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Child development

Topics: Childhood, Abuse, Developmental psychology / Pages: 12 (3388 words) / Published: May 19th, 2014
Early Childhood Studies
‘All children have rights: the right to protection, to eduction, to food and medical care, and to much more. Every child, no matter where he or she lives, has the right to grow up feeling safe and cared for: a simple thought, which few would openly challenge. But, sadly, the reality is quite different’
The Holistic/Integrated Approach To The Study Of Early Childhood
This holistic ideology values the whole child and endeavours to understand each young child as an individual within the context of his or her family, community and culture. With this approach, professionals endeavour to be sensitive and responsive to all of a child’s needs and developing abilities are closely inter-connected and very much intertwined with the needs and circumstances of each child’s family. In addition, all aspects of a child’s welfare and development are viewed as part of a co-ordinated system and are seen as growing alongside, influencing and interacting with each other.
What does Early Childhood Studies actually involve?
In summary, Early Childhood Studies involves a study of the child within some form of family grouping that is in turn set within wider social and cultural contexts. of course we must keep firmly in out minds that childhood is what is termed a ‘social construct’. It is a label that society has created for young people in the early part of their lives. Consequently, childhood can have different connotations within different cultures and in different periods of history. This leads to a variety of child-rearing practices emanating from the customs and beliefs of the particular time and place.
We must realise the importance of keeping this cultural relativism in mind when studying childhood. Since societies, cultures and indeed families differ or change over time, concepts of children, childhood and the ensuring child-rearing practices and expectations of children differ and change accordingly. Some understanding of the past and a wide range of contemporary philosophies and practices can often help us find more effective ways to work with children and families.
Studying early childhood studies could be to increase knowledge and to gain an understanding of childhood, but there are also some typical reasons - academic, philanthropic or pragmatic. Other reasons could be to: fulfil a desire to do something worthwhile for children and their families discover how children become the people they eventually will be or, as Konner (1991) observes, ‘always will be becoming’ establish what the main influences on children’s holistic development are considered to be; appreciate how children might develop, and account for differences and similarities between children; understand how to provide the environment and experiences most conductive to promoting children’s well-beings and optimum all-round development ; and become more sensitive and responsive to the diverse needs of young children and their families
We must not, of course, regard childhood only as a preparation for adult life - however critical it is in terms of children;s future well-being and development. Early childhood is a very significant life-stage in its own right, being a time when a great deal of learning occurs, concepts are formed, the first and all-important relationships are made and crucial attitudes develop.

Certainly for many people these are appealing and exciting reasons for studying and/or opting to work with children. They do, however, illustrate the tremendous responsibility involved in providing the optimum support and appropriate experiences necessary to promote young children’s all-round development and well-being. In-depth study can undoubtedly help in this important endeavour.
Observing Young Children

We should regularly observe the children for whom we have responsibility. Sometimes we observe for a specific purpose - perhaps to ascertain the level of a child’s language development or performance on a predetermined task. At other times we my observe in order to achieve broader knowledge and understanding of an individual child or group of children - perhaps to ascertain how they might be settling into nursery.

Why we observe young children

Through the processes of regular observation and justifiable and valid analysis, we can gain much greater insight into: the nature of children and childhood what is unique about each child what children value and care about individual children’s all-round development, needs, health and well-being individual children’s capabilities and the extent of their knowledge, skills and progress ways in which individual children operate within their social and cultural environments children’s interaction with other children or adults the interests of individuals and groups of children typical patterns of all-round childhood development typical childhood behaviours whether children are safe or at risk the very different experiences and familial, social and cultural environments of individual children and groups of children the possible consequences of these different backgrounds

With the insight from the observations and their analysis, we are better equipped to: know the children with whom we work work in a child-focused way devise optimum environments to promote and support the holistic development of each child and respond to his or her needs interact more sensitively with children and form happy relationships with them monitor, evaluate and improve the provision we make for children, i.e. the care we give, the curriculum we devise, and the outcomes we achieve take appropriate action if any aspect of a child’s development, behaviour, health or well-being causes us concern work more effectively with parents/guardians reflect on and enhance our own practice
Moreover, competence in observation and assessment can vividly illustrate much theory and promote the integration of theoretical knowledge of childhood with practice.
What might we observe?

Bulterman-Bos et al (2002) identify four patterns of observations:
Triggered observation - when a child/group of children demand attention
Incidental observation - where information comes incidentally from the child/children’s usual activities
Intentional observation - where the practitioner deliberately observes a child/children for a particular purpose
Long-term observations - professionals observe a child/children over time, building up knowledge, theories and ‘historical reference points’

In order to increase our holistic knowledge and understanding of young children, and help us progress with our study of development in early childhood, we might usefully make observations (with analysis) of the following:
Development of children’s cognitive skills (e.g. memory; understanding; thinking; reasoning; discrimination; knowledge; formal learning skills; concentration)
Characteristics of children’s physical growth and development (e.g. appearance; height; weight; co-ordination; fine and grows motor skills; general physical activity)
Development of children’s communication skills (e.g. non-verbal; language; speech; understanding; listening; reading and writing; emergent literacy and numeracy skills)
Evidence of emotional development and expression (e.g. general behaviour; aggression; regression; shyness; tantrum; excitement; distractibility; concentration; fear; confidence; independence; feeing and sleeping problems; obsessive tendencies; reactions to new situations)
Behaviours revealed in different experiences (e.g. within the family, reaction to the arrival of a new baby, starting school, dad’s arrival home, mum in hospital, children at risk or sick, play in the imaginative play corner, listening to a story)
Evidence of children’s social development and relationships (e.g. social interaction in a variety of situations and with a range of people, e.g. family members, peers, appropriate adults, social skills and socialisation, e.g. from different cultures, in play, in reactions to strangers, on visits and at social events
Factors Affecting Health And Well-Being In The Infant

The factors that are likely to affect the health and well-being of the baby are complex, and involve the interplay of genetic inheritance, parental health and life-style and environmental influences. Some of these factors may be more significant at particular stages of development.
Knowledge of growth and development is an important part of the competency requirements for working with children, so that professionals are able to maximise the potential of each child and detect when a child is not developing normally. The routine monitoring of growth and development is currently a crucial part of the work of many early years professionals, but it needs to be done sensitively and without rigidity.

Children’s Relationships

In all cultures the survival, health, behaviour and development of skills in children are dependent upon the nurturance, training and control offered by the people with whom they have close relationships (Whiting and Edwards 1988). The process of socialisation, whereby children are shaped to fit their own particular culture, has traditionally portrayed children as passive recipients of adult influence but, as any parent knows, it is not as simple as that, and children are clearly determinedly active participants in their own socialisation, constantly modifying and challenging intended influences in pursuit of their own goals and personalities.

From the early work of John Bowlby (1953) and Sigmund Freud, where the emphasis was almost entirely on the mother-child relationship, there have been some important developments in recent years. The whole area has become much more complex, and the multiple interactive nature of children’s relationships is being explored
Pivotal concepts such as attachment, the family, and temperament have been refined and elaborated to reflect the subtlety of relationships
A multicultural perspective has evolved which enables us to examine possible universals of relationships, as well as cultural diversity
The significance of a child’s relationships with father, siblings, grandparents, other caregivers and, most recently, friends and peers, is increasingly recognised as being important for that child’s future development
It is recognised that children’s relationships always occur within a social context of already existing relationships which may exert a powerful influence upon the child
Our understanding of the impact upon a child of relationship disturbance, such as parental discord or sexual abuse, encourages intervention strategies and ways of improving relationships


Three main dimensions of parental involvement as:
Engagement - The time spent interacting with a child on a one-to-one basis, for example while reading a story
Accessibility - The parent is occupied, but available to respond to the child if necessary, for example while reading the paper
Responsibility - The parent is accountable for the everyday care and welfare of the child, for example feeding and clothing

Beyond the newborn period, fathers spend less time feeding and care taking than mothers, and spend more time in play activities. Whereas mothers pick children up for care taking activities such as nappy-changing, fathers pick them up to play with them. Not only do fathers play more with their children, but they also play differently to mothers. From as early as 8 months fathers engage in physical play, lifting, pushing and rough-and-tumble activities, whilst mothers engage in toy-stimulated play and reading to their children. These differences seem to be consistent throughout the early years, and lead to a preference to fathers as playmates, with more than two-thirds of children choosing to play with their father rather than their mother.

Research shows that the quality of the father’s social, physical play is significantly related to the cognitive development of boys whilst the quality of the father’s verbal interactions with girls is important in female cognitive development.

The absence of a father is likely to be significant in a child’s life. Apart from the poverty frequently found in families headed by a single mother, there is some evidence that IQ scores are lower, that achievement at school is poorer, and that 75% of the children whose parents divorce feel rejected by their fathers, even when the fathers visit frequently. There is also some evidence that a father’s absence is associated with psychiatric problems, lack of self-control and violent behaviour, particularly in boys.

The our key criteria for gauging father involvement were reading to the child, taking the child on outings, taking an interest in the child’s education and an equal role in managing the child. It is important to note that it is the continued presence of a father figure that matters. The family structure, whether he lives with the mother or not, and whether he is the biological father or not, did not make a difference. An older brother, an uncle, or even a friend, may suffice when the involvement is of good amount and quality.

Sibling Relationships

The commonly held view that a first-born child’s reaction to a new baby will create behavioural problems, jealousy and rivalry seems to be borne out. Increased disturbance of bodily functions, anxiety, withdrawal and dependency are among the immediate consequences to have been noted. Although hostility may occur, first-born children show a range of reactions, ranging from interest, concern and empathy, through ambivalence to outright aggressiveness. One of the factors that influences the beginning of a sibling relationship is the way in which the mother talks to the first-born about the new baby before it is born. When mothers make reference to the expected baby, relationships between the siblings are subsequently much more friendly than when the newcomer has not been introduced in discussion. Positive feelings between siblings are also more likely when the parents have a positive relationship with each other.

Abusive Relationships

An ever-increasing body of evidence shows that, although a child’s relationships with mother, father, siblings, grandparents and fiends provide care and nurturance, they may also be the main sources of profound damage. It is someone to whom the child is closely connected by family or emotional ties who carries out acts of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or who neglects a child.

The results of mistreatment associated with emotional abuse are thoughts to be severely injurious to the child’s development of self-esteem, his or her perception of other people, and his or her social relationships. Emotional neglect can also have serious cognitive and social consequences for the young child, with disturbances continuing into adolescent and adulthood.

The long-term effects of physical abuse - especially when combined with neglect or emotional abuse, as is often the case - can include post-traumatic stress reactions, cognitive distortions, altered emotionality and depression, identity confusion, poor self-image and difficulties in relating to important others.

The effects of sexual abuse have been recently researched more fully than other forms of abuse. Survivors show a wide range of psychosocial symptoms, in both the short and long term. Sexual abuse occurring within a relationship of warmth and affection, with bribery and special privileges as well as secrecy and threats, is as likely to produce traumatic results as abuse that is based on violence and coercion. Anxiety, difficulty in giving and receiving affection, sexualising of all relationships, depression, confusion, anger, aggression, psychosomatic illnesses, suicide attempts, self-mutilation, learned helplessness, sleep disturbance, moodiness and social isolation from peers have all been noted in children who have been victims of sexual abuse.

In adult survivors of sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorders sometimes occur, but major depression is the symptom most frequently recorded in child-abused adults. Anxiety is also common, with hyper vigilance with regard to danger in the social environment, and a preoccupation with controlling threats or perceived dangers often present. Major difficulties are entered in relationships with significant others, and problems with intimacy and trust, as well as sexual dysfunction (either promiscuity or sexual coldness), aggression, alcohol and drug abuse and also frequent suicide attempts.
Social Understanding: Theory Of Mind And Emotion

‘Theory of the mind’ refers to the ability to infer other people’s mental states such as their thoughts, intentions, desires, feelings and beliefs. The skill is an ability to use this understanding to interpret an make sense of people’s actions and predict what they will do next. The valuable contribution that the ability to mind-read makes to understanding subtle aspects of communicative intent (including the figurative aspects of humour, irony, sarcasm and metaphor), in deception, in appreciating emotion in others, in self-reflection (thinking about one’s own thinking), and in attempt to change the minds of others.
Pro-Social Development

Being social, getting along with others, co-operating with them and helping them is an important developmental milestone. According to Hobson (2002), though itself emerges through social relationships, mind- and emotional-reading abilities are indeed prerequisites for pro-social action, enabling us to ‘empathize’ with others and form healthy relationships. Empathy has been defined as ‘an affective response more appropriate to someone else’s situation than to one’s own’ (Hoffman 1987), and is therefore an ability that has the potential to ensure adaptive responses to distress in others. The fact that individuals can vary considerably in their pro-social tendencies has also been linked to experiences of socialisation such as levels of parental affection, attachment security, parental mental health, family discussion and explanations of feelings of self and of others.
Special Issues In Learning

The first few years of a child’s life are a period during which the child will learn more than in the rest of his or her lifetime. The early years, including the time in the womb, are regarded as critical in terms of vulnerability to infection, damage and environmental modification. Consequently, it is important to understand this early learning process so that we are in a position to enhance it, intervene and develop new theories. In essence, learning theories occupy various positions in the nature-nurture controversy. These positions are known as nativist, empiricist, and constructivist views. Nativists argue that the child is genetically pre-programmed to unfold in certain ways, and that attainment of knowledge takes place only radially and via inherent maturational mechanisms. Empiricists argue that the child is not born with genetic blueprints, but is instead a tabula rasa or blank slate which is filled only as a consequence of environmental experience. This is the approach of behaviourists such as Pavlov and Skinner, who believed that learning is the process of forming associations between external stimuli and internal responses. This type of learning is mainly passive, with the child responding to the environment, although operant conditioning sees the child or organism as operating on the environment. Constructivists represent a combination of both genetic pre-programming and environmental adaptation or experience. The child actively constructs a version of reality from his or her unique experiences. It is this approach which has been most influential in educational research, and has holistic relevance.


In the process of learning, Piaget’s child is an isolated individual who attempts to adapt to the world around him or her. This process of adaptation takes place via four important processes: schemas; assimilation; accommodation; and equilibration. Schemas are present from the start, and are initially purely physical or sensory actions. The infant does not plan, intend or internally represent objects by means of mental pictures, but instead responds only to stimuli that are immediately available. Assimilation involves taking in and absorbing experiences into existing schemas. Accommodation occurs when the child changes an existing schema as a result of new information taken in by assimilation. As the child adapts existing schemas to new ones presented in the environment, Piaget believed the child to be seeking a balance in his or her understanding of the world, and this he termed ‘equilibration’.
Child Neglect

‘The persistent failure to meet a child a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development, such as failing to provide adequate food, shelter and clothing, or neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs’

The child may appear to be constantly hungry, fatigued, emaciated, inadequately and inappropriately dressed for the prevailing weather conditions, and have the appearance of being severely unkempt and uncared for. The may routinely be absent from nursery, playgroup or school without reasonable explanation. They may have a medical condition that remains untreated, be prone to regular, unexplained, accidents and may be left unsupervised and unattended in circumstances that are not appropriate for their age and capacity to cope. Such children may appear to be failing to thrive (for non-health-related reasons) and to all intents and purposes are not developing as one would expect given their age, circumstances and stage of development.

The parent/carer’s behaviour may reveal an indifference or lack of awareness of the care and safety of their child(ren). They may appear to be pre-occupied with their own needs and problems. In not being able to see further than their own emotional needs they may have little resources left over for their children’s needs, emotionally, socially and practically. Many typical parenting tasks may simply not get done, or there may be no awareness that they should be done or done within a specific time frame.

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