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Friday, January 4, 2013

The Importance of Social Competency

An expected part of growth in all human beings includes a level of social competency, where children develop and possess the social, intellectual, and emotional behaviors appropriate for integration into a society. Children who do not develop a healthy level of social competence have problems throughout their life in a variety of life skill areas. Without appropriate social skills a person may experience trouble in the areas of employment, daily living skills, independent living and participating in the community. A surprising number of employers have also claimed that social competency is more important to them than actual experience, during hiring decisions (Mellard & Hazel, 1992). 

Social competency is integrated into the intellectual and emotional development of children; as children grow and develop it is expected their level of social competency will evolve with their age. Learning disabilities, or physical disabilities could contribute to a deficit in social competency, especially if social integration is not a key ingredient in a treatment plan. Research indicates that the majority of children with a learning disability such as a deficiency in social competency need more time than average to encode and produce information in a variety of educational and social situations (Mellard & Hazel, 1992). A child may conversely be intelligent beyond the norm for their age; however, lack in appropriate social skills for their age. A child may be well grounded emotionally, but have intellectual deficits, which impair their ability to encode new information. They may find it difficult to assimilate appropriately into social situations. Because Social competency is tied to emotional and intellectual development, in concert with social development it has the potential for affecting all three areas of growth. 

Bronfenbrenners systems of development are based in the concept of childhood development affected by nurturing and environment. According to Bronfenbrenners concept of Microsystems, the child's relationship with their parents is bi-directional and this interaction lays the framework for the social aspect of social competence (Bukatko, 2008). A parent’s belief system for example, may have a direct impact on the child's belief system; positive parenting approach could foster appropriate emotional development in a child. A safe support structure and parental involvement in the child's education could assist the child with their intellectual development; all of which are aspects of social competence.

Interactions in a school or community setting at the microsystem level only involve their immediate environment such as; pre-school classroom, or day-care provider. These environments are extensions of the parent-child dynamic and start out with only a small number of people. The interactions a child has with these caregivers impacts the child's growth in all areas of social competency. Because the Child's relationship is bi-directional with caregivers, a child's actions or reactions to others affect how they are treated. Children given positive encouragement and interaction may learn to have a better sense of self-esteem, which would impact their emotional development; conversely, a child given little stimulation may end up lacking in intellectual development. These interactions from the beginning stages of life begin the child's foundation for eventual assimilation into society through adaptation to their social environment, by stimulating the child's growth and development, and according to Piaget provide opportunities for the child to develop their knowledge through social experience. According to Piaget, adult-child relationships influence all aspects of development, but this also applies to child-peer relationships.

As a child develops their Cognitive, Emotional, and Social skills, learns new behaviors, and implements those behaviors through interactions with others, they move from the microsystem stage to the mesosystem stage, where other parts of the microsystem start working together (Bukatko, 2008). This can occur through interactions between the parents and school on the child's behalf where a parent and teacher work together and serve as conduits of learning for the child. A child's development begins to depend on more than just their parents or caregivers. Children may learn through their peers, or grandparents, whereas in the microsystem stage the child would have a limited realm of their immediate environment. 

Social competency becomes even more necessary for the developing child at the mesosystem stage, because their education and development starts to come from multiple avenues, not just those in their immediate environment. A child who has self-esteem issues, for example, may have a hard time forming new social relationships with peers or acquaintances. This hinders their ability to develop their social skills, and can lead to depression or anxiety issues, which in turn would impact their intellectual development. A child's level of social competency becomes more pronounced and if not addressed could lead to significant developmental delays for the child. The interactions a child has with immediate caregivers in the microsystem stage as opposed to the mesosystem stage is essentially the same; the only real differences between the two are that the child has expanded the base from which they seek out knowledge from others. Having strong structural supports with caregivers, healthy and positive interactions, as well as frequent social engagement will help a child maintain a healthy level of social competency, even as the base of societies influence on their development grows.

Piaget focused on the child's social development as a sociomoral development where the child starts out from anomy, where there is no regulation, to heteronomy which is regulation by others, to autonomy where the child is able to self-regulate their own social behavior. He believed that children are given moral rules to follow by others as they develop and eventually learn how to practice impulse control or the ability to control one's own behavior, which eventually leads to adulthood and autonomy. While Piaget was discussing the topic of morality, this is still an important concept, as it relates to social competency. Piaget's theory regarding sociomoral development is based on the premise of a child learning rules established by others, following those rules, and eventually learning how to create their own rules of appropriate behavior within a social context. If a child does not have a level of social competency equal to their level of development, they may not be able to follow rules established by others, either through a lack of social skills, intellectual delays in their development, or emotional disturbances, which prevent them from functioning on a level parallel to their peers. The model of sociomoral development put forth by Piaget does address the parent-child, child-peer relationship as the basis for social development and recognizes the roles cognitive development and emotional development play in social development. Piaget (1926), also believed that intelligent thought and behavior evolved through the experience of discussion, negotiation, and conflict, especially in the company of peers.

The reason why I chose to focus on social competency as today’s topic, was due to my perception of the lack of attention paid to social competency when working with children who have exceptional needs. As a society we address behaviors before academics in school settings, and we address academics before social development, because we expect children to develop appropriate social skills by going through school and interacting with their peers, teachers and family. Sometimes we overlook the importance of the social needs of children, because it is an obvious area where a child takes the reins of responsibility once they become school-aged. They move on to form friendships as they advance academically, find new interests, and assimilate into society. Some children whose emotional needs are not met, who may have learning deficits or delays, or who may have negative social relationships with caregivers, will not be able to automatically form healthy and appropriate relationships with others. 

Schools are not currently equipped to address these issues, as we see frequently in the news with regards to bullying; Furthermore, cuts in education spending relegate Exceptional Needs Children to the back burner of school district priorities, while elevating revenue generating activities such as sporting programs. Children with a low social competency level may preclude themselves from the opportunities of experiencing peer interaction, negotiation, persuasion, and conflict that influence the growth and development of social-cognitive and social skills (Piaget, 1970). Social competency affects not only the development of the child, but their ability to learn valuable life skills, which are necessary to be successful adults in life.


Bukatko, D. (2008). Child and adolescent development: a chronological approach. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.


D. F. & Hazel, J. S. (1992). Social competencies as a pathway to successful life transitions. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 15, 251-271.

Piaget, J. (1926). The language and thought of the child. London: Routlege and Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1970). Piaget's theory. In P.H. Mussen (Ed.), Carmichael's manual of child psychology, (3rd ed., Vol. 1) NewYork: Wiley.