Children are amazing little beings. It is hard to wrap your head around all the things that are happening inside their small bodies and brains as they grow and develop. Watching their outer bodies change from babies to toddlers, and soon preschoolers can be a miraculous experience. What is even more fascinating are the many changes taking place in their brains and minds.
The outer manifestations of these changes include the acquisition of language, improved coordination and ability to remember/recall. What may be less obvious to the observer is the development of psychological, social, emotional and cognitive skills. The following highlights will help parents and others who are involved with children better understand these processes, how to nurture their development and recognize if/when there is a delay or change.
Birth – 2 years
At this stage of development infants are growing at an amazing rate. Their tiny bodies become stronger by the day. Muscle development is noted as they begin to hold their heads up on their own, roll over, pull themselves up, grab a finger and eventually sit, stand and walk.
The seven basic emotions of infants that develop in the first six months of life are a joy, interest, fear, disgust, anger, sadness and surprise. By 18 months, they incorporate embarrassment, envy and empathy.
There are two important and interrelated things happening at this stage of childhood that have been proven to impact a child’s ability to relate to others throughout the rest of their lives. These two critical issues are attachment and the development of hope.
The process of bonding and attachment to the primary caregiver begins at birth. It is critical in the first few weeks that an infant is held, nurtured and coddled to form a connection with the primary caregiver. This is the beginning of the parent-child attachment process.
Children who securely attach to their primary caregivers before six months are usually able to repeat this process after six months. If the initial bonding is delayed, or the primary attachment occurs after six months, there is evidence that children have more problems forming healthy attachments. They may have problems developing healthy relationships throughout life without intensive corrective therapy. Likewise, children who are deprived of physical touch are found to have delays in cognitive, social and emotional development.
At six-eight months, a child develops the ability to remember people, and then objects. Before this time, when the primary caregiver is out of sight, the child is unable to remember her/him. Initially the child may become demanding, wanting the presence of the primary caregiver or other objects they recall, ie. ‘blankie’. Soon the child will become easier to soothe because of their ability to recall their caregivers. Children may also become afraid of strangers at this time, as they are unable to recognize new people. This stage is a temporary.
Additionally, children must learn in the first two years of life that adults in their environment will consistently care for them, keep them safe and meet their basic needs. Erik Erikson believed that infants learn to trust or mistrust people during this critical stage. This informs a child’s ability to connect and commit to others later in life. If this stage is successfully navigated, the child develops the virtue of hope and becomes hopeful toward other people. This forms the foundation for how s/he will relate to others in intimate relationships later in life.
By 18 months, children may have 5-20 words in their vocabulary.
2 – 3 years
Some theorists believe that the attachment style is set by age 2-2.5 years. The attachment style is either secure, anxious/insecure, avoidant or disorganized.
Children who are securely attached are able to transition with minimal difficulty when the primary caregivers leave them with someone else. In theory, these children trust that their primary caregivers will return and their needs will be met based on their early experiences.
Children who have insecure attachments may not want to be left with strangers, often crying inconsolably when the primary caregiver leaves. These children are often referred to as clingy and needy, in childhood and later in life.
Children who have avoidant attachment styles often seem indifferent. The theory is that these children did not learn to trust adults to meet their needs, therefore they develop either a pathological disinterest in people or become very independent and seem to need no one. This stems from their internalized belief that people are not able to meet their needs.
Children with disorganized attachment styles show characteristics of both insecure and avoidant attachment.
Erikson believed that children learn to act on their impulses and gain self control at this age, resulting in the virtue of will. If these efforts are not successful, children may become ashamed of their urges and doubtful their needs can be met.
By age two, children may have 150-200 words, and by three years 900-1000 words.
The emotions of pride, shame and guilt are added to the emotional repertoire between 2.5-3 years.
The success of early bonding and parental attachment determine attachment style. Attachment style determines how we interact with others as adults, and how we manage conflict in our relationships. One’s primary attachment style can be altered by experiences later in life.
N.p.. Web. 15 Aug 2013. <http://faculty.tcc.fl.edu/hss/mcguffr/table through middle childhood.pdf>
"Language Development in Children." Child Development Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
"The Urban Child Institute." Enhancing Development Through the Sense of Touch. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.
Amanda, Gardner. "Can a Mother's Affection Prevent Anxiety in Adulthood?" CNN Health. N.p., n.d. Web.
Salvatore, Jessica, Sally I. Kuo, Ryan D. Steele, Jeffry A. Simpson, and W. Andrew Collins. "Recovering From Conflict in Romantic Relationships." Thesis. University of Minnesota, 2011. Recovering From Conflict in Romantic Relationships. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.