while others always look gloomy and unfriendly.


It is important for caregivers to modify their interaction patterns to suit children’s temperamental aspects. For example feeding schedules may not be strictly predetermined since this could be punitive to some.


(a) Observe a baby (birth to One year old) and note down their behaviour in regard     to temperamental aspects.

(b) Observe the caregiver’s responses and give recommendations on appropriate     interaction patterns in line with the child’s temperaments.

2.4 Discuss the psychosexual and psychosocial theories in relation to social interaction


The psychoanalytic approach is based on the concept of epigenesis. This is the supposition that behaviour in later stages of development is built on an already laid down base. Consequently, psychoanalysts argue  that behavior can be traced to events and experiences in early childhood. They also claim that development occurs in stages and the interaction at each stage affects the subsequent behaviour.


From this view it is important for anyone who interacts with children to be aware of the probable effects of the social interaction experiences that a child is exposed to. This makes it necessary for us to focus on the two main psychoanalytic theories.



The major proponent or the theory was Sigmund Freud who focused on the unconscious forces that influenced behaviour. Freud developed the theory from the view of the unconscious human mind and the importance of sexuality in human behaviour . According to him, many aspects of an individual personality originate from an early and broad form of sexuality in early childhood. According to this perspective, people are not masters of their own behavior. That is, behaviour depends on the impact of earlier experiences on the unconscious mind. Although Freud’s theory focused on the effects of demands from an individual’s biological make-up in relation to sexuality, social interaction in response to the displayed behaviour impacts on subsequent social and behavioural patterns.


Freud singled out conflicts associated with sexual and aggressive impulses as having much impact on an individual’s behaviour. He purported that an individual’s lifespan is spent on the need to gratify the physical pleasure which he termed as sexual urge.


Freud developed a theory based on conflicts associated with sexual urges. He came up with five stages of psychosexual development. He purported that at each of the stages, sexual energy was invested in a single body part that he referred to as the erogenous zone. An individual seeks to get some kind of gratification through the erogenous zone. From one stage of development to another, the erogenous zone shifts. The order in which these zones become important depends on maturation. According to the theory, frustrations or excessive gratification at a stage causes fixation. A fixation at any stage of development causes one to display behaviours associated with the stage of development at the fixation time during adulthood.  Social interaction at each stage could help deal with the conflict. Ignorance on the part of caregivers may intensify the conflict.

The stages are as follows:

1. Oral Stage  (Infancy, Birth to 1 year)

The area around the mouth is the centre of pleasure. As one interacts with the child it is necessary to ensure that he or she gives adequate stimulation on the area around the mouth. This may involve feeding the baby adequately and holding some kind of verbal interaction. This means that the caregiver should initiate some communication with the baby and respond to any form of verbalization. Fixation at this stage may cause behaviours such as habitual chewing, overeating, excessive dependency and gullibility at adulthood.

2. Anal Stage (1-3 years)

The erogenous zone is the area around the anus and genitals. At this time, the child becomes able to control calls of nature and gets a lot of pleasure in doing so. During this period a child is toilet-trained and there is much satisfaction when he or she is able to perform at the right place and time.

During this training, a child needs support and encouragement.  Sadly, there are parents who punish, ridicule or embarrass the child for ‘accidents.’ There are others who start toilet – training before a child is physically and emotionally ready. Any form of punitive interaction with the child leads to negative outcomes.  Children who face such difficulties are likely to develop anal- retentive, harsh, orderly, rigid and obsessive personality. This means that toilet-training should never be a battle field.


On the other hand, if the parent or caregiver becomes too lenient in such training, or exaggerate praise for a child for related success, again the child becomes fixated. Leniency makes a child develop anal expulsive behaviour. Such a child displays a wasteful or destructive personality.


3. Phallic Stage (3-5 years)

This is the actual pre-primary age. During this period there is increase in genital sensitivity and a child fondles the area. The child also develops a kind of erotic desires towards the opposite sex parent Freud referred to this behaviour as the incidence of Oedipal conflict or complex and Electra complex for boys and girls respectively. Due to the complex, boys fear the father and become intuitively aware of the mother as sex object. The boy views the father as a powerful competitor for the mother’s affection. He wishes he could get rid of this strong rival, the father. He fears what the father could do in retaliation. The young boy is therefore caught-in between the love for his mother and fear of his father, thus getting into a conflict. To get rid of this fear, he represses sexual affection for the mother and identifies with the father; that is the boy tries to be like the father in values and behaviour.


Due to Electra complex, girls try to possess their father and hence view their mother as a rival.  Like the boy, the girl represses her desire to possess the man and identifies with her mother.


If the Oedipal and Electra conflicts are not resolved by the end of this stage, the individuals become fixated. As a result some may not be able to engage in the expected love relationships but may turn to homosexuality. They may indulge in activities as exhibitionists, for example writing of pornographic materials.


A young man fixated at the stage is likely to become reckless or immoral. In some cases fixation at phallic stage has been associated with the occurrence of a love affair between a young man and an older woman as the former seeks to possess the “mother.” In case of unresolved Electra complex, some women habitually strive for superiority over men.  On the other extreme, there are women who become too submissive or have low self esteem while dealing with men. Like in the case of men, some women in this category may be involved in relationships with older men in search for their fathers’ love.


In their social interaction at this stage, children require understanding as they portray the unusual behaviour. Parents must be patient as they help their child overcome the conflict. Any attempt to compete with the child or unnecessary punishment is likely to be counterproductive.

4. Latency Stage (5 -12)

These are the late pre-primary and a great part of the primary school years. It is the stage between end of phallic stage and onset of puberty. At the stage, children’s sexual interests are suppressed hence this is resting period of the child’s sexuality. During this period  a child interacts with others of the same sex. Their roles and play activities are almost exclusively same sex; that is, boys work with boys while girls work with girls. The conflict in the earlier stage must be amicably resolved for the child to be able to have healthy interaction with same-sex children.

5. The Genital Stage (12-18 years)

This starts at puberty when the sexual pleasure is reawakened. The individual desires to interact with opposite sex peers. Those who have been  fixated in the earlier stages find it hard to cope with individuals of opposite sex. The effects of fixation at earlier stages become obvious at the end of this stage.


  1. In a public gathering, observe the behaviour of boys and girls between 3 and 5 years of age accompanying their parents and record their interaction patterns. Analyse the interaction from the view of Freud’s phallic stage characteristics.
  2. Support or critique Freud’s theory from your observations in (i) above.



This is another psychoanalytic approach. The major proponent of the approach was   Eric Erikson. His theory is based on cultural and social demands made on the developing child. He believed that psychosocial development occurred in a pre-determined sequence that was influenced by biological changes that take place in an individual. He says that the maturation of one stage leads to the setting-in of another.


Erikson came up with eight stages of psychosocial development.  In each of the stages of psychosocial development he saw two alternatives which were characterised by positive and negative emotions that were prompted by societal demands on an individual. This means that psychosocial development of children depends on the social environment that he or she grows in.


Erickson refers to the exposure of the two alternative extremes as a crisis. The task at every stage is to resolve the crisis. According to the theory, all children experience some amount of positive and negative emotions but the proportions are influenced by the nature of social interaction. Optimal development occurs when social interaction experiences are inclined to the positive emotions.


The stages of psychosocial development build on one another. This is to say that the emotional inclination at one stage affects the subsequent ones accordingly. It also implies that the earlier stages lay a foundation for a child’s inclination in the later stages.  It is therefore necessary to look at all the psychosocial stages in order to understand the appropriate interaction behaviour as one deals with children. It is also worthy focusing on the probable consequences of the type of interaction patterns, on an individual’s life at every stage of development.


Stages of Psychosexual development

i)Trust Vs Mistrust (Birth to 2 years)

At this age, a child establishes a pattern or either basic trust or basic mistrust. The caregiver will influence the child’s trust or mistrust depending on how she meets her or his needs. Such needs include; feeding, change of diapers or alleviation of pain and any other discomfort.  If an infant’s needs are adequately met he or she learns to trust the environment. A child who develops trust learns to accept himself and feels that the others also accept him. According to the theory, such trust is generalized to situations and people that a child interacts with throughout a lifespan


Likewise if those interacting with the infant do not attend to her or his needs in time or with adequacy a child develops mistrust that generalized to all later interactions. A child who develops mistrust becomes habitually suspicious and full of feelings of uncertainty and hopelessness.  This suggests that it is necessary for those who interact with the infant to consistently attend to her or his needs in an attempt to nurture trust, a characteristic that influences all the subsequent stages of development.


ii). Autonomy Vs shame and doubt (2 years – 3 years)

By this age, an individual has developed some muscular ability and is capable of performing simple tasks. As a result the toddler tries to get freedom to feed or cloth himself or perform other simple activities. Toddlers who have developed a strong sense of trust begin to avoid total dependency and engage in exploration and trying out things on their own. They become adventurous whereas the mistrusting ones fail to act even when they are expected to do so.


This is the stage of negativism and a child tries to engage in activities that are forbidden. Negativism occurs as a child struggles between feelings of self-assertion and helplessness.  The responses a child gets from the caregiver promote or hamper development of autonomy. Children who are confined or denied opportunities to do things by themselves develop an external sense of control and are not likely to develop autonomy.  Caregivers’ responses as children try to become independent also play a remarkable role in development of either autonomy or shame and doubt. For example a child who is praised for effort displayed, is likely to develop autonomy while ridicule due to poor performance leads to shame and doubt.


Autonomy generally starts with muscle control and then to social life. Autonomous children decide when to play, what game to engage in, where to play and the type of companionship. While the autonomous child will seek help only to complement her or his ability, the non-autonomous lacks self confidence and is overly dependent.


Many adults feel that involving the child will be messy or tedious and thus opt to do everything for them. However, in order to facilitate development of autonomy, children should be given opportunities to make choices, for example, of where to play, the toy to play with or the book to read as opposed to having everything prescribed by the  caregiver. At this stage children should be actively engaged in manageable household chores. This gives children opportunities for mastery.


The emerging ability to perform and independence is characterized by the notion of “terrible twos” and consequently causes conflicts between parents and their children. Since the young child does not have ability to distinguish the positive and negative aspects of a situation, those who interact with them should give them freedom that is  well-guided to develop self-control. For example, there must be limitations even in simple tasks as feeding. A child should not be allowed to pour food or porridge on seats in the name of creating autonomy. At the same time care must be taken to ensure that a child does not encounter failure and ridicule that could cause the development of shame and doubt. The child should be given freedom to explore and some responsibility. A child, who develops mistrust in the earlier stage, is not likely to develop autonomy since he or she neither trusts the self, nor the environment.


iii) Initiative Vs Guilt (3-7) years

The stage occurs as the sense of morality develops. This is because the knowledge that something is not right triggers feelings of guilt. At this stage children wonder whether their energy is directed towards activities that are valued by others or whether their activities could lead to rejection. From about four years, a child becomes very inquisitive and he or she asks many questions which should be answered simply but honestly. If the caregiver reacts negatively to such questions, the child feels guilty and unacceptable. The child may also learn to suppress the urge to know.  Other common activities and experiences through which children acquire initiative or guilt include:

  • Implementing plans and ideas
  • Search for new information
  • Looking  into ideas through fantasy
  • Creating own games and fantasies
  • Understanding their bodies’ sensations
  • Striving to operate within socially acceptable codes of behaviour

If a child is made to feel “bad” in such attempts, he or she could develop a feeling of guilt that persists throughout life. In the quest to find out, a child may dismantle toys or throw things around. In the attempt to assemble a dismantled toy, it is important for the child to know that he can do things by himself.  Nevertheless, too much freedom or restriction creates imbalance.


A child who did not develop trust in the first stage fails to become autonomous and consequently cannot become initiative.


iv) Industry Vs Inferiority (6-12 years)

This is school age. The child is very competitive and seeks to win recognition by being productive. In Kenya, this stage corresponds with about six years of primary school period. These children are involved in serious studies and extracurricular activities. Teachers who interact with the child at the stage should be careful about their utterances regarding a child’s performance in any area.


The child wants to help the parents. He or she tries to prove her or his competence in the skills upheld in the community. If anything hinders success and competition the child develops low self esteem. A sense of inferiority occurs when a child fails to perform within own expectations or the perceived adults’ expectations. In case the adult who interacts with such a child communicates any form of dissatisfaction with the child’s performance the feelings of inferiority intensify.

For development of industry, the child requires a balanced approach. It is important to approve specific achievements as demanded by the specific society. Children who are praised for their efforts become motivated to work and consequently, industrious. Those who are rebuked, ignored or ridiculed may feel that they cannot manage to perform as others and may thus develop inferiority. Nonetheless, if approval is over-emphasized, the child is likely to become conceited. It is therefore necessary for caregivers to balance their responses as they deal with these children. They need appreciation and encouragement.


v) Identity Vs Role Confusion (12-18 years)

Physical changes and development occur very fast at this stage. There is too much energy caused by upsurge of hormones. Intellectual development is also fast and children become competent in abstract thinking. The child also becomes fine in reasoning and imagination. He or she starts to question people, values and attitudes. The individual wonders who he or she is and the idea of identity sets in.

The child looks for models wondering what time and future may make him. For example, the individual looks for occupational or professional identities. During this stage, you may see a young man with a clean shaven head and after a short time you see him with dreadlocks. Another may put on an earring or any fancy jewelry on an ear and keeps on changing their hair styles. All this is done as the individual tries to understand him or herself.

If one does not understand himself before the end of this stage, he gets confused. Such an individual later hops form one identity to another and never gets settled for one. This is role confusion. A confused individual is not able to pursue a positive self concept even in the subsequent stages.


vi) Intimacy Vs Isolation (Early Adulthood)

This is the period when an individual gets into a serious relationship, normally with another of the opposite sex. For   healthy intimacy to develop, an individual must have acquired trust, autonomy, initiative, industry and identity. This underscores the importance of positive social interaction during the formative years.


At this stage, an individual who has acquired the positive attributes becomes willing to fuse hisor her identity with that or another. This involves taking risks. One who has not acquired a balanced identity may not be ready to risk sharing her or his life with another. As a result one remains isolated.


vii) Generatively Vs Stagnation or self Absorption ( Middle Adulthood)

Like in the earlier stages, those who have developed positive concepts become ready to  establish and guide the next generation. This is manifested by bringing forth and giving care or by being involved with the development of young people through teaching, training or guiding them.  Individuals who have acquired the positive aspects spend much time on guiding the young ones even in cases when they have not biologically brought forth.

Those who have not achieved in the earlier stages may become stagnated. Some of the symptoms of stagnation include depression, promiscuity or substance abuse.


viii) Integrity Vs Despair (Late adulthood – Senescence)

Those who have achieved positively in the earlier stages reach the end of life with a positive self concept. They feel satisfied with the way they have spent their life. Such individuals are likely to have friends and to be active in social activities. They reflect on their past and are happy with themselves. They look at life with fulfillment despite the imminent death.


Those who never acquired the positive attributes have a negative self concept. They regret the way they have spent their earlier years. They wish they could to be given another chance. Since this is not possible, they suffer many psychological problems. They also suffer from ill-health or may abuse drugs in search for consolation due to desperation. Such individuals may even become suicidal. These characters often become a real problem to their relatives.


In view of this theory, social interaction experiences especially in the formative years have such an impact in an individual’s life. Those who interact with the child have “power” to shape an individual’s social life. This suggests that parents and caregivers should be very careful as they interact with young children.


  1. Describe the prevailing experiences of children from birth to adolescence in your community.
  2. From Erikson’s psychosocial view, analyse the probable results of such experiences.



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