Social Competence

Topics: Table Manners

Social competence is the ability to build a positive relationship while obtaining a personal goal within a social interaction (Rubin & Rose-Krasnor, 1992, p. 285). This essay will consist of a summary of eight characteristics of social competence and an example of a competent adolescent, followed by an analysis of two immature and two mature socially competent traits in early childhood, and ending with a real-life application. The purpose of this essay is to analyze eight characteristics of social competence.


Social convention is defined as “customs, such as table manners and rituals of social interactions, that are determined solely by consensus” (Berk, 2017, p.

510). Different cultures have different social conventions. In Polynesian culture, it is disrespectful to not finish your whole meal (Sperry, 2018). Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ is a strong indicator that an individual understands social conventions. For instance, at a school dance, a 15-year-old boy displays social competence by holding open the door for his date. Even though the young woman can open the door, for decades, men have been expected to open the door as a sign of respect and love.


The component of language consisting of the “rules for engaging in appropriate and effective communication” is known as pragmatics (Berk, 2017, p. 360). A socially competent adolescent has more advanced conversational skills, such as turnabout, shading, and referential communication skills. For example, before babysitting, Camila, who is a socially competent adolescent, engaged in a polite conversation with the parents; she faced the parents, asked questions for clarification, and maintained eye contact with a friendly face.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Table Manners

4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer


A competent adolescent is voluntarily obedient to requests and commands (Berk, 2017, p. 514). Being compliant does not mean an individual giving up his or her agency, rather compliance is a form of self-control. Compliant regulation varies between males and females. Females typically master compliance before males. Berk (2017) attributes this difference to the female tendency to seek control (p. 514). An example of a socially competent adolescent would be a 14-year-old female who dislikes her math teacher, but still respects him and listens when he instructs her to help a classmate, even though she was not finished with her assignment. If this student was not socially competent, she would have neglected her teacher’s instruction and continued working on her math assignment. However, she used appropriate self-control and assist her struggling classmate.

Ideal Reciprocity

Ideal reciprocity is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Berk, 2017, p. 497). Gibbs redefined stage 3 of Kohlberg’s theory as requiring “profound moral constructions – an understand of ideal reciprocity as the basis for relationships between people” (Berk, 2017, p. 509). An unlikely friendship can form through ideal reciprocity. A young male (16 years old) who is socially competent, reframes from punching a classmate for stealing his phone. Instead, he plays it off as no big deal because he knew it was wrong to fight. The individual who stole the phone realized that the classmate was a ‘cool guy.’ As a result of ideal reciprocity, the two classmates became friends.

Gender-Stereotype Flexibility

Gender-stereotype flexibility is defined as “the belief that both males and females can display a gender-stereotyped personality trait or activity” (Berk, 2017, p. 533). A socially competent adolescent view gender-stereotype as highly flexible. Whereas a socially incompetent adolescent understands that “boys and girls can cross gender lines,” but may not approve (Berk, 2017, p. 533). For example, a 14-year-old boy wants to wear a pink shirt to school. If he were incompetent he would be worrisome that his friends would judge him, however, the young boy disregards this because he has mature gender-stereotype flexibility and wears a pink shirt to school. He is socially competent because he does not define himself as ‘pink,’ he simply likes the color.

Emotional Understanding

Emotional understanding is “the ability to infer others’ emotional states” (Downs and Smith, 2004, p. 262). Exposure to “emotion words” as a preschooler leads to a mature emotional understanding in adolescents (Berk, 2017, p. 416). For example, Matthew, a sophomore in high school, witnesses a classmate drop his books. As a socially competent adolescent, Matthew recognizes that his classmate is distraught and embarrassed by the accident. Matthew goes out of his way to help his classmate. In the process, he acknowledges what his classmate is feeling and expresses his own emotions. has experienced a similar feeling and can empathize with his classmate. Through mature emotional understanding, relationships are enhanced and formed.

Altruistic Behavior

Altruistic behavior is an “action that benefits another person without any expected reward for the self” (Berk, 2017, p. 417). For example, while in math class, a 16-year-old sees her classmate struggling with a problem. As a socially competent adolescent, the 16-year-old stops what she is doing and assists her classmate. The student did not expect to receiv something in return for her behavior. Socially competent adolescents do this because it is the right thing to do.


A competent adolescent views friendship as having loyalty, a mutual understanding, and intimacy (Berk, 2017, p. 614). Being loyal includes putting a friend’s Competent adolescentdid not expectneedsexpecte in front of themselves, trusting the other individual in the friendship, and sticking with that individual. Adolescents who are competentadolescent didCompetent adolescents have respect for one another’s values. They do not force each other to engage in an activity that but breaks those standards. Friendship intimacy is not intimacy in a conventional definition, rather a psychological closeness, however, romantic relationships do appear during adolescence. An example of a competent adolescent is a 17-year-old who is invited to a party where drugs and alcohol are expected to be present, but he knows his best friend has different standards and would not attend. The teenage boy could go to the party without his best friend, or he could try to convince his best friend to change his values for the party. However, he politely turns down the invitation and spends the night with his best friend. In this situation, loyalty and an understanding are seen. Loyal friendships full of understanding, survive over the years.



The first immature characteristic is compliance. During storytimeresults, Leo gave off the impression of boredom. He talked through the whole book and when his friend told him to be quiet, he replied with “I know” (see Appendix). Leo knew he was supposed to be paying attention. In addition to ignoring his friend, Leo disregarded redirection from the teacher. Redirection, after redirection, result in requiring one of the teachers to sit next to Leo to keep him on track. Leo’s ability to pay attention could explain why he is only partly competent. Leo’s compliance is immature compared to other children his age. Most students did not require an adult to stay by their side. If Leo were more mature, he would have sat down on the rug for storytime with and focused on the story. He would have been compliant with redirection the first time. Currently, he is slightly behind on the path to social competence.

The second immature characteristic seen in the classroom is ideal reciprocity. An incident occurred between Leo and Calder where the ‘golden rule’ was not implemented. Immediately following recess, Leo began to tap Calder repeatedly on the shoulder (see Appendix). Calder was in the middle of a conversation with another classmate and told Leo multiple times to wait. Leo was not treating his friend with the same standard of respect. Leo is at an age where the concept of ideal reciprocity pre- is already grasped. Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Understand state that the concept of fairness appears during the pre-conventiothefromconvention  level (Berk, 2017, p. 500). Many of Leo’s classmates are at ,inatothershe convention level. They understand ideal reciprocity in terms of “good boy – good girl” (Berk, 2017, p. 501). Perhaps, Leo lacks personal experience. Maybe Leo has never been in a position where someone treated him with a lower level of fairness. Being a leader with an instrumental personality, Leo tells others what to do, which could explain why he is slower to grasp the concept of ideal reciprocity. Unless an adult figure used inductive discipline in this situation, Leo would not be aware of his wrongdoings. However, Leo could have shown maturity if he waited for Calder to finish his conversation.


The first mature characteristic was seen in Maya, who displayed emotional understanding beyond her age when she noticed a classmate (Soyer) crying. Soyer exhibited a secure attachment to his mother and was distressed because he did not want his mother to leave. Maya’s social competence was seen when she responded to his emotional state. Maya retrieved a teddy bear from the rug area and proceeded to comfort Soyer by giving him the teddy bear (see Appendix). She explained to Soyer that she was having fun at school and stated that “it will be okay.” Maya’s ability to read Soyer’s emotional state responsematernity demonstrated her mature emotional understanding. Maya’s behavior matched what Berk (2017) deemed as mature for children her age: she recognized “that acknowledging others’ emotions and explaining their own” enhanced the quality of their friendship (p. 416). Maya and Soyer’s friendship was strengthened because of her actions. Maya’s actions also benefited Soyer’s mother; the understanding which Maya gave Soyer provided comfort, which helped Soyer’s mothermaternity mother on maternity leave.

The second mature attribute was also displayed by Maya: social conventions. During a finger painting art activity, Maya would politely ask for a paint color to be passed and returned from the mother’s comparisons after the competent adolescent was done (see Appendix). She used appropriate manners by saying “please” and “thanks.” Her action strengthened her relationships. By adhering to social conventions, Maya has gained respect and a positive reputation. Her classmates, perhaps without knowing it, count on Maya to act in a sociable and respectful manner. Through her behavior and interactions, Maya has benefited others by being consistent. Maya fully captured social convention for western society.


Preschool-aged children are in the preoperational stage of life, according to Piaget’s theory. Adults should expect make-believe play, egocentrism, and recall in the formcomparisons of scripts: “general descriptions of what occurs and when it occurs in a particular situation” (Berk, 2017, p. 298). Additionally, emotional outboutburstsurst in preschool-aged children decreases because of the development of emotional regulation strategies. At this agesocialsocialsocial form, pragmatics increases, along with the sensitivity to speech registers, and emotional understanding. Preschoolers can “predict what a playmate expressing a certain emotion might do next” (Berk, 2017, p. 415). Adult figures should not expect their preschooler to form socialform comparisons-comparisons comparison conventionadolescent did the comparisons or morality of cooperation. In terms of moral understanding, preschoolers have not integrated “personal rights with ideal reciprocity,” and cannot comprehend complex situations (Berk, 2017, p. 512).


The characteristics analyzed in this paper focused on what it would look like in a competent adolescent, but even some preschoolers are already displaying social competence in certain areas. It is not realistic to expect preschoolers to exhibit complete social competence. Social Competence does not happen all at once, it is a process that builds on itself.

Cite this page

Social Competence. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7