Early Childhood Development

The Play Years


Children from around the age 2-6 are reaching developmental milestones that will determine much of their life. Children this age are adventurous, curious, playful, and sometimes clumsy. These are the moments where children will eat anything they can pick up, begin to develop social skills, and possibly even start their education. Some of the important aspects of your child's development are discussed to better prepare you for what to expect and make you more knowledgeable when something may not be right.

Nutrition, Sickness, and Injuries

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death of young children in the United States. With that being said, this age group is the most likely to have accidents that can cause injury or be as serious as death, so you must watch them closely. Whether it be climbing on bunk beds, or putting poisonous substances in their mouths, it can happen. Being pre cautious about leaving things lying in the child's reach, and by getting rid of hazards can prevent this from happening to you.

Related Factors:

  • boys are 1.5 times more likely to obtain injury than girls
  • overactive, agressive, and inattentive children are more likely to obtain injury
  • children living in poverty
  • children living with a single parent
  • societal conditions
  • shortages of high-quality child care

Ways to Prevent Injury:

  • laws (seat belts, car seats, child-proof caps on medicine, fenced swimming pools)
  • playgrounds with protective surfaces
  • window guards and electrical outlet blockers
  • REINFORCE safety practices and rules with your child!

Nutrition is of course an important role of everyday life for your child. It gives the proper substances to support their energy needs and keep them focused and growing everyday. Many parents worry when their child reaches preschool age because the child's appetite seems to decrease, don't worry! This is normal. At this age the body is no longer growing as rapidly, therefore your child does not need to eat as much. Also if your child eats one small meal for lunch, they are probably going to make up for it and eat more at supper.

Some ways to keep up and make sure your child is getting a proper diet:

  • remember a child's diet is as demanding as a grown up when it comes to essentials, just a smaller proportion
  • start healthy eating habits early, it will help them in the long run
  • snack healthy, stay active, and eat well balanced meals
  • be sure to have a diet including iron, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C - these are among the most common deficiencies in preschool-aged children

Immunizations are an important part of keeping your child safe from disease. The United States has one of the highest percentages of preschool aged children without vaccinations, meaning there is a greater risk of both catching and spreading disease. This is why it is very important to make sure your child is protected from that by getting them. They can be administered at health clinics, but are mainly given at the child's primary care physician's offices.

Child Vaccinations - The Doctors Debate

Preschool, Child Care and Peer Relations

Within a family is where a child first begins to learn social skills, so act as you would want them to act especially when you are in front of them, they are always watching and taking in.

Direct parental influences such as arranging play dates with other children, will help your child by building larger peer networks, as well as improving their social skills. It is shown that parent's suggesting their children how to approach play dates and resolve conflict are related to preschool aged children's social competence and peer acceptance.

Indirect parental influences include thing such as parent-child play and "getting on the child's level". The interaction between a child and their parent is important because studies show that children who have a secure attachment have better peer interaction, larger peer networks, and more supportive friendships. By building this relationship early on you are not only allowing the child to play with you and have fun, but you are helping them build social skills that will last them a lifetime.

Exposing your child to other children and improving their social skills is going to be important, and really help them out if you decide to put them into preschool or daycare. Going into either of these already having some pre notion of what is right and wrong and knowing how to interact with other children will allow your child to have a better time and spend the time that would have been on learning these skills, on other skills.

The number of children that are enrolled in child care or preschool in the United States is currently more than 60%. Most of the children that are enrolled are between 2-6 years old, as opposed to infants due to the rise in maternal employment. Preschool is designed with intention for education and enhancement of developmental skills, whereas child care is more of just supervision of a child. It is shown in two-decade long research that there are long-term benefits of enrolling your child in preschool such as higher IQ and achievement in the first years of elementary school. Even if you do not need a "baby-sitter" it can still be good to expose your child to these experiences, as well as give yourself a small break too.

Make-Believe Benefits

At about 2 years old children are not really using their imagination for make-believe play, but instead imitating what they see, so be careful what you do around them. Also in the beginning, play is self-centered and mostly focuses on the child. After 2 they begin to use a little of their imagination, for example pretending that a stick is a telephone. The child also begins to become less self-centered and will focus on other things, such as a doll. As the years go by they begin to interact their own make-believe ideas with other children and they being participating in sociodramatic play.

What make-believe can do for your child:

  • contributes to cognitive and social skills
  • longer and better peer interactions
  • more involvement
  • more socially competent
  • strengthens attention, memory, reasoning, and literacy skills

If your child is playing make-believe, it is good to encourage it instead of telling them that it's not real. It is part of the developmental process and can help them out in many ways. Pretending with them can develop a good bond between the child and parent which can also contribute to great developmental milestones, so play along!