Prosocial behavior children

Prosocial Behavior in Children

| Examples | 6 Types of Prosocial Behavior | Benefits of Prosocial Behavior | How prosocial behavior develops | How to teach kids prosocial behavior |

What is Prosocial Behavior 

Prosocial behavior is any voluntary actions that benefits other people regardless of whether it is costly to the actor themselves. Such behaviors include activities such as empathy, altruism, sharing, cooperation, self-sacrifice, and helpfulness​1​.

Prosocial Behavior Examples

The following are examples of prosocial behavior in children:

  • Sharing candies
  • Smiling and saying “hello”
  • Saying “thank you” when offered a gift
  • Helping to set plates on the dinner table
  • Consoling a crying child
  • Picking up a toy dropped by others
  • Including another child in a group game
  • Volunteering to help the teacher hand out paper
  • Showing feelings of concern for others
  • Defending a little child when he is picked on by older kids

6 Types of prosocial behavior

Prosocial behavior consists of a wide range of actions that generally fall into six types:

  • Altruism
  • Compliance
  • Emotion
  • Dire
  • Public
  • Anonymity


Altruistic behavior involves voluntary behavior motivated by concern for people’s needs instead of personal benefit, even at one’s own expense. Sympathy and internalized principles of helping others often induce random acts of kindness that is altruistic​2​.


Compliance is also a form of prosocial behavior. Compliant behavior involves helping others when they ask for help. Compared to spontaneous helping, compliant helping and cooperative behaviors are more common among young children​3​.


People tend to exhibit emotional behaviors when they help others in emotionally evocative situations. Such social situation is highly emotionally charged. People who provide help in highly emotional situations tend to have sympathy responses and other-oriented traits (such as empathy and higher levels of moral cognitions)​4​.


Dire behavior is helping in a crisis or emergency. Emotionally charged circumstances can also accompany this type of behavior. These people often help those who are in a real crisis or need​5​.


Public behavior refers to performing helpful acts in front of others. People who help others publicly are not afraid to be watched​6​.


Anonymous behavior involves helping others without being recognized. Those who receive help do not know who has helped them​7​.

Benefits of Prosocial Behavior

Children’s prosocial acts are associated with many positive outcomes. 

Prosocial children often feel higher self-worth and self-esteem. They are more likely to perceive life as having meaning​8​.

These children tend to have lower levels of externalizing behavior. They show fewer internalizing symptoms or mental health issues such as borderline personality features in girls ​9​.

Relational bullying is less common for them, and they do not feel as lonely when it occurs​10​.

On the other hand, a lack of prosocial behavior or display of antisocial behavior is associated with childhood conduct disorder, academic failure, and peer rejection.

In turn, these failures lead to an increased risk for depression and involvement with deviant peers​11​.

How prosocial behavior develops

All babies are self-centered at birth.

In spite of this, prosocial development begins in early childhood.

Even at a young age, a parent’s responsiveness enables the child to learn to respond to the distress of others with empathy​12​.

Prosocial actions replace self-centered behavior as babies develop the ability to distinguish themselves from others and empathize with them. 

By six months, prosocial tendencies in babies emerge. They cry when they hear other babies cry. 

As children develop a sense of person permanence, perspective-taking, and personal identity, they begin to comfort peers and adults who appear upset. Children as young as two can display empathic concern for others​13​

How to teach kids prosocial behavior

Developmental psychologists believe that effective internalization of values that produce positive behavior involves two steps: 

  1. Children’s accurate understanding of parents’ expectations.
  2. Children’s accepting that expectation.

Parents are usually very good at the first step. They give clear instructions and consistent expressions of what they expect in a way that a child understands.

The second step, accepting that expectation, is more challenging.

Here are what parents can do to help their children accept the expectation, internalize values, and put these values into action.

Warm, nurturing, responsive parenting

Both biology and socialization play an important role in prosocial skills development. 

Growing up, children’s socialization environment encourages them to adopt a caring attitude that comes from within based on moral development and internalized values​14​.

Empirical studies show that warm, nurturing, and responsive parents who show unconditional love and acceptance tend to have children who act prosocially.

Children with responsive parents are more likely to develop a secure attachment and accept their parents’ expectations. Positive relationships with their parents help them internalize their parents’ values​15​.

Parents who are sensitive and responsive model how to show concern for others. Their children tend to develop empathy and show more concern for others​16​.

In contrast, authoritarian parents who use harsh punishment and power assertion to maintain strict control over their children tend to have children who display antisocial behavior. These parents model a lack of concern for others. This parenting style generates hostility, causing the rejection of the parent’s socialization efforts​17​.

Inductive discipline

Using reasoning to discipline avoids the hostility and oppositional behavior that strong punitive discipline provokes.

Children are more likely to accept prosocial expectations when they are taught the reasons behind them. p

Children who realize their actions have an impact on others and develop empathy for those around them are more likely to engage in proactive prosocial actions​18​.


Parental modeling of prosocial behavior can inspire children to emulate it​19​

Research findings show that children who do volunteer work are likely to have parents who also volunteer​20​. The children of empathic parents tend to be empathic themselves​21​

Labeling and attributing

Labeling a child’s prosocial behavior is attributing it to their inner qualities and reinforcing the effects of prosocial behavior. When children find explanations for good behavior in themselves rather than the external pressure, they are more likely to exhibit more such behavior.

“It was very kind of you to help that little girl when she fell.”

“You were so generous in sharing your snack.”

Children in middle childhood (aged 7–8) benefit most from this method​22​.

Teach perspective taking

Previous studies have shown the relations between perspective taking and prosocial behavior.

Perspective-taking is a cognitive process that involves understanding that other people think, perceive, and feel differently from themselves.

Being able to take on others’ viewpoints is an important milestone in cognitive development​23​.

Children who are encouraged to consider another person’s perspective develop cognitive empathy leading to prosocial moral reasoning and moral behavior.

Encourage, not force, helping around the house

Everyday life provides children with many opportunities to internalize values.

Involving children in natural activities is a great way to develop strong habits that do not feel coerced or forced.

Those who are routinely doing chores to help other family members voluntarily demonstrate more prosocial behavior and concern for others​24​ than those who only assist when they are asked or paid to do so.

Encourage your child to take on household chores as personal responsibility and a way to contribute to your family’s well-being in daily life.

Engage children and make them feel included

Practicing prosocial behaviors relies on the belief that you are part of a community in which people help one another, support one another, and love one another.

People who feel excluded are less likely to engage in proactive behaviors.

Give children a sense of belonging by creating a sense of community within the family. Include them in family decision-making and help them feel included​25​.


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    Howes C, Farver J. Toddlers’ responses to the distress of their peers. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Published online October 1987:441-452. doi:10.1016/0193-3973(87)90032-3

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    Grusec JE, Goodnow JJ. Impact of parental discipline methods on the child’s internalization of values: A reconceptualization of current points of view. Developmental Psychology. Published online January 1994:4-19. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.30.1.4

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    Niemiec CP, Ryan RM. Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom. Theory and Research in Education. Published online June 25, 2009:133-144. doi:10.1177/1477878509104318

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    Kestenbaum R, Farber EA, Sroufe LA. Individual differences in empathy among preschoolers: Relation to attachment history. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. Published online 1989:51-64. doi:10.1002/cd.23219894405

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    Hastings PD (Paul D, Rubin KH, DeRose L. Links Among Gender, Inhibition, and Parental Socialization in the Development of Prosocial Behavior. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. Published online 2005:467-493. doi:10.1353/mpq.2005.0023

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    Krevans J, Gibbs JC. Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. Child Development. Published online December 1996:3263. doi:10.2307/1131778

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    McLellan JA, Youniss J. Two Systems of Youth Service: Determinants of Voluntary and Required Youth Community Service. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Published online February 2003:47-58. doi:10.1023/a:1021032407300

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Article "Pedagogical conditions for the development of prosocial behavior in children of the fourth year of life" | Article (younger group) on the topic:

Pedagogical conditions for the development of prosocial behavior in children of the fourth year of life

Ekaterina Prokopyevna Ohremchuk

Educator of MKDOU No. 12 "Sunshine"


The attitude to other people is the main fabric of human life and is the center of the spiritual and moral formation of the individual, which largely determines its moral value. It is these relationships that give rise to the most powerful experiences and actions. nine0003

Since in our time society requires the education of a socialized child: independent, owning the rules of interaction and the morality of the society in which he lives, the problem of the formation and development of prosocial relations of preschool children, and, in particular, children of the fourth year of life, today is relevant, since relationships with other people are born and develop most intensively at this age. In the same period, the foundations of the personality of the baby are laid, therefore, increased requirements are placed on the skill, personality, level of spiritual development of the teacher in kindergarten. nine0003

Prosocial behavior is usually understood as any action aimed at the well-being of other people. These actions are often very diverse. Their range can extend from manifestations of kindness, charitable activities to helping a person who is in danger, in a difficult or distressed situation, and even up to his salvation at the cost of his own [1].

Representatives of behaviorism (E. Thorndike, J.B. Watson, E.C. Tolman, B.F. Skinner) consider prosocial behavior as behavior caused by negative or positive empathic reinforcement (i.e., the disappearance of an unpleasant feeling that occurs when the sight of the suffering of another person or the appearance of a pleasant feeling at the sight of the liberation of a person from this suffering). nine0003

In psychoanalysis, prosocial behavior is seen as a desire to reduce a person's inherent guilt towards another by a selfless act (S. Freud, A. Adler, C. G. Jung, C. Horney, E. Berne).

In the pedagogical dictionary, the following definition of prosocial behavior is given - this is the behavior of an individual that is focused on the benefit of social groups and is the opposite of antisocial behavior, when a person tries to harm others or commits aggressive acts [2]. nine0003

The concept of "pro-social relations" is considered from two theoretical approaches. In the first one (S. G. Yakobson, W. Damon), it is considered as a reflection of the attitude towards oneself, but not towards another, since it is directed not at a person, but at self-affirmation. In the second approach to prosocial behavior based on empathy (G.P. Lavrentyeva, T.V. Antonova, Hoffman, Feshbach, Staub), people are not a means of exercising their own moral qualities, but the direct goal of actions.

Prosocial behavior attracts special attention of researchers (V.S. Mukhina, T.A. Repina, etc.) as a form of interaction among children of primary preschool age. At preschool age, and, in particular, in children of the fourth year of life, prosocial behavior is expressed in the child's ability to help a peer, yield to him, share with him objects that are important for the child himself (toys, things, sweets). However, when studying the prosocial behavior of children of the fourth year of life, it is necessary to find out what is behind this or that act of the child's behavior, what is the motivation for this or that prosocial act. nine0003

Since the children of the fourth year of life, according to J. Piaget and L. Kohlberg, are on a pre-moral level, they tend to judge actions more by their consequences than by people's intentions.

In contrast to the studies of J. Piaget and L. Kohlberg, the results of the study by V.M. Kholmogorova showed that already at the age of three or four, all children demonstrate correct moral judgments and assessments - they know that sharing is good, and taking everything for themselves is bad. However, in a real life situation, only a few are able to share with a peer. nine0003

Lebedev AA considers the age period from three to four years, firstly, to be immoral. The author explains his point of view by the fact that during this period the child only acquires different habits, learns to fulfill requests and instructions. Secondly, this is the pre-moral period, which is characterized by the development of sympathetic feelings in children.

In an empathy-based approach to prosocial behavior, research by G. P. Lavrentieva, T.V. Antonova and other researchers, peers for children of the fourth year of life are not a means of exercising their own moral qualities, but the direct goal of the child's actions [3]. nine0003

The early preschool age is the best soil for the formation of prosocial behavior, since during this period the child undergoes those significant changes that can be influenced from a positive position: - the formation of the simplest moral judgments, - the assimilation of moral norms of behavior, - the manifestation of attempts to empathize with another, empathy.

To organize effective work on the formation of prosocial behavior in children of this age, it is important to study the pedagogical conditions for their development. nine0003

Obviously, the prosocial attitude towards others is based on the ability to empathize, to sympathy, which manifests itself in a variety of life situations and, therefore, in order for the child not only to understand the objective meaning of norms and requirements, but also to imbue them with an appropriate emotional attitude in order for them to become criteria for his emotional assessments of his own and other people's actions, explanations and instructions from the educator and other adults are not enough. These explanations must find support in the child's own practical experience, in the experience of his activity. Moreover, the decisive role here is played by the inclusion of a preschooler in meaningful, joint activities with other children and adults. It allows him to directly experience, feel the need to comply with certain norms and rules in order to achieve important and interesting goals. nine0003

E.O. Smirnova, V.M. Kholmogorova believe that the main condition for the formation of prosocial behavior in younger preschoolers should not be the development of children's ability to reflect on their experiences and not strengthen their self-esteem, but, on the contrary, the removal of fixation on their own "I" due to the development of attention to the other, a sense of community and belonging with him [5].

Another condition for the development of prosocial behavior in younger preschoolers is the organization of joint activities - playful or productive. In such joint activities, younger preschoolers learn to coordinate their actions, cooperate, and develop prosocial communication skills. Under the influence of collective activity, as A.V. Zaporozhets, children develop the ability to "sympathize with other people, experience other people's needs and needs as their own." nine0003

Staub E. identifies the following two pedagogical conditions that influence the development of prosocial behavior in younger preschoolers - this is role playing and induction. In the first case, children act out roles in order to see things from the other person's point of view. In the second case, adults communicate their thoughts about this or that behavior to children: for example, children can be told about what consequences their actions will have on others.

The effect of observational learning on prosocial behavior has been demonstrated in a number of studies, which have shown that modeling prosocial behavior is more effective when the model is perceived to be caring or has a special relationship with the child. However, it must be remembered that often the models are examples from films and television programs. nine0003

Particular attention should be paid to the leading activity of children of this age - play activity for the formation of their prosocial relations. Preschoolers often play role-playing games that require participants to interpret and share each other's fantasies, as well as to act in an imaginary situation defined by special rules.

According to L.S. Vygotsky, it is in the role-playing game that children learn cooperation and master other prosocial skills, as well as develop the ability to think about their behavior and manage it. nine0003

A variety of dramatization game techniques, in which children seem to come closer to the characters of the work, allow not only to reveal the emotional response of each child, but also to create conditions for the formation of emotional responsiveness in him, both in relation to his peers and in relation to adults . Through games, the educator can not only reveal the content of prosocial behavior in a fun way, but also connect this content with the specific actions of the child, this makes it possible to consolidate a positive attitude towards their implementation in everyday life. nine0003

Thus, the prosocial behavior of children of the fourth year of life, which contains the upbringing of good feelings, positive relationships, and the simplest moral manifestations, occurs in everyday everyday activities, in play, and is associated with the formation of these activities. At the same time, the main pedagogical conditions for the development of prosocial relations in children of the fourth year of life are:

- creation of conditions for the inclusion of a younger preschooler in meaningful, joint activities with other children and adults; nine0003

- removal of fixation on one's own "I" due to the development of attention to another, a sense of community and belonging with him through the creation of a subject-developing environment that stimulates the manifestations of a prosocial attitude;

- selection of socially oriented plots of role-playing games;

- organization of learning, through the observation of prosocial forms of behavior, its modeling.


  1. Furmanov, I.A. Socio-psychological problems of behavior [Text]: A course of lectures for students of the department of psychology / I.A. Furmanov. - Minsk: BSU, 2001. - 91s.
  2. Polonsky, V. M. Dictionary of education and pedagogy [Text] / V. M. Polonsky - M .: Higher school, 2004. - 569 p.
  3. Grebennikova O.V. Psychological and pedagogical conditions for the development of voluntary behavior of preschool children [Electronic resource] // Psikhologicheskie issledovaniya: elektron. scientific magazine 2009. - No. 1(3).
  4. Kasatkina, Yu.V., Klyueva N.V. We teach children to communicate [Text] / Yu. V. Kasatkina, N.V. Klyuev. - Yaroslavl: Academy of Development, 1997. - 240 p.
  5. Interpersonal relations of a child from birth to 7 years [Text] / ed. E.O. Smirnova. – M.: Voronezh, 2000. – 235 p. nine0068
90,000 modern behavior of the modern generation discussed in the SevGU
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Conference dedicated to the socio-psychological issues . The participants considered how the role of the family affects the upbringing of children, and also analyzed the presented scientific works. nine0092

Specialists from the regions of Russia took part in the full-time format of the first conference for the conference: employees of the Psychological Center for Assistance to the DPR, employees of the Sevastopol Center for Family and Childhood Protection, as well as a representative of the Southern Federal University from the city of Rostov-on-Don. Honored guests from St. Petersburg and Moscow took part in the conference online.

“The purpose of the conference is to summarize the scientific and practical experience of those specialists who study the problems of youth from the point of view of psychology. The conference is also aimed at attracting students to scientific activities, to the study of certain problems that arise today in the youth environment", - said Associate Professor of the Department "Pedagogy and Psychology of Creative Development" Inobat Erina .

Elena Bogomolova, Deputy Director for Development of the Humanitarian Pedagogical Institute and Advisor to the Rector for Work with Educational Institutions, delivered a welcoming speech.

“The conference is of a very topical nature, because we live in a time when everything changes literally every day. About a year ago, a lot of attention was paid, especially to those guys who supported Navalny's positions. Today we see that other, global problems have appeared, and therefore we will discuss the role of the family and educational institutions, the social environment in the pro-social behavior of children and youth in the conditions of a hybrid war at the present stage", - told Elena Bogomolova .

Correctional work with children and adolescents is very important. In Sevastopol in 2014, there were only 70 children with mental disorders and there was one boarding school for children with mental retardation. Today there are more than 1,000 such children, this is due to the fact that many parents decide to carry out correctional work in Sevastopol, since there is a favorable climate and psychological environment.

“Our boarding school for special children is three times full. Accordingly, all these guys are now in schools. Since correctional work with children is of high relevance, the need for qualified employees is also increasing. In crisis situations, work with special children should become an ongoing process that will be carried out from preschool age" , - explained Bogomolova .

The significance of cooperation with Sevastopol State University was noted by Doctor of Psychology, Professor, Academician of the Russian Academy of Education of the Russian State Pedagogical University. A. I. Herzen Irina Baeva.

“Together we need to solve a very important task: to create conditions for prosocial behavior to be the leading one in our children and adolescents,” she clarified.

Reports in the sections of the conference were made not only by specialists from the regions, but also by students and graduates of SevSU. nine0003

“My report is essentially a report on the work done in the Horizon sports and recreation camp in the University Shifts project, where work was carried out with children from the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, as well as Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.

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