Development in Youngsters

What parents need to know about their 2-6 year olds

By Sam Anderson

What's going on in the brains of these children?

Between ages 2-6, the brain weight increases from 70% of its adult weight to 90%; formation of synapses, cell death, myelination, & synaptic pruning occurs in the brain, so pre-schoolers improve in a WIDE variety of skills. Production of synapses and myelination in the corpus callosum reaches its peak in 3-6 year olds: this improves the child's physical coordination, perception, attention, and memory. A similar process also happens in the hippocampus which further improves memory. Fibers also form between the cerebellum and the corpus callosum helping to improve physical coordination. Finally, the reticular formation sends out fibers to the frontal lobes which improves attention. With these advances in the brain also comes an extraordinary increase in symbolic activity, the development of make believe during play, & children first begin to read and write. As you can see this is a vital period in a child's life, so parenting practices are pivotal in this period. Throughout the rest of the article, I'll touch on topics such as nutrition & immunizations, the importance of social support (good child-care centers, affectionate parenting, and making same-age friends), and finally the importance of a good home environment

Nutrition and Immunizations in Early Childhood

Prolonged malnutrition has a devastating on young children: it leads to smaller size, greater susceptibility to disease (ESPECIALLY if child is not immunized), and finally it delays the appearance of permanent teeth. Children have the same dietary requirements as adults, just in smaller portions, which leads me to the opposite end of the spectrum which is overweight or obesity in young children- which can have a drastic impact on the child as well. Obese/overweight young children are more likely to develop many health problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are associated with heart disease in adults. Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in overweight children. No matter what you feed your children, the dental requirements for your children should include 1. Brushing their teeth consistently 2. Avoiding sugary foods (also detracts from childhood obesity) and 3. Young children should be drinking fluoridated water.

Luckily, childhood diseases have dropped dramatically during the past half-century and this is mainly as a result of the widespread immunizations of infants and young children. Still, approximately 23% of U.S. pre-schoolers lack the essential immunizations. There is no reason for this because since 1994 immunization shots are free at health departments, and although these immunization shots are required for all 5-6 year olds enrolling in kindergarten, younger children are still highly susceptible to these diseases when not immunized.

Good Parenting Techniques

A good home environment and a good upbringing is essential to the healthy development of a child at any age, but it is especially vital to the young child whose undergoing so many vast changes so quickly. The 3 features which highlight effective child-rearing styles from those that aren't so effective include 1. Acceptance and involvement of parent 2. Control and 3. Autonomy granting. The most successful approach to parenting is the authoritative child-rearing style which involves high acceptance & involvement, adaptive control techniques, and appropriate autonomy granting.

The correct type of punishment is also pivotal to the healthy development of a child. Children who are exposed to more harsh threats & angry physical control are more likely to develop serious, lasting mental health problems. Rather than using these aggressive punishment tactics, parent should try to use positive discipline on their child: that is parents should encourage good conduct and build a mutual respectful bond with the child- letting the child know ahead of time how to act and praising mature behavior. Parents who practice this type of strategy emphasize cooperation, problem solving, and consideration for others. As a result, this greatly reduces the need for punishment.

Parents should also limit their children's time for watching TV and should be especially wary of what their children watch: prime time television does not include much educational information for the young child and it also contains much violence. TV violence increases the likelihood of hostile thoughts and emotions and of verbally, physically, and relationally aggressive behavior.

Parents should also be active in their child's learning by conversing with the child often and exposing the child to books and culture. They should also try to grant their children autonomy in their learning process so they are not too reliant on the parent. Parents should use the technique of scaffolding in teaching situations, whereby support is offered that fits the child's current level of performance. Many parents work jobs during the day, which limits the amount of time and the amount of teaching they can offer their children. Many parents take their young children to child-care centers or preschools which are very important in a young child's social and cognitive development.

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Expanding Social Networks of the Young Child

As the child ages from 2-6, a dramatic rise in joint, interactive play occurs . This ranges from nonsocial play where children play by themselves to cooperative play which children orient toward a common goal- such as acting out a make-believe theme. If a child does not play much with others, it is not a cause for concern unless you see that the child is wandering aimlessly, hovering around peers but not engaging with them, or doing motor activities which are highly repetitive. Parents who directly influence their children's social networks such as organizing a play group for their child is associated with pre-schoolers' social competence and peer acceptance. Greater affiliation with prosocial peers in just one Fall of preschool was related to enhanced positive emotionality (especially for girls) and decreased negative emotionality (especially for boys) in later peer interactions (Fabes, 2012). Obviously, the type and abundance of peer interactions plays a mega-role in the way children relate to peers as they develop- exposing children to fulfilling networks of social interactions helps them down the road.

References and Wrap-Up

Thanks to the following references for providing much of the factual information to this article:
Berk, L. E. (2009) Development through the Lifespan. Boston, MA: Pearson
Fabes, R, Hanish, L, Martin, C, Moss, A, & Reesing, A. (2012) The effects of young children's affiliations with prosocial peers on subsequent emotionality in peer interactions. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 30(1), 569-585.