Psychological Development of the Young Child (page 2)
"Let me do it myself" is in many ways the central theme of early childhood. It is often difficult for adults, who have been self-sufficient for as long as they can remember, to fully appreciate the child's feelings in such matters. The urge to do things by herself reflects the child's newly acquired motor abilities and, even more, her newfound sense of self and of personal initiative. She is busy discovering that "I am me," and one way to find out who you are is to do things for yourself. Indeed, the young child's positive sense of self is very much determined by her ability to take the initiative. It is for this reason that parents and teachers are well advised not to do for a young child what she can do for herself. Waiting a few moments for a child to button herself up or pull up her own zipper is well worth the wait in the support it provides for the child's budding sense of being able to initiate and to complete a task on her own.
One of famed Italian educator Maria Montessori's most important contributions to early childhood education was based on her insight into young children's need to do for themselves. Montessori found that when she changed the environment, children could do much more for themselves than adults had assumed they could accomplish. She placed a stool by the wash basin so children could reach it by themselves. She hung a small towel nearby so young children could wash and dry their own hands. Child-sized tables, chairs, dishes, cups, glasses, and silver made it possible for children to set the table and to feed themselves easily and without mess. Montessori made it clear that many of the young child's difficulties in self-help derive from the fact that the environment is structured for people of adult size and strength. When the environment is downsized, children can succeed in many more self-help activities than they can in an adult-sized environment.
Despite her eagerness to be independent and self-sufficient, the preschool child, like the elementary school child and the adolescent, experiences that basic conflict that she will confront throughout the process of growing to maturity. This is the conflict between the wish to grow up, to be independent, and the wish to remain a dependent child. The preschool youngster may fall back on earlier patterns when a new baby is brought home or when she is tired or frustrated. Such backsliding is entirely natural and happens to all young children. If we accept it for what it is, a momentary hesitation, a pause in the rapid pace of growth, the child will rapidly regain her momentum and initiative.
Parents and teachers can, however, engender a sense of guilt in the young child if they treat her momentary lapses as malicious actions. Although there are many effective ways to handle such backsliding, depending upon the cause, the important thing is to regard it as a normal part of growth and not as an intentional challenge to adult authority.
One of the great charms of the preschool child is her wonderful creativity. At every turn, the child's verbal creations give voice to her fresh view of the world about her. One youngster, looking up at some wispy clouds, cried out, "Look, Daddy! I can see God's fingers." Another preschooler, whose lusty baritone had to be stilled so that the other children could keep the melody, lamented, "I used to sing pretty good until they invented tunes."
The preschool child is also capable of rather straightforward reasoning and empathy. At four, one of my sons asked, "Dad, why don't you get rid of this old car?" I asked in return, "Well, I'm pretty old, older than the car anyway. Would you like to get rid of me?" To which he replied, "Well, no, not yet. You still work pretty good!"
It would be easy to fill these pages with more examples. The preschool years are, in a very real sense, the magic years. The young child is so charming in her eagerness for life and in her creative approach to it that th is period is by far the favorite stage of childhood as far as most adults are concerned. Another quality of young children should be mentioned: their lack of vengefulness. Young children fight and then play together; they do not bear a grudge. Perhaps it was this quality that Jesus had in mind when he said, "Only as ye ... become like young children shall ye enter the gates of heaven."
© ______ 1994, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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