Early Childhood: Biosocial Development

Changes in Body Size & Proportions
 •  2 to 3 inches in height & about 5 pounds in weight are added each year.
 •  Child gradually becomes thinner
 •  Girls retain somewhat more body fat, boys are slightly more muscular.
 •  Posture and balance improve, resulting in gains in motor coordination.
 •  By the end of the preschool years, children start to lose their primary teeth.
 •  Physical growth is an asynchronous process: different body systems have their own timed patterns of maturation.
 •  The brain continues to grow, increasing from 70% of its adult weight at age 2 to 90% by age 6.
 •  An average child in a developed nation at age 6 weights around 46 Lbs. 
Ψ A typical 6 year old: 
•  Is at least 31/2 feet tall. 
  •  Weights between 40 & 50 Lbs. 
    •  Looks Lean, not chubby. 
      •  Has adult like body proportions (legs constitute about half the total height).
Ψ  Three Major Factors that influence growth are: 
      •  Genetic Background 
        •  Health Care 
          •  Nutrition 
Ψ  The most common diet deficiencies of preschoolers in developed nations is an insufficient intake 
of iron, zinc & calcium. Sugar causes tooth decay, the most common disease of young children in 
developed nations.

Ψ  Many young children are quite compulsive about daily routines. This Just-right phase peaks at 
age 3, when children:

•  Have a strong preference to wear (or not) certain clothes. 
 •  Prefer to have things done in a particular order or in a certain way. 
  •  Prepare for bedtime by using a special activity, routine, or ritual. 
   •  Have strong preferences for special foods.    

Ψ  Most, if not all, children exhibit these normal age-dependent obsessive compulsive behaviors, 
which are usually gone by middle childhood (age 6).

Brain Growth & Development

age two - 75%
age five - 90%
age seven - 100 %

Ψ  At about the age of 5, children show important gains as a result of growth in the corpus callosum, a band of nerve fibers
connecting the right & left hemispheres of the brain.  This development of connectiveness gives them the ability to read!

Ψ  Lateralization:  a.k.a. "sidedness." Each hemisphere of the brain performs basically the same motor & sensory 
functions, but each hemisphere’s association area is specialized for different operations, a phenomenon known as lateralization.   

•  The left hemisphere shows superiority in tasks involving speech, language, reading, & writing.   

•  The right hemisphere functions better on tasks involving spatial construction, facial recognition, nonverbal imagery, 
sense of direction, musical recognition, & emotional states. 

Ψ  The Prefrontal Cortex is the seat of higher-order cognition, including planning & complex forms of goal-directed 
behavior. The "executive" of the brain. Benefits of maturation of this part of the brain (ages 2 - 6) follow.   

   •  Temper tantrums subside. 
    •  Sleep becomes more regular. 
     •  Uncontrollable laughter or tears become less common. 
      •  Emotions become more nuanced & responsive to specific stimuli.   
Ψ  Another function of the prefrontal cortex is to focus attention & thus curb impulsiveness.  Impulsiveness & 
perseverance ( to stick to just one thought or action - the opposite of impulsiveness) are behaviors caused by 
immaturity of the prefrontal cortex. During the preschool years, brain maturation (innate) & emotional regulation (learned) 
decrease both impulsiveness & perseverance.   

Ψ  The Limbic system is an area of the brain that is crucial in the expression & regulation of emotions. The three 
major parts of the limbic system follow.   

   •  Amygdala: A tiny part of the brain that registers emotions, particularly fear & anxiety. 
    •  Hippocampus: Part of the brain that is a central processor of memory, especially 
        the memory of locations. 
      •  Hypothalamus: A brain area that responds to the amygdala & hippocampus to 
            produce hormones that activate other parts of the brain & body.   
   •  The HPA Axis: involves the hypothalamus, pituitary, & adrenal glands. This complex system is responsible for 
   effectively handling stress by regulating the production of cortisol, neurotransmitters & key hormones. When the 
   HPA axis is not functioning correctly, a variety of neurological symptoms develop, such as anxiety, depression, 
   intolerance to stress, suicidal ideation, sleep disturbance, & mood disorder.

Mastering Motor Skills

Ψ  Maturation of the prefrontal cortex improves impulse control, while myelinaton of the corpus callosum & lateralization
of the brain permits better coordination.

    Gross motor skills - The abilities required in order to control the large muscles of the body 
for walking, running, sitting, crawling, and other activities.

    By the age of three, children walk with good posture and without watching their feet. They 
can also walk backwards and run with enough control for sudden stops or changes of direction. 
They can hop, stand on one foot, and negotiate the rungs of a jungle gym. They can walk up 
stairs alternating feet but usually still walk down putting both feet on each step. Other 
achievements include riding a tricycle and throwing a ball, although they have trouble catching 
it because they hold their arms out in front of their bodies no matter what direction the ball 
comes from.

    Four-year-olds can typically balance or hop on one foot, jump forward and backward over 
objects, and climb and descend stairs alternating feet. They can bounce and catch balls and 
throw accurately. Some four-year-olds can also skip. Children this age have gained an increased 
degree of self-consciousness about their motor activities that leads to increased feelings of pride 
and success when they master a new skill. However, it can also create feelings of inadequacy 
when they think they have failed. This concern with success can also lead them to try daring 
activities beyond their abilities, so they need to be monitored especially carefully.

    Children, who are not going through the rapid, unsettling growth spurts of early childhood or 
adolescence, are quite skilled at controlling their bodies and are generally good at a wide variety 
of physical activities, although the ability varies on the level of maturation and the physique of a 
child. Motor skills are mostly equal in boys and girls at this stage, except that boys have more
 forearm strength and girls have greater flexibility.

   Five-year-olds can skip, jump rope, catch a bounced ball, walk on their tiptoes, balance on one 
foot for over eight seconds, and engage in beginning acrobatics. Many can even ride a small 
two-wheeler bicycle.

  Ψ  Six-year-olds continue to enjoy moving in a variety of ways. Although far from proficient in motor skills, 
this does little to dampen their enthusiasm for trying out new activities & sports. They are able to run in various 
pathways & directions & can manipulate their bodies by jumping & landing, rolling & transferring their weight 
from feet to hands to feet. Their hand- & foot-eye coordination is still developing, so skills like throwing, catching, 
kicking & striking are still emerging.

Fine Motor Skills - Skills involving control of the fingers, hands, and arms.
   By the age of three, many children have good control of a pencil. Three-year-olds can often 
draw a circle, although their attempts at drawing people are still very primitive. It is common for 
four-year-olds to be able to use scissors, copy geometric shapes and letters, button large buttons, 
and form clay shapes with two or three parts. Some can print their own names in capital letters. 
A human figure drawn by a four-year-old is typically a head atop two legs with one arm radiating 
from each leg.

    By the age of five, most children have clearly advanced beyond the fine motor skill development 
of the preschool age. They can draw recognizably human figures with facial features and legs 
connected to a distinct trunk. Besides drawing, five-year-olds can also cut, paste, and trace shapes. 
They can fasten visible buttons (as opposed to those at the back of clothing), and many can tie bows, 
including shoelace bows. Their right- or left-handedness is well established, and they use the preferred 
hand for writing and drawing.

Encouraging motor development
  Ψ  Encouraging gross motor skills requires a safe, open play space, peers to interact with, & some 
adult supervision. 

  Ψ  Nurturing the development of fine motor skills is considerably more complicated. Helping a child 
succeed in fine motor tasks requires planning, time, & a variety of play materials.

  Ψ  Fine motor development can be encouraged by activities that youngsters enjoy, including crafts, puzzles, 
and playing with building blocks. Helping parents with everyday domestic activities, such as baking, can be fun 
for the child in addition to developing fine motor skills. For example, stirring batter provides a good workout for 
the hand and arm muscles, and cutting and spooning out cookie dough requires hand-eye coordination. Even a 
computer keyboard and mouse can provide practice in finger, hand, and hand-eye coordination. Because the 
development of fine motor skills plays a crucial role in school readiness and cognitive development, it is considered 
an important part of the preschool curriculum. The Montessori schools, in particular, were early leaders in 
emphasizing the significance of fine motor tasks and the use of learning aids such as pegboards and puzzles in 
early childhood education. The development of fine motor skills in children of low-income parents, who often lack the 
time or knowledge required to foster these abilities, is a key ingredient in the success of programs such as the 
Head Start program. 

Artistic Expression

Ψ  A child's development in artistic expression varies greatly based on the child's experiences with art, music, 
dance & theater.

Ψ  Given exposure & practice, six-year-olds use a wider variety of materials to create visual images that combine 
colors, forms & lines. They can also remember the words & melodies to a number of songs & may sing or play these 
songs on instruments. They can also be taught how to read music & write simple music notation. With dance, 
six-year-olds can create, imitate & explore movement in response to a musical beat. The dramatic play of 
six-year-olds show greater creativity & complexity in the use of props, costumes, movements & sounds. Children this 
age can repeat simple text & cooperate with others in a dramatization.

Childhood Injuries
Accidents are the major cause of childhood death.

Factors related to childhood injuries (death).
     1. Risk-taking -- especially boys
        2. Irritability, inattentiveness, & negative mood
          3. Poverty & low parental education are strongly associated with injury deaths.

The strongest risk factor of all is low SocioEconomic Status (SES).

Preventing Childhood Injuries

Childhood injuries can be reduced through:
      1. legislation
        2. improvement of the physical environment
          3. public education

Steps to Injury Control:
      1. Think prevention
        2. Think protection
          3. Analyze injuries
            4. Advocate safety 

Ψ Three Levels of Prevention 
      1. In primary prevention the overall situation is structured to make 
            injuries less likely. 
        2. Secondary prevention averts harm in high risk situations, such as 
              stopping a car before it hits a pedestrian. 
          3. Tertiary prevention begins after the injury, limiting the damage it 
Child Maltreatment

How is Child Maltreatment Defined by Law?

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), (42 U.S.C.A 5106g), as amended, 
provides the following definitions.

      Child is a person who has not attained the lesser of:

    * The age of 18; or
    * Except in cases of sexual abuse, the age specified by the child protection law of the State 
in which the child resides. 

      Child abuse and neglect is, at a minimum:

    * Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, 
serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or

    * An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm. 

    There are four major types of maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional 
abuse. While State definitions may vary, operational definitions include the following:

Physical Abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, 
kicking, biting, burning, shaking or otherwise harming a child. The parent or caretaker may not have 
intended to hurt the child; rather, the injury may have resulted from over-discipline or physical punishment.

Child Neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child's basic needs. Neglect can be physical, 
educational, or emotional. Physical neglect includes refusal of, or delay in, seeking health care; 
abandonment; expulsion from the home or refusal to allow a runaway to return home; and inadequate 

Educational neglect includes the allowance of chronic truancy, failure to enroll a child of 
mandatory school age in school, and failure to attend to a special educational need. 

Emotional neglect includes such actions as marked inattention to the child's needs for affection; refusal 
of or failure to provide needed psychological care; spouse abuse in the child's presence; and permission 
of drug or alcohol use by the child. 

The assessment of child neglect requires consideration of cultural values and standards of care as well as 
recognition that the failure to provide the necessities of life may be related to poverty.

Sexual Abuse includes fondling a child's genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, and 
commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials. Many experts believe 
that sexual abuse is the most under-reported form of child maltreatment because of the secrecy or "conspiracy 
of silence" that so often characterizes these cases.

Emotional Abuse (psychological/verbal abuse/mental injury) includes acts or omissions by the parents or other 
caregivers that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. 
In some cases of emotional abuse, the acts of parents or other caregivers alone, without any harm evident in 
the child's behavior or condition, are sufficient to warrant child protective services (CPS) intervention. For 
example, the parents/caregivers may use extreme or bizarre forms of punishment, such as confinement of a 
child in a dark closet. Less severe acts, such as habitual scapegoating, belittling, or rejecting treatment, are 
often difficult to prove and, therefore, CPS may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child.

fyi  Although any of the forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they often occur in combination.
 Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.

Two aspects of the cultural & community context seem universally conductive to maltreatment: 
Poverty & Social isolation.

    Physical abuse & all forms of neglect fall most heavily on children under 6 who have the following 
risk factors;

    * two or more siblings
     * an unemployed or absent father
      * A mother who did not complete high school
       * A home in a poor, high-crime neighborhood

Consequences of Child Maltreatment: Impairs a child's

    * learning
     * self-esteem
      * social relationships
       * emotional control

fyi  Intergeneration transmission of maltreatment is a fallacy!
--- 70% of people that have been abused do not abuse ---


  Differential Response - The idea that child-maltreatment reports should be separated into those that 
require immediate investigation, possibly leading to foster care and legal prosecution, and those that 
require supportive measures to encourage better parental care.

    Permanency Planning - The process of finding a long-term solution to the care of a child who has 
been abused. The plan may involve adoption, return to restored family, or long-term foster care.

    Foster Care - A legally sanctioned, publicly supported arrangement in which children are cared for 
by someone other than the biological parents.
   Kinship Care - A form of foster care in which a relative of a maltreated child takes over from the 
abusive or neglectful parents.

   Adoption - The final option.


    Primary prevention is designed to prevent maltreatment from ever occurring. Involves:

•  Stable residents of a neighborhood
 •  Home ownership (not renting)
  •  Support of churches or community centers
   •  Two-parent families with children who were planned for & desired
    •  Communities that cherish young people
     •  High income

   Secondary prevention is designed to prevent serious problems by detecting early signs that indicate 
the potential for maltreatment. Involves:

    * Home visiting
    * Education for teen parents
    * Crisis hotlines
    * Respite care
    * Drop in child care
    * Education to help people recognize signs of maltreatment 

Three unwanted by-products of secondary prevention:

      1. Stigmatizing certain families as inadequate
        2. Undermining family or cultural patterns
          3. Creating a sense of helplessness

    Tertiary prevention is designed to stop maltreatment once it occurs, & to treat the victim & the family. 

    * Removal of the child from home & placement in alternative care.
    * Counseling for parents & child. 

Key Questions

1. How do size, shape, & proportions of the child's body change between ages 2 & 6?
 2. What causes variations in height & weight during childhood in both developed & developing countries?
  3. What effect does maturation of the corpus callosum have in older preschoolers?
   4. In what ways do the gross & fine motor skills develop differently?
    5. What measures are the most effective in reducing the rate of injuries in children?
     6. What are the similarities & differences between abuse and neglect?
      7. What factors in the culture, the community, and the family increase the risk of child maltreatment?
       8. What are the long term consequences of childhood abuse & neglect?
        9. What are the advantages & disadvantages of foster care, including kinship care?
         10. Give an example of effective primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of child abuse.
          11. In your experience what child-rearing practice do you know that one culture or family considered 
                 necessary but that you considered maltreatment? Explain both viewpoints?

                                                          Robert C. Gates