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Introduction- Development During Early Childhood

Angela Oswalt, MSW

image by Adam Jones (lic)This topic center covers parenting and child development of preschool children (early childhood aged 3 to 7. For a complete review of the theories of child development upon which this article is based, please visit our Child and Adolescent Development topic center. For coverage of child development and parenting topics applicable to infant children (ages 0-2) please visit our Infant Parenting and Child Development topic center. For information on parenting and child development of middle childhood children (ages 8 to 11), please visit our Middle Childhood Parenting and Development center and Child Development Theory: Middle Childhood center. For information on parenting adolescents (ages 12-24), please visit our Adolescence Child Development and Parenting and Child Development Theory: Adolescence topic center.

She's talking so much more, about what she did today and what she feels. He's starting to make playmates outside of home. She's going to school. Much to his parent's relief, he becomes potty trained and says good-bye to diapers. It's true-they aren't babies anymore.

This article is the third in our series concerned with child development. The goals of this series are to discuss what is known about how children develop from birth through adolescence, and to offer tips on how to use this developmental knowledge to improve parenting skills. This particular document will survey child development between the age of 2 to 7 years, a period sometimes referred to as early childhood.

As with our infant development article, this early childhood development document will discuss how a child grows and develops physically, cognitively (mentally), socially, emotionally, and sexually. External indicators of development, such as changes in height and weight, are more noticeable than internal indicators such as thinking and emotional skills. As a result, our child development series focuses on the work of four theorists: Erikson, Kohlberg, Piaget, and Bronfenbrenner, to explain the more subtle changes that occur inside a child's mind with regard to cognitive, moral and emotional development.

Theoretically, early childhood corresponds roughly to the Piagetian Preoperational stage of cognitive development and to the Ericksonian stages of "autonomy versus shame and doubt", "initiative versus guilt", and the beginning of the "industry versus inferiority" stage of psychosocial development.

According to Piaget, young children in the Preoperational stage use the knowledge they gained from their senses during the Sensorimotor stage to start thinking more abstractly and symbolically about things that they aren't immediately experiencing. Abstract and symbolic thinking facilitates language development and make-believe play. For example, children in the Preoperational stage can understand that a picture of a shiny red fruit represents an apple, even though a real apple is not in front of them. However, the Preoperational child's abstract thinking skills are not fully developed, so they still sometimes rely on concrete evidence, such as how things appear, to learn.

According to Erickson, toddlers in the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage (ages 1 to 3 years), either develop the confidence to try new things; or become unsure of their abilities and withdraw from initiating new activities. Engagement in or withdrawal from new activities depends on the type of support and nurturing the child received from caregivers. During the initiative versus guilt stage (ages 3 to 6 years), young children either develop a healthy sense of eagerness to tackle new tasks, join in activities with peers, and try things without the help of adults; or they develop a too-strict sense of self control and guilt related to their actions, and approach the world timidly and fearfully. In the industry versus inferiority stage (age 6 to 11 years), children either develop confidence in their ability to perform at school and with peers; or they feel inadequate in multiple environments, including school, family, and peer settings. The 2-7 year old age range is when Bronfenbrenner's ideas about ecological systems theory also become important. Bronfenbrenner's theory explains how the interaction between children's genetic and biologically influenced personality traits interact with their environment to affect how they grow and develop. A more encouraging and nurturing environment will set the stage for optimal maturation. In addition, how a child acts or reacts to the environment will affect how others treat him or her in return. For example, an easygoing child may be treated more positively by caregivers than a child who is difficult to soothe. More detailed general information about these theories and these stages can be found in our introductory article about general child development.

It is worth saying again that while we present many milestones or developmental achievements in this article that are linked to certain ages, children develop at their own pace. You should not worry if your child seems a bit behind the norms (average ages at which specific developmental tasks tend to occur) we present here. Healthy development occurs at a wide range of ages. However, if you are concerned that your child is not developing normally, make an appointment with your pediatrician. She or he can help you determine whether additional assessment and/or treatment is necessary for your child.

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