This is the first blog in a series that will address issues of preschool development, reactions to family separation, how parents can help their child between the ages of three and five navigate the separation process, and offer suggestions for living arrangements for this age group after separation or divorce.
The preschool years are full of changes. Children ages three to five experience dramatic growth in their motor skills, language, thinking and social development. Knowing what to expect as your young child grows can reassure you that your child is on track as well as help you enhance their developmental growth. It is crucial to understand that children develop differently and reach milestones at varying rates. What is most important is that your child progresses from one stage to another at a fairly stable pace.
During the preschool years, children learn to use language more effectively. In addition, preschoolers begin to understand the use of symbols (the ability to use one thing to represent another) as well as engaging in more advanced pretend play. Preschoolers begin to grasp that pictures and symbols can represent real objects. For instance, the letters “C-A-T” represent an actual cat, or that a stick figure can represent a family member. Of significance during this developmental time frame is the child’s ability to use symbols through imaginative play rather than engaging only in simple motor play as they did in earlier years of development. Researchers report that imaginative play is related to cognitive growth and achievement.
The Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget, maintained that a child’s logic in this time is ruled by perceptions as opposed to reasoning. They are unable to recognize that objects that change in form do not change in amount. Children three to five years of age are generally egocentric which means they cannot instinctively and independently vary from their own perspectives. For example, preschoolers may think that since they like building with Legos so must everyone else. Consequently, they believe that everyone shares the same viewpoint as them. Therefore, in their mind, if they believe they should get candy before dinner then everybody also holds this same belief. In addition, due to their egocentric thought, preschoolers show “animism”, the belief that nature and objects are alive and have human-like characteristics.
As children advance through the preschool years, their world expands. They move toward a growing independence and begin to focus more on adults and children outside of the family. As they explore, they become more interested in their surroundings. Preschoolers will increasingly ask about things around them. Their exploration and expanding social environment help shape their personality as well as their own ways of thinking and moving.
In regards to playing with other children, preschool children are expanding their abilities. Three year olds generally play alongside other children and may join in another child’s play. While they may enjoy playing group games with simple rules, they don’t always cooperate or share well. At times, they are easily frustrated which may be expressed through tantrums. They begin to play make believe as well as may create invisible friends with whom they interact. Some three year olds may develop fears, especially at night. They show empathy for others and like to help with simple household tasks
During year four, peer groups are closer, and children this age may develop a favorite friend. Children become more cooperative with other children in play activities and are learning the concept of sharing. They are able to take turns, share and cooperate with other children. They continue to enjoy pretend play and have a vivid imagination. However, they also may show increased self-centeredness and fail to wait their turn. Four year olds have a strong desire to do things independently and will inform their parents of their intent to do more things on their own and at their own pace. A typical four year old craves adult approval. Their desire to be liked by others often prompts them to do things that will gain them praise from their peers and adults. During this age, children understand the concept of lying, but may still lie to protect themselves.
By the age of five, children have developed a wider group of friends and actively seek to play with others rather than be alone. They may mimic both their friends and adults to gain praise and approval. They are very proud of, and vocal about, their achievements. While they play with both boys and girls, they prefer to socialize with their own gender. In addition they are more likely to follow rules and comply with requests since they can distinguish right from wrong, honest from dishonest and are more aware of the consequences for inappropriate behavior. Both their need for independence and imagination may grow stronger. Their play generally includes roles, props and costumes. They enjoy entertaining others and like to make them laugh. Five year olds demonstrate significant amounts of affection toward others, particularly smaller children, animals, or a child who is upset.
Each child develops at his or her own pace. These changes unfold in stages. Remember that these milestones are a general guide. Children move through these changes at varying rates, some children reach them early, some later. If you have any concerns, consult with your childs pediatrician or other health care professional.
In a respectful, supportive and non-judgmental manner, she helps clients use their strengths and unique qualities to find solutions to their problems, enhance their relationships, build confidence, and improve their quality of life.
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