Social Development of the Young Child (page 3)
In the center of a sandbox in a nursery school stood a steam shovel. Two boys were looking at the shovel when the teacher told them to "share" it and to "take turns." Within moments, the boys were fighting, and each one claimed that it was his turn. Although sharing and taking turns are familiar concepts to older children and adults, they are foreign to the young child.
The truth is that young children often regard toys as an extension of themselves. Asking them to share is like asking them to give away part of themselves. It is because children regard objects as parts of themselves that they get into such violent fights over toys. One of the achievements of the preschool years is the gradual breakdown of the identification of the self with things. This separation also helps the child appreciate objects in their own right and not as an extension of herself or of another child.
This differentiation is gradual, and teachers can help it along. We must begin by recognizing how important possessions are to children. Offering rewards for sharing, although a natural reaction, is not always helpful. It ignores the child's investment in the object. A more successful procedure is to acknowledge ownership or temporary possession. If a child, say, brings a truck to school, it is helpful to clearly label it with her name, perhaps with a placard that reads, "Mary's truck," When the toy is labeled in this way, the child is much more willing to share because it is clear that the truck is hers and will be returned. Often underlying a child's unwillingness to share is the very public loss of what she regards as part of herself.
When my children were young, I spent a lot of time teaching them to share, to help them separate the self from things. When they got older, however, I found myself encouraging them not to share! One son was characteristically too generous. He sometimes loaned his toys to other children and did not ask for them back. One friend often borrowed his bike and then returned it scratched and dirty. As my children grew older, I tried to teach them that they had to be discriminating about whom they shared with. Learning about sharing, like so much in child development, must necessarily be relearned at older ages.
Another facet of socialization during this age period is the progressive overcoming of a form of egocentrism. Because of intellectual limitations, the young child cannot easily place herself in another person's position (when it is different from her own) and see things from that person's point of view. Accordingly, the young child tends to think that everyone sees the world as she does. The young child's egocentrism helps to explain many otherwise puzzling behaviors. For example, when one of my sons was at this age he complained of a toothache. I asked him if it hurt very much, and he replied, "Yes. Can't you feel it?" He did not appreciate that I could not feel his toothache! Likewise, a young child may know her own right and left hands but not the right and left hands of a person standing opposite her.
Egocentrism can also be observed in children's play. Preschool children often engage in parallel play and tend to talk at rather than to one another. One says, "My dog is going to the hospital to get fixed," and the other says, "Grandma sent me five dollars for my birthday." True communication involves taking the other's point of view, and young children are limited in this regard. On the other hand, when a preschooler has some perceptual cues, she can sometimes take the view of others. For example, young children will sometimes "change registers" in their language and speak differently to a baby or younger child than they will to a peer or to an adult. Likewise, a preschool child may also comfort another child who is visibly upset or crying. A young child can overcome her egocentrism if she has perceptual clues to help her take the other person's position.
When young children deal with adults, another aspect of egocentrism may come into play. Consider the following incident. A preschool teacher told a child, who was busily banging on a drum and enjoying the great din he was making, that she had a headache and would appreciate it if he played the drum a little less loudly. The child paid little attention and continued to pound away at his drum. Because a headache is invisible, the child had no clues to his teacher's distress and so was unable to take her point of view. Fortunately, she was an experienced teacher. She then said, "It makes my head hurt when you play your drums so loud." By giving the child a term he could relate to, namely the word hurt, he was able to take her point of view and to stop banging. The teacher recognized that the child was not being insensitive but simply had no perceptual clues to her distress.
Learning to take the other person's point of view, to attend to and follow instructions, to share and to take turns, and to start a task and bring it to completion are some of the skills a young child has to accomplish before she beegins her formal education. In addition, she must be able to control her feelings and emotions so that she can verballize her anger and disappointment rather than act them out against her peers. When a frustrated child says to another, "You give me back my doll or I'll ... I'll explain it to you," she has made the transition from expressing her feelings through action to expressing them with words. These social accomplishments, not the learning of letters and numbers, are the true prerequisites for a successful transition to formal education.
© ______ 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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