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Psychosocial Development in Early Childhood


Guidepost 1: How does the self-concept develop during early childhood, and how do children advance in understanding their emotions?

  • The self-concept undergoes major change in early childhood. According to neo-Piagetians, self-definition shifts from single representations to representational mappings. Young children do not see the difference between the real self and the ideal self.
  • Understanding of emotions directed toward the self and of simultaneous emotions develops gradually.

Guidepost 2: How do young children develop initiative and self-esteem?

  • According to Erikson, the developmental conflict of early childhood is initiative versus guilt. Successful resolution of this conflict results in the "virtue" of purpose.
  • Self-esteem in early childhood tends to be global and unrealistic, reflecting adult approval.

Guidepost 3: How do boys and girls become aware of the meaning of gender, and what explains differences in behavior between the sexes?

  • Gender identity is an aspect of the developing self-concept.
  • The main gender difference in early childhood is boys' greater aggressiveness. Girls tend to be more empathic and prosocial and less prone to problem behavior. Some cognitive differences appear early, others not until preadolescence or later.
  • Children learn gender roles at an early age through gender-typing. Gender stereotypes peak during the preschool years.
  • Four major perspectives on gender development are biological, psychoanalytic, cognitive, and socialization-based.
  • Evidence suggests that some gender differences may be biologically based.
  • In Freudian theory, a child identifies with the same-sex parent after giving up the wish to possess the other parent.
  • Cognitive-developmental theory maintains that gender identity develops from thinking about one's gender. According to Kohlberg, gender constancy leads to acquisition of gender roles. Gender-schema theory holds that children categorize gender-related information by observing what males and females do in their culture.
  • According to social cognitive theory, children learn gender roles through socialization. Parents, peers, and the media influence gender-typing.

Guidepost 4: How do preschoolers play, and how does play contribute to and reflect development?

  • Play has physical, cognitive, and psychosocial benefits. Changes in the types of play children engage in reflect cognitive and social development.
  • According to Piaget and Smilansky, children progress cognitively from functional play to constructive play, pretend play, and then formal games with rules. Pretend play becomes increasingly common during early childhood and helps children develop social and cognitive skills. Rough-and-tumble play also begins during early childhood.
  • According to Parten, play becomes more social during early childhood. However, later research has found that nonsocial play is not necessarily immature.
  • Children prefer to play with (and play more socially with) others of their sex.
  • Cognitive and social aspects of play are influenced by the culturally approved environments adults create for children.

Guidepost 5: What forms of discipline do parents use, and how do parenting styles and practices influence development?

  • Discipline can be a powerful tool for socialization.
  • Both positive reinforcement and prudently administered punishment can be appropriate tools of discipline within the context of a positive parent-child relationship.
  • Power assertion, inductive techniques, and withdrawal of love each can be effective in certain situations. Reasoning is generally the most effective and power assertion the least effective in promoting internalization of parental standards. Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment can have negative consequences.
  • Baumrind identified three childrearing styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. A fourth style, neglectful or uninvolved, was identified later. Authoritative parents tend to raise more competent children. However, Baumrind's findings may be misleading when applied to some cultures or socioeconomic groups.
  • Family conflict can help children learn negotiating skills.

Guidepost 6: Why do young children help or hurt others, and why do they develop fears?

  • The roots of altruism and prosocial behavior appear early. This may be an inborn disposition, which can be cultivated by parental modeling and encouragement.
  • Instrumental aggression--first physical, then verbal--is most common in early childhood.
  • Most children become less aggressive after age 6 or 7, but the proportion of hostile aggression increases. Boys tend to practice overt aggression, whereas girls often engage in relational aggression.
  • Preschool children show temporary fears of real and imaginary objects and events; older children's fears tend to be more realistic.

Guidepost 7: What causes child abuse and neglect, and what are the effects of maltreatment?

  • The incidence of reported maltreatment of children has increased greatly.
  • Forms of maltreatment are physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment.
  • Characteristics of the abuser or neglecter, the victim, the family, the community, and the larger culture all contribute to child abuse and neglect.
  • Maltreatment can interfere with physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development, and its effects can continue into adulthood. Still, many maltreated children show remarkable resilience.

Guidepost 8: How do young children get along with (or without) siblings?

  • Sibling and peer relationships contribute to self-efficacy.
  • Most sibling interactions are positive. Older siblings tend to initiate activities, and younger ones to imitate. Same-sex siblings, especially girls, get along best.
  • Siblings tend to resolve disputes on the basis of moral principles. Parental intervention in sibling conflict, especially among younger siblings, may prevent worse conflict later.
  • The kind of relationship children have with siblings often carries over into other peer relationships.
  • Only children seem to develop at least as well as children with siblings.

Guidepost 9: How do young children choose playmates and friends, and why are some children more popular than others?

  • Preschoolers choose playmates and friends who are like them. Aggressive children are less popular than prosocial children.
  • Friends have more positive and negative interactions than other playmates.
  • Parenting can affect children's social competence with peers.

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