Assessing the Development of Preschoolers
It is only natural for parents to wonder occasionally if the development of their preschooler is going well. Questions such as, "Is my child doing what he or she is supposed to at this age?" and, "Do all four-year-olds behave this way in the same situations?" reflect a natural desire to be sure the child is progressing normally. Over the years, psychologists have developed many normative scales to indicate how an individual child compares with others of a given age in similar populations.
This digest focuses on the question of individual growth, namely: Is the individual child's development going so well that he or she can be described as thriving? As parents look at their own young children's behavior and achievements on the categories outlined below, they can address the question: What aspects of my child's development need special encouragement, support, or intervention right now?
Categories of Behavior to Assess
In the course of development, ups and downs are inevitable even for children whose physical and mental endowments are normal. Occasionally children require intervention to get them successfully through a "down" period. Parents can observe behaviors in the eleven categories listed below during periods when they suspect a bit of a downturn. Keep in mind that difficulties in any single category are no cause for alarm. Indeed, difficulties in several categories do not imply irreversible problems; rather, they help us notice those periods when the child's life situation, for many possible reasons, is a bit out of adjustment with his or her emerging needs.
For three-year-olds, a look at their behavior on the following criteria for a period of about three weeks is desirable. For four-year-olds, four weeks should give a reliable picture of the quality of the child's life. At five years, add another week, and so forth. Be careful not to judge their permanent behavior based on one day's observation! All of us, children and adults, have the occasional really bad day!
Does the child usually fall asleep easily and wake up rested, ready to get on with life?
Occasional restless nights, nightmares, or grouchy mornings are all right. The average pattern of deep sleep resulting in morning eagerness is a good sign that the child experiences life as satisfying. Frequent insomnia or morning grouchiness for three or four weeks may indicate that a child is trying to cope with excessive stress, and a modification in lifestyle might be tried.
Does the child usually eat with appetite?
Occasional skipping of meals or refusal of food is to be expected. Sometimes a child is too busy with absorbing activities to bother with food at mealtimes. Also, remember that children may eat a lot at one meal and hardly anything at the next. However, a preschooler who for several weeks eats as though famine were around the corner or who constantly fusses about the menu or picks at the food may be asking for comfort.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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