Assessing the Development of Preschoolers (page 3)
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.
Does the child have, on average over several weeks, bowel and bladder control, especially during the day?
Occasional "accidents" are all right, particularly under special circumstances, such as excessive intake of liquids, intestinal upset, or an intense concentration with ongoing activity so that the child is too absorbed to attend to such "irrelevancies." Children who sleep well often take longer to stay continent at night.
Range of Emotions
Does the child show the capacity for a range of emotions such as joy, anger, sorrow, grief, enthusiasm, excitement, frustration, love, and affections?
These need not be exhibited all in one day, of course, but should be seen over several weeks. A child whose emotions don't vary who is always angry or sour or enthusiastic may be in trouble. Note that expressions of sadness are not necessarily problematical; in appropriate situations, they can indicate the ability to really care about others.
Can the child initiate and maintain satisfying relationships with one or more peers?
A child who often plays alone is notexperiencing a developmental problem as long as the cause is not insufficient social competence. A child who is fearful of peers or who frequently claims superiority over others may be seeking reassurance or may doubt his or her ability to meet parents' lofty expectations.
Variations in Play
Does the child's play vary, and does the child add elements to the play, even thought the play is within the same toy or materials?
A child who ritualistically and repetitively goes through the same sequence of play, with the same elements and in the same way, may be emotionally "stuck in neutral," indicating perhaps that the child has insufficient inner security to "play with the environment."
Responses to Authority
Does the child usually accept adult authority?
Occasional resistance, self-assertion, protest, and objections, when followed by ultimate yielding to the adult, indicate healthy socialization processes. Unfailing acceptance of adult demands and restrictions without a peep suggest excessive anxiety.
Does the child occasionally exhibit curiosity, adventure, and even mischief?
A child who never pries or snoops where forbidden may not be pushing against perceived boundaries enough for healthy development or may fear punishment excessively. On the other hand, frequent manifestation of these behaviors may indicate a search for boundaries.
Does the child occasionally become involved, absorbed, and interested in something outside of him- or herself?
The emphasis here is on sustained involvement in "activities" rather than in "passivities" such as television. A preschooler who cannot become absorbed in an activity or who rarely stays with a project until completion may need help.
Does the child express spontaneous affection for one or more of those responsible for his or her care?
Note that this criterion refers to spontaneous declarations of love, not such displays as the required goodnight kiss. Also, demonstrations of affection vary among families and cultures and must be taken into account on this criterion. Nevertheless, in culturally appropriate ways, a child who is thriving is likely occasionally to express affection toward caretakers and deep pleasure in being with them. Excessive expressions of this kind, however, may signal doubts about the feelings caretakers have toward the child.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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