What Is the Family Impact on Early Childhood Development?


A child's family, aside from genetics, has a significant impact on the child's development, particularly during the early childhood years. Family is the central network of people involved and interacting with the child. This interaction forms the foundation for further development, physically and emotionally.


  • One of the first developments that occurs, and perhaps one of the most important, is attachment, or the emotional tie to a specific person or persons that endures across time and space. As infants, children develop an attachment to their caregivers, primarily their parents. John Bowlby proposed in his Ethological Theory that attachment is a behavior that has evolved to increased the infant's chance of survival. Bowlby suggested that the attachment ensured a better quality of care for the infant and thus increased the chances of survival.

    Mary Ainsworth went further in her research of attachment and suggested that there were different forms of attachment, such as secure attachment, insecure-resistant attachment and insecure-disorganized attachment, and that each form was determined by the quality of parent-infant interaction during the first year of life. Ainsworth went on to propose that children who developed secure attachments as infants were more likely to be more socially skilled, competent, compliant and empathetic as opposed to those who developed insecure attachments.

Language Development

  • Language development is one area of development in which family plays a large role. Because children spend such a large amount of time with parents, siblings, even grandparents and extended family, a large part of the language heard is from family members. Infants and toddlers are especially influenced in language development by family. While learning to speak, children often imitate or mimic what is heard and parents will repeat a clearer version of what they believe the child meant. Parents will also demonstrate language for an infant by repeating certain words such as "mama" or "dada" to encourage the child to mimic.

Moral Development

  • Moral development in children is a more lengthy process than language development, but begins at birth and continues on through adulthood. Young children will typically mimic what they see their parents or older siblings do, including how their parents and siblings treat others. If a child sees his father putting money in the offering plate at church he may imitate that behavior by putting his own money in the plate.

Gender Development

  • Gender development is the process by which children begin to identify more with one gender than the other, typically with girls identifying with being female and boys with being male. Gender development also involves recognizing the commonly held expectations for one's gender. This process is greatly influenced by what children see and are taught. Mothers and fathers especially influence gender development. The influence may be subtle, as with tone of voice, or it may be direct, as with praising a child for sex-typed behaviors (for example, a girl wearing a dress, a boy playing football). Children also observe how their mothers and fathers behave themselves according to gender (for example, the dad does the car repairs, mom does the housework) and conform to these observed behaviors.


  • The development of aggression in children can also be traced back to the influence of the family. Aggression may be the result of an insecure home where parents are neglectful or indifferent to the child, or even from an aggressive family life. Aggressive behavior can begin early in childhood, with the child acting as he has observed or experienced at home. Young children who are frustrated or insecure because of a family that is unsupportive or indifferent will sometimes resort to aggression as a means of receiving attention.


  • "Child Development: Principles and Perspectives"; Joan Littlefield Cook and Greg Cook; 2005
  • Photo Credit infant with four teeths image by Pavel Losevsky from Fotolia.com
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