Self, Social, and Moral Development

Information found on this page will relate to the self, social, and moral development of students.  I hope the information you find here will help you to develop a better understanding of the growth your students may be experiencing and provide some assistance in how you can help them through each stage of development.  Unless otherwise stated, the information found on this page has been taken from Education Psychology by Anita Woolfolk.


Self Development

What is Self Development?

Self Development is a term used to describe individual development.  Aspects of self development include physical growth and development, as well as the development of self-concept and identity.


Physical Development

Physical development will be described in three age groups: Preschool, Elementary, and Adolescence.



Gross motor skills typically develop from ages 2-5.  At this stage brain development combines with the gross motor skills causing children to have an improved sense of balance due to the lowering of the center of gravity.  The combination of these events allows children to run, jump, and climb.

In addition to gross motor skills, children at this age are also developing their fine motor skills.  Fine motor skills require the ability to coordinate smaller movements.  Teachers can help students develop fine motor skills by providing fat pencils and crayons, drawing paper, playdough, large paintbrushes, and large building blocks.  When provided with items that are larger than those that will be used in later years, students can better learn to control their movements while using these objects.



As a teacher you will have students who are larger or smaller than their peers.  Despite differences in growth, all of these students can be equally healthy.  I would encourage some monitoring as students will likely make observations about those who are “different” than the average group.  The questions or comments brought up as a result of physical differences may be hurtful to some students.  I find it very important to help students learn that the things they say can be hurtful.  Teach students that height and weight are not factors that should be used to judge their classmates.  Help them to think about how they might feel if the situation were reversed.

·         Below are a few examples of ways to address students' physical differences with the classroom:

o   Provide a variety of games for students.  Choose games that rely on different strengths.  If some games rely on size or strength, such as sports; select other games that demonstrate a need for cognitive, artistic, social, or musical abilities such as charades or drawing games.


When students enter puberty they will experience a variety of changes as their bodies become more sexually mature.  Some of the changes associated with puberty may begin to develop in later elementary years, but the timeframe of development will differ between boys and girls and from child to child.

As students try to balance the confusion that comes with the changes of adolescence they are constantly comparing themselves to their peers.  As a teacher, you will likely notice academic, social, and emotional differences between those who mature early and those who mature late.  Regardless of the timeframe of maturation it is important to be aware of any changes in a student’s attitude and behavior.  Causes for concern among developing adolescents include symptoms of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.  Whether boys and girls are one of the first or one of the last to experience the physical changes of puberty, studies have shown that all have the potential to experience risk factors of one form or another.

You can visit the websites below to view additional information about changes during puberty and warning signs of depression.

·         Physical, social, and emotional changes associated with puberty.


·         Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Teens



Play and Recess

The YouTube clips below point out the benefits to be gained by providing children with opportunities to play with others.  Many children today spend time indoors with video games, rather than going outside and playing with other children.  These clips demonstrate the physical and social growth that children experience through play, as well as the academic benefits to giving children recess breaks throughout the school day.

The Importance of Play

Recess: What do we have to lose?

 Self-Concept and Identity

What is Self-Concept?

Self-concept refers to individuals’ knowledge and beliefs about themselves.  For example, their ideas, feelings, attitudes, and expectations.  It is often considered to be the attempt to explain ourselves to ourselves.  This term is often used interchangeably with identity, which is thought to be the answer to the question, “Who am I?”

Self-concept can be explained through Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development.  This psychosocial theory describes the emergence of the self, the search for identity, the individual’s relationships with others, and the role of culture throughout life.

The table below gives each of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, the approximate ages in which they take place, and a description of what can be expected in each stage.  While you will not experience many of these stages within the classroom, I have chosen to include them as earlier stages may have an impact on children as they get older.


Approximate Age

Important Event


Basic trust vs. basic mistrust

Birth to 12-18 months


The infant must form a first loving, trusting relationship with the caregiver or develop a sense of mistrust.

Autonomy vs. shame/doubt

18 months to 3 years

Toilet training

The child’s energies are directed toward the development of physical skills, including walking, grasping, controlling the sphincter.  The child learns to control but may develop shame and doubt if not handled well.

Initiative vs. guilt

3 to 6 years


The child continues to become more assertive and to take more initiative but may be too forceful, which can lead to guilt feelings.

Industry vs. inferiority

6 to 12 years


The child must deal with demands to learn new skills or risk a sense of inferiority, failure, and incompetence.

Identity vs. role confusion


Peer relationships

The teenager must achieve identity in occupation, gender roles, politics, and religion.

Intimacy vs. isolation

Young adulthood

Love relationships

The young adult must develop intimate relationships or suffer feelings of isolation.

Generativity vs. stagnation

Middle adulthood


Each adult must find some way to satisfy and support the next generation.

Ego integrity vs. despair

Late adulthood

Reflection on and acceptance of one’s life

The culmination is a sense of acceptance of oneself and a sense of fulfillment.


As an elementary teacher, the phase you will see your students experiencing is that of industry vs. inferiority.  Below are some guidelines for helping your students to develop during this stage.

·         Make sure that students have opportunities to set and work toward realistic goals.

o   Begin by giving short assignments and build toward longer, more complex assignments.

o   Monitor students’ progress as they work toward goals.

·         Give students a chance to show their independence and responsibility.

o   Help students that there is no harm in making an honest mistake.

o   Delegate tasks by giving students the opportunity to do jobs within the classroom such as passing out and collecting materials, watering plants, running errands, or doing lunch count.

·         Provide support to students who seem discouraged.

o   Keep records of student progress through charts or contracts.

o   Create student portfolios so that student’s can see their growth/improvement.

o   Provide praise for accomplishments or a job well done.


Ethnic and Racial Identity

Many children experience the struggles of determining their ethnic and racial identities, as well as a way to balance these identities with their current surroundings.  Children must also learn to understand the identities of others.  The website below provides links that you may find helpful when approaching the topic of diversity in the classroom.  Links include Activities that Promote Racial and Cultural Awareness; Dealing with Insensitivity to Physical, Racial, or Ethnic Differences; Teaching Young Children to Resist Bias; Celebrating Holidays in Early Childhood Programs; and Linguistic and Cultural Diversity.


Social Development

Researcher Urie Bronfenbrenner developed a bioecological model of human development.  This model refers to social aspects of human development as ecosystems because of their constant interaction and influence on one another.  The YouTube clip below describes each of Bronfenbrenner’s ecosystems and the ways in which they impact one another.  It is important to understand this theory as you will encountered situations in which one aspect of a student’s life affects his/her academic and social behavior in your classroom.


Bronfenbrenner's Theory



Factors Affecting Social Development

As a teacher, it is important to remember that all children will feel stress or pressure.  Below are some factors that may influence the academics and behavior of your students.  Get to know your students.  You may not learn the details of all aspects of their lives, but it will help you develop an understanding of what is important to them, their daily experiences/interactions with others, and help build positive relationships within the classroom.

·         Family

o   Family Structure

§  Many children in American society today are raised in blended families.  These children may live with one biological parent, a step parent, biological siblings, and step siblings.

§  Asian, African American, and Latin American families often surround themselves with extended family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Members of extended families may live in the same house or have daily interactions.

o   Parenting Styles

§  Authoritative parents set clear limits and enforce rules.  These parents have clear expectations and are very involved with their children.

§  Authoritarian parents maintain high levels of control.  These parents are often strict and do not show their emotions.

§  Permissive parents are nurturing, but do not typically enforce rules and consequences.

§  Rejecting/Neglecting/Uninvolved parents rarely show concern for their children.

o   Divorce

§  The United States has higher divorce rates than any other country.

§  When placed in a divorce situation, studies show that the first two years are most difficult for children.

·         Peers

o   Crowds and Cliques

§  Children’s behavior and choices are often dictated by the opinions of their peers.

·         Choices may be made based on a desire of acceptance or a fear of ridicule.

o   Peer Cultures

§  Peer culture describes the way students talk, dress, and interact with one another.

o   Friendships

§  Friendships can be one of the most driving relationships children experience.

§  Negative interactions with friends can have strong effects on a child’s behavior and performance in school.

o   Peer Aggression

§  Peer aggression comes in a variety of forms.  Aggression can be exhibited in order to gain a privilege, to inflict harm, or to threaten or scare others.

§  Teachers should model nonaggressive behavior for students, promote positive social behaviors, and be careful not to reward any type of aggressive behavior.

·         Teachers

o   Academic and Personal Caring

§  Children need to feel that teachers care about both their learning and personal interests.

·         Set high, but achievable goals for students.

·         Make yourself available to listen to their stories or problems.

§  It is important to maintain an organized classroom with positive interactions.

·         Try to avoid any negative behavior that will cause students to withdraw.

o   Signs of Child Abuse

§  Be aware of the signs of different types of abuse such as physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse.

§  Use the link below to view warning signs for different types of abuse.



 Moral Development


What is Moral Development?

Moral development describes a child’s growing understanding of right and wrong.

Researcher Lawrence Kohlberg has developed a theory of moral reasoning which contains 3 levels of reasoning: Preconventional Moral Reasoning, Conventional Moral Reasoning, and Postconventional Moral Reasoning.  Visit the website below to read about the stages of each level of moral reasoning, as well as to read about different scenarios associated with Kohlberg’s theory.

Guidelines: Supporting Personal and Moral Development

·         Help students examine the kinds of dilemmas they are currently facing or will face in the near future.

o   Elementary school children will be able to discuss sibling rivalry, teasing, stealing, treatment of new students, and behavior toward other students (with or without disabilities).

·         Help students see the perspectives of others.

o   Ask students to describe their understanding of a situation from another person’s point of view.  That person should then confirm or address any differences.

o   Ask students to take on the role of another person, story character, or person from history and give a point of view from that person’s perspective in a class discussion.

·         Help students make connections between expressed values and actions.

o   Help students see differences between their values and actions.  This may be done with story characters or other people before asking students to reflect on their own values and actions.

o   Prompt students with discussion questions such as “What do you think should be done in this situation? How would you do that?  Can you think of any problems that might happen?”

·         Safeguard the privacy of all participants.

o   Provide students with a “pass” option when they don’t feel comfortable speaking.

o   Don’t allow students to experience peer pressure during class discussion or activities.

o   Don’t reinforce behaviors that make others uncomfortable or the sharing of private information.

·         Make sure students are really listening to each other.

o   Model good listening skills.

o   Allow students to work in small group settings.

o   Reinforce good behavior within the classroom.

·         Make sure that as much as possible your class reflects concern for moral issues and values.

o   Help students understand the difference between rules created for safety or convenience and rules created  for moral development.

§  For example, pushing in your chair when you leave your seat vs. speaking politely to others.