Early childhood to Middle childhood
Changes in Early to Middle Childhood
Amy J. Wade
September 29, 2014
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Children will make many changes between early and middle childhood. Some of those changes will be physical, there will be changes in the brain, nervous system, cognition, problem solving and judgment and they will have major milestones in social and emotional development.
Physical Development On average children in early childhood with grow two to three inches in height and about five pounds in weight each year. Boys will typically be larger than girls at this time. Body fat will begin to drop off, but girls will tend to maintain more body fat than boys. “By age 5 the top-heavy, bowlegged, potbellied toddler has become a more streamlined, flat-tummied, longer-legged child with body proportions similar to those of adults” (Berk 2007). By the end of preschool children start to lose their primary teeth. Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are three times more likely to have tooth decay then children who are not exposed to tobacco smoke. This is because the tobacco smoke suppresses their immune system including the bacteria that causes tooth decay. “Body size (as measured by height and weight) and a variety of internal organs follow the general growth curve: rapid growth during infancy, slower gains in early and middle childhood, and rapid growth again during adolescence” (Berk 2007). Children who come from homes that are impoverished are less likely to be below average in height and weight. Boys tend to have a greater muscle mass, longer forearms than girls, but girls appear to have better balance and precision of movement.
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Changes in the brain and Nervous System The brain increases from 70-90% of its adult weight between the ages of 2 and 6. In preschooler’s physical coordination, perception, attention, memory, language, logical thinking and imagination improve. The left hemisphere of the brain is more active between the ages of 3 and 6, whereas the right hemisphere of the brain is more active during early and middle childhood. “Early childhood is a time of marked gains on tasks that depend on the frontal cortex—ones that require inhibiting impulses and substituting thoughtful responses” (Berk, 2007). Language skills increase in early childhood and they begin to have better control over their behavior. The nervous system shows an increase in coordinated functioning. Motor coordination changes dramatically at this time. Their attention span improves and seems to be better sustained as children grow in this time period. As the corpus callosum continues to develop smooth coordination of both sides of the body improves and there is an integration of many of the aspects of thinking such as perception, attention, memory, language, and problems solving. Boys seem to be ahead of girls in skills that requires force and power (e.g. throwing a ball, jumping and running), while girls seem to be ahead of boys in fine motor development. Girls seem to be able to do things that require balance and foot movement better (e.g. hopping and skipping).
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Social and Emotional Development Preschoolers tend to describe themselves in a concrete manner (e.g. ”I am 4 years old, I am Sam, I can brush my teeth”), they also begin to describe themselves using emotions and attitudes to do so (e.g. “I am happy when I get to play with my friends”). Berk (2007) states that “the stronger children’s self-definition, the more possessive they tend to be, claiming objects as “Mine!”” Children also develop self-esteem in early childhood. Self-esteem is the judgment we make about ourselves and our own worth. Generally children who have higher self-esteem will perform better than children who have been constantly criticized and have low self-esteem. By age 3 or 4 children learn to regulation their own emotions. They learn that they can blunt things by closing their eyes, plugging their ears, and some children will even go as far as to talk to themselves to help them get through a stressful period (e.g. “Mommy said she will be back soon”). Children learn these various strategies for dealing with stress by watching adults and mimicking the behaviors they see their parents display. Emotional outbursts seem to start to decline in the preschool years. If a preschooler is able to distract himself/herself then he/she is more likely to be cooperative and have fewer behavior problems as they progress through school. A child’s temperament can also affect their ability to self-regulate emotions. Burk (2007) states “Children who experience negative emotion intensely find it harder to inhibit feelings and shift attention away from disturbing events.” Early to Middle Childhood Page 5
Social development seems to proceed in a three-step sequence. These steps are nonsocial activity, parallel play and associative and cooperative play. The nonsocial activity is when a child plays alone and may be the onlooker of other children’s play. Parallel play is when a child plays near other children, and may even play with similar toys but still does not make any attempt to play with other children and finally you have associative and cooperative play. Associative play is when children still play alone but they may exchange toys or comment about each other’s behavior and cooperative play is when children actually start to move toward playing together (e.g. acting out a make believe theme). As children begin to age they grow from one stage of play to another. Preschoolers will begin to develop first friendships. If a child begins kindergarten with friends then they are more likely to make more friends and adjust to school better. Parents play a role in how children interact with each other. If parents make arrangements for their children to have “play dates” then those children are more likely to be social then the children who do not have parent involvement. These children are more likely to learn to handle conflicts better and make more friends as they age. Children who are securely attached to their parents are more likely to make friends and be more responsive to peer invitations. “Highly involved, emotionally positive parent-child conversations and play predicted preschoolers’ prosocial behavior and positive peer relations” (Berk, 2007).
Berk, Laura E. (2007). Development Through the Lifespan. 4th Edition. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.