Sunday, June 19, 2011




  • Subtle physical changes and a number of advances in cognitive and language development happen during early childhood

A. Growth and Motor Development

  • Physical changes occur more slowly
  • New synapses are still being formed, and some myelinization still continues in the nervous system
  • Changes in height and weight are far slower than in infancy
  • Each year from about age 2 to adolescence, children gain about 5-8 cm in height and about 2.7 kg in weight
  • Children who exhibit higher motor activity levels demonstrate a significantly better ability to control or inhibit their behaviour allowing for successful task achievement
  • Children’s motor activity levels increase linearly with age and tend to peak between 7 and 9 years of age—later than previously thought
  • The preschool child makes steady progress in motor development
  • The most impressive gains are in large muscle skills
  • Small-muscle, or “fine motor” abilities also improve

B. The Brain and Nervous System

  • Brain growth, synapse formation, and myelinization continue in early childhood, although at a pace slower than in infancy
  • Lateralization:

The Corpus callosum (connects the right and left hemispheres) grows and matures most during this time

Genes provide the mechanism for lateralization but experience shapes the pace

Language is primarily centred in the left brain

Young children whose language skills are the most advanced also show the strongest degree of lateralization, but is it cause or effect?

  • Myelinization of the reticular formation, the brain structure that regulates attention and concentration, is another important milestone of early childhood brain development
  • Hippocampus: a brain structure that is essential for the formation of memories
  • Maturation of the hippocampus probably accounts for improvements in memory function across the preschool years
  • Handedness: a strong preference for using one hand or the other that develops between 2 and 6 years of age. Right handedness is a dominant gene


  • The changes in thinking that happen during the early childhood years are indeed staggering
  • At the beginning of the period, children are just beginning to learn how to accomplish goals, but by the end, they are manipulating symbols and can make accurate judgements about others’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours

A. Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • Preoperational stage: children become proficient in the use of symbols in thinking and communicating but still have difficulty thinking logically

Egocentrism: the young child’s belief that everyone sees and experiences the world the way she does

Centration: the child thinks of the world in terms of one variable at a time

Conservation: the understanding that matter can change in appearance without changing in quantity (developed by age 5)

B. Alternative Theories of Early Childhood Thinking

  • Information Processing Theories:

Metacognition: knowledge about how the mind thinks and the ability to control and reflect on one’s own thought processes

  • Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Theory

Primitive stage

Infant possesses mental processes similar to animals

Naïve psychology stage

Learns to use language to communicate but does not understand symbols

Private Speech stage

Uses language as a guide to solve problems.

Becomes internalized by 6-7

Ingrowth stage

Logical thinking results from internalization of speech acquired from children and adults in a social world


  • Freud and Erikson’s psychoanalytic perspective offered key insights into the emotional components of development in the early childhood years
  • Modern theorists have focused on the role of cognition

A. Psychoanalytic Perspectives

  • Freud described two stages during the preschool years:

The anal stage, is dominant between ages one and three

The phallic stage occurs between ages three and five, during which the Oedipus conflict occurs, resulting in identification with the same-sex parent

Healthy personality development required the presence of both parents in the home

Freud suggested that to successfully resolve the Oedipus conflict, relationships between the child and both parents had to be warm and loving

  • Erikson’s stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt centres around the toddler’s new mobility and the accompanying desire for autonomy
  • Both Freud and Erikson suggest that the key to this period is the balance between the child’s emerging skills and desire for autonomy, and the parents’ need to protect the child and control the child’s behaviour
  • For Hartup, attachment relationships are necessary to provide the child with protection and security, but in reciprocal relationships, children practice social behaviour and acquire those social skills that can only be learned in a relationship between equals—cooperation, competition, and intimacy

B. Social-Cognitive Perspectives

  • Social-cognitive theory: the theoretical perspective that asserts that social and personality development in early childhood are related to improvements in the cognitive domain
  • Assumes that social/emotional changes are the result of, or at least facilitated by, the enormous growth in cognitive abilities that happens during the preschool years
  • Person perception: the ability to classify others according to categories such as age and gender
  • Understanding Rule Categories

Young children use classification skills to distinguish between social conventions and moral rules

  • Understanding Others’ Intentions

Young children understand intentions to some degree

Children understand that intentional wrong-doing is deserving of greater punishments than unintentional rule transgressions


  • As young children gain more understanding of the social environment, their temperaments ripen into true personalities
  • At the same time, their self-concepts become more complex, allowing them to exercise greater control over their own behaviour

A. From Temperament to Personality

  • Temperament is reasonably stable over time

3- or 4-year-olds with difficult temperaments are more likely to show heightened aggressiveness, delinquency, or other forms of behaviour problems in school, as teenagers, and as adults

Shy preschoolers are at risk of developing emotional difficulties later in childhood

  • Inborn infant temperament constitutes the foundation of personality in later childhood and adulthood
  • Transition to personality is influenced by parental responses to temperament

B. Self-Concept

  • Categorical Self:

The self-concept (and the concept of others) tends to focus on his or her own visible characteristics

  • Emotional Self:

The acquisition of emotional control is central to this stage

Acquiring emotional control involves shifting control slowly from the parents to the child

Parents who expect age-appropriate behaviours increase the switch to self control

  • Social Self:

The toddler now begins to develop a variety of social “scripts”

Sociodramatic play provides opportunities to take explicit roles, helping the child become more independent

Children adjust to school in several different ways


  • Family relationships constitute one of the most, if not the most, important contributing factor to early childhood development
  • These relationships reflect both continuity and change in that the preschooler is no less attached to his or her family than the infant but, at the same time, is struggling to establish independence

A. Attachment

  • Attachment quality predicts behaviour during the preschool years—children who are securely attached to parents experience fewer behaviour problems
  • Four- and five-year-olds who are securely attached to their parents are more likely than insecurely attached peers to have positive relationships with their preschool teachers

B. Parenting Styles

  • Maccoby’s Parenting Styles:

Authoritarian parenting style: a style of parenting that is low in nurturance and communication, but high in control and maturity demands

Permissive parenting style: a style of parenting that is high in nurturance and low in maturity demands, control, and communication

Authoritative parenting: style a style of parenting that is high in nurturance, maturity demands, control, and communication

Uninvolved parenting style: a style of parenting that is low in nurturance, maturity demands, control, and communication. This style produces the most consistently negative outcomes

  • Canadian Parenting Styles

About 33% are authoritative

They scored above average on all key measures of parenting practice

Only 1 in 5 children had behavioural problems

25% were authoritarian

25% were permissive

15% scored low – similar to uninvolved

Almost half of these children had behavioural problems


  • The child’s family experience is a central influence on emerging personality and social relationships, particularly in early childhood when a good portion of the time is still spent with parents and siblings
  • Over the years from ages 2 to 6, relationships with non-sibling peers become increasingly important
  • This is the critical period when brain development and function is most sensitive to social skills development

A. Relating to Peers Through Play

  • Relating to Peers Through Play

Solitary play

Parallel play

All ages of children

Parallel play

14 – 18 months

Cooperative play

3 – 4 years old

Social skills: a set of behaviours that usually lead to being accepted as a play partner or friend by peers

  • Friendships

An important change in social behaviour during early childhood is the formation of stable relationships:

18 months: early hints of playmate preferences or individual friendships

Age 3: 20% of children have a stable playmate

Age 4: more than half spend 30% or more of their time with one other child

Having a stable friend in early childhood is related to social competence during the elementary years



  • Although they are more difficult to observe directly, the physical changes of middle childhood are just as impressive as those of early childhood

A. Growth and Motor Development

  • Growth patterns—5 cm to 8 cm in height and about 2.7 kg are added each year
  • Large muscle coordination continues to improve, so that children increase in strength and speed
  • Increasingly good fine motor coordination makes writing possible, as well as the playing of most musical instruments, drawing, cutting, and many other skills
  • Girls in this age range are ahead of boys in their overall rate of growth
  • Girls have slightly more body fat and slightly less muscle tissue than boys
  • Sex differences in skeletal and muscular maturation cause girls to be better coordinated, but slower and somewhat weaker than boys

B. The Brain and Nervous System

  • 2 spurts in brain growth (6-8 yrs and 10-12 yrs.)

Sensory and motor areas are affected first

May be linked to the striking improvement in fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination

  • Myelinization continues

Reticular formation (controls attention)

Selective attention becomes possible

Association areas

Increases information processing speed

  • Right hemisphere lateralization contributes to increased spatial perception

Right-left orientation improves

Visual experience is important for this development

Spatial cognition improves

Boys score better than girls on spatial orientation tests

Boys’ early play preferences may enhance this ability


  • Along with impressive gains in physical development, children acquire some of the important hallmarks of mature thinking between ages 6 and 12

A. Language

  • By age 5 or 6, children master the basic grammar and pronunciation of their native language
  • During middle childhood, children learn to maintain the topic of conversation, create unambiguous sentences, and to speak politely or persuasively
  • Children continue to add new vocabulary at the rate of 5,000 to 10,000 words per year
  • By age 8 or 9, the child shifts to a new level of understanding of the structure of language, figuring out relationships between whole categories of words, such as between adjectives and adverbs or between adjectives and nouns

B. Piaget’s Concrete Operational Stage

  • In this stage children use schemes that enable them to think logically about objects and events in the real world
  • Decentration: thinking that takes multiple variables into account
  • Reversibility: the understanding that both physical actions and mental operations can be reversed. Understanding hierarchies depends on this
  • Increased skill in Inductive logic allows the child to go from a specific experience to a general principle
  • Deductive logic is still not strong

C. Advances in Information-Processing Skills

  • Memory function continues to improve
  • Processing efficiency

the ability to make efficient use of short-term memory capacity increases steadily with age

  • Automaticity

the ability to recall information from long-term memory without using short-term memory capacity, is achieved through practice

  • Executive processes

information-processing skills that involve devising and carrying out strategies for remembering and solving problems are based on knowing how the mind works

  • Expertise

The more knowledge a person has about a topic, the more efficiently their information-processing system work will work, despite age

Advanced skill in one area does not improve general levels of memory or reasoning


  • Psychoanalytic theorists explain social and emotional development in terms of a struggle between internal drives and cultural demands
  • Social-cognitive theorists have a very different view: The child’s growing understanding of the world provides the impetus for social and emotional development

A. Psychoanalytic Perspectives

  • Latency stage: the fourth of Freud’s psychosexual stages, during which 6- to 12-year-olds’ libido is dormant while they establish relationships with same-sex peers
  • Industry versus inferiority stage: the fourth of Erikson’s psychosocial stages, during which children develop a sense of their own competence through mastery of culturally defined learning tasks

B. Social-Cognitive Perspectives

  • Descriptions of others move through highly similar changes, from the concrete to the abstract
  • A 6- or 7-year-old, when describing others, will focus almost exclusively on external features such as what the person looks like, where he lives, what he does
  • At age 7 or 8, the child begins to focus more on the inner traits or qualities of another person and to assume that those traits will still be visible in many situations


  • One of parents’ and teachers’ greatest concerns is helping children learn to be good people, to do the “right” thing according to the standards and values of their culture
  • Moral development takes into account psychoanalytic, cognitive-developmental, and learning theories

A. Moral Emotions

  • Freud claimed that children learned all they would ever know of morals from their parents by age 6 (boys from their father, girls from their mother)

The superego (internal moral judge) consists of the conscience and ego ideal

  • Erikson believed each child learned from both parents
  • Recent research supports

the development of guilt, shame and pride before age 6

The quality of parent-child relationships contributes to the development of moral emotions

B. Moral Reasoning

  • Piaget noticed that younger children seemed to have less understanding of a games’ rules
  • His observations led to his proposal of a two-stage theory of moral development:

Moral realism stage: the first of Piaget’s stages of moral development, in which children believe rules are inflexible

Moral relativism stage: the second of Piaget’s stages of moral development, in which children understand that many rules can be changed through social agreement

  • Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development:

Kohlberg pioneered the practice of assessing moral development by presenting a subject with a series of dilemmas in story form, each of which highlighted a specific moral issue

Moral reasoning develops in stages and the stages are linked to progression through Piaget’s concrete operational and formal operational stages


  • One key contributor to a school-aged child’s social relationships is his own personality
  • A child’s self-concept also has an impact on her social relationships, and the quality of her relationships contributes to her developing self-perceptions

A. The Big Five Personality Traits

  • The Big Five: a set of five major dimensions of personality: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness/intellect
  • The Big Five are not only identifiable and stable in middle childhood, but are also extremely important
  • Personality assessment in middle childhood may be a useful way to identify children who are in need of interventions to prevent delinquency


  • School-aged children’s growing ability to understand others changes their social relationships in important ways
  • Children continue to be attached to parents, but they are becoming more independent
  • Relationships with peers become more stable and many ripen into long-term friendships

A. Family Relationships

  • School children continue to rely on their parents presence, support, and affections, despite spending less time with them
  • Having family meals is the best predictor of better childhood outcomes including

significantly better academic success

fewer behavioural problems

teens had significantly better academic success, psychological adjustment, and lowered rates of smoking, drinking, drug use, early sexual activity, violence, and suicide attempts

Children and teens who regularly ate dinners with their family had nutritionally superior diets

  • The Child’s Understanding of Family Roles and Processes

School-aged children understand family roles and relationships much better than younger children

  • Attachment

Attachment to parents stays strong despite increasing independence

Long-term separations from parents increase the risk of social and emotional problems

Securely attached school age children have better peer relationships

  • Parental Expectations

As self-regulation grows, parents allow children more independence

There are cultural and sex differences in parents’ responses

  • Parenting for Self-Regulation

Parents model self-regulation behaviour

Higher expectations + parental monitoring = greater self-regulatory competence

The authoritative style of parenting is associated with the development of self-regulation

  • Sibling relationships seem to be less central to children’s lives in middle childhood than are relationships with their friends or parents
  • In general, sibling relationships vary enormously

Rival or critical relationships seem to be more common when siblings are four or fewer years apart in age

Friendly and intimate relationships appear to be somewhat more common in pairs of sisters

Rivalry seems to be highest in boy-boy pairs

  • When children are home alone together, the caregiver role predominates; parents whose older children do well in the caregiver role seem to cope better themselves
  • Only children are no different from children with siblings in any important way, but they may have an advantage

B. Friendships

  • “Best Friend” becomes part of middle childhood
  • Friendships depend on reciprocal trust by age 10
  • Children are open and supportive with their friends
  • Children support and cooperate with friends
  • Friends help with problem solving and conflict management

C. Gender Segregation

  • Gender segregation patterns are found in all cultures and are visible by age 3
  • Boys’ friendship groups

are larger and more accepting of newcomers than are girls’

involve more outdoor play and roam over a larger area

appear to be focussed more on competition and dominance, and higher levels of competition between pairs of friends than between strangers

  • Girls’ friendship groups

Girls are more likely to play in pairs or in small, more exclusive groups

Girls spend more playtime indoors or near home or school

Girls’ friendships include more agreement, more compliance, and more self-disclosure, and higher levels of competition between strangers than between friends

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