ERIC Identifier: ED372875
Publication Date: 1994-10-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Assessing the Development of Preschoolers. ERIC Digest.
It is only natural for parents to wonder occasionally if the development of
their preschooler is going well. Questions such as, Is my child doing what he or
she is supposed to at this age? and, Do all four-year-olds behave this way in
the same situations? reflect a natural desire to be sure the child is
progressing normally. Over the years, psychologists have developed many
normative scales to indicate how an individual child compares with others of a
given age in similar populations.
This digest focuses on the question of individual growth, namely, Is the
individual child's development going so well that he or she can be described as
thriving? As parents look at their own young children's behavior and
achievements on the categories outlined below, they can address the question,
What aspects of my child's development need special encouragement, support, or
intervention right now?
CATEGORIES OF BEHAVIOR TO ASSESS
In the course of
development, ups and downs are inevitable even for children whose physical and
mental endowments are normal. Occasionally children require intervention to get
them successfully through a "down" period. Parents can observe behaviors in the
eleven categories listed below during periods when they suspect a bit of a
downturn. Keep in mind that difficulties in any single category are no cause for
alarm. Indeed, difficulties in several categories do not imply irreversible
problems; rather, they help us notice those periods when the child's life
situation, for many possible reasons, is a bit out of adjustment with his or her
For three-year-olds, a look at their behavior on the following criteria for a
period of about three weeks is desirable. For four-year-olds, four weeks should
give a reliable picture of the quality of the child's life. At five years, add
another week, and so forth. Be careful not to judge their permanent behavior
based on one day's observation! All of us, children and adults, have the
occasional really bad day!
1. SLEEPING HABITS DOES THE CHILD USUALLY FALL ASLEEP EASILY AND WAKE UP RESTED, READY TO
GET ON WITH LIFE?
Occasional restless nights, nightmares, or grouchy mornings are all right. The average pattern of deep sleep
resulting in morning eagerness is a good sign that the child experiences life as
satisfying. Frequent insomnia or morning grouchiness for three or four weeks may
indicate that a child is trying to cope with excessive stress, and a
modification in life style might be tried.
2. EATING HABITS DOES THE CHILD USUALLY EAT WITH APPETITE?
Occasional skipping of meals or
refusal of food is to be expected. Sometimes a child is too busy with absorbing
activities to bother with food at mealtimes. Also, remember that children may
eat a lot at one meal and hardly anything at the next. However, a preschooler
who for several weeks eats as though famine were around the corner or who
constantly fusses about the menu or picks at the food may be asking for comfort.
3. TOILET HABITS DOES THE CHILD HAVE, ON THE AVERAGE OVER SEVERAL WEEKS, BOWEL AND BLADDER
CONTROL, ESPECIALLY DURING THE DAY?
Occasional "accidents" are all right, particularly under special circumstances, such as
excessive intake of liquids, intestinal upset, or an intense concentration with
ongoing activity so that the child is too absorbed to attend to such
"irrelevancies." Children who sleep well often take longer to stay continent at
4. RANGE OF EMOTIONS DOES THE CHILD SHOW THE CAPACITY FOR A RANGE OF EMOTIONS SUCH AS JOY, ANGER, SORROW, GRIEF, ENTHUSIASM, EXCITEMENT, FRUSTRATION, LOVE,
These need not be exhibited all in one day, of course, but should be seen over several weeks. A child whose emotions don't
vary who is always angry or sour or enthusiastic may be in trouble. Note that
expressions of sadness are not necessarily problematical; in appropriate
situations, they can indicate the ability to really care about others.
5. FRIENDSHIP CAN THE CHILD INITIATE AND MAINTAIN SATISFYING RELATIONSHIPS WITH ONE OR
A child who often plays alone is notexperiencing a developmental problem as long as the cause is not insufficient
social competence. A child who is fearful of peers or who frequently claims
superiority over others may be seeking reassurance or may doubt his or her
ability to meet parents' lofty expectations.
6. VARIATIONS IN PLAY DOES THE CHILD'S PLAY VARY, AND DOES THE CHILD ADD ELEMENTS TO THE PLAY, EVEN THOUGH THE PLAY IS WITH THE SAME TOYS OR MATERIALS?
child who ritualistically and repetitively goes through the same sequence of play, with the same elements and in the same way, may be
emotionally "stuck in neutral," indicating perhaps that the child has
insufficient inner security to "play with the environment."
7. RESPONSES TO AUTHORITY DOES THE CHILD USUALLY ACCEPT ADULT AUTHORITY?
self-assertion, protest, and objections, when followed by ultimate yielding to
the adult, indicate healthy socialization processes. Unfailing acceptance of
adult demands and restrictions without a peep suggest excessive anxiety.
Does the child occasionally exhibit curiosity, adventure, and even mischief?
A child who never pries or snoops where forbidden may not be pushing against
perceived boundaries enough for healthy development or may fear punishment
excessively. On the other hand, frequent manifestation of these behaviors may
indicate a search for boundaries.
Does the child occasionally become involved, absorbed, and interested in
something outside of him- or herself? The emphasis here is on sustained
involvement in "activities" rather than in "passivities" such as television. A
preschooler who cannot become absorbed in an activity or who rarely stays with a
project until completion may need help.
10. SPONTANEOUS AFFECTION DOES THE CHILD EXPRESS SPONTANEOUS AFFECTION FOR ONE OR MORE OF THOSE
RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OR HER CARE?
Note that this criterion refers to spontaneous declarations of love, not such displays as the required
goodnight kiss. Also, demonstrations of affection vary among families and
cultures and must be taken into account on this criterion. Nevertheless, in
culturally appropriate ways, a child who is thriving is likely occasionally to
express affection toward caretakers and deep pleasure in being with them.
Excessive expressions of this kind, however, may signal doubts about the
feelings caretakers have toward the child.
11. ENJOYMENT OF THE "GOOD THINGS OF LIFE"
Does the child enjoy the "good things of life?" For young children, playing
with others; going to picnics, parties, festivals, and new places; and exploring
new toys are parts of the good life. If a child has a problem such as shyness,
fear of dogs, or food dislikes, but the problem is not so severe that it
prevents him or her from enjoying childhood pleasures, then assume that the
child will outgrow the problem. If, however, problems do prevent enjoyment of
the good things of childhood, help is called for.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INTERVENTION
The first three of these
eleven criteria of sound development sleeping, eating, and toilet habits are
particularly sensitive indicators of the child's well-being because only the
child has control of them. The other criteria are more culture-bound and
situationally determined. When the pattern of a child's behavior on about half
of the criteria seems less than optimum over a period of about a month, some
remedial action should be taken.
While each individual case will require its own special intervention, some
general approaches are worth trying right away. For example, no matter what the
underlying cause, almost all young children respond well to spending time alone
with an adult who is important to them. The important adult may be a parent,
relative, caregiver, or anyone else with whom the child has a significant
relationship. The time can be spent walking around the block, helping to tidy up
a closet, gardening, baking a cake, or doing anything else the child really
enjoys. The activity should be simple; it need not be an exotic trip to a
faraway place. The main point is having someone special all to oneself. A few
minutes a day for a few weeks will invariably help alleviate whatever stresses
the child has encountered. Once the level of stress is reduced and the child is
more relaxed, he or she may then become more responsive to a parent's guidance
and suggestions about how to cope with the problem at hand.
In some cases a child's development can get back on track when his or her
daily routines are simplified. Many preschoolers have a hard time coping with
frequent, rapid, changes in environments within a day or week in which they are
expected to be responsive and cooperative, to exercise self-control, and to be
self-sufficient. For such children, reducing the number and rate of changes can
go a long way to helping them "get back on the right foot."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bruce, T. (1993). For Parents
Particularly: The Role of Play in Children's Lives. CHILDHOOD EDUCATION 69(4,
Summer): 237-238. EJ 465 878.
Gilkerson, D. (1992). HELPING CHILDREN DEVELOP SOCIALLY AND EMOTIONALLY.
Brookings, SD: Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota State University. ED
Katz, L.G. and D. McClellan. (1990). THE TEACHER'S ROLE IN THE SOCIAL
DEVELOPMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and
Early Childhood Education.
McKenzie, T.L., J.F. Sallis, P.R. Nader, T.L. Patterson, J.P. Elder, C.C.
Berry, J.W. Rupp, C.J. Atkins, M.J. Buono, J.A. Nelson. (1991). BEACHES: An
Observational System for Assessing Children's Eating and Physical Activity
Behaviors and Associated Events. JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS 24(1,
Spring): 141-151. EJ 429 936.
Saunders, S.A. and V. Green. (1993). Evaluating the Social Competence of
Young Children: A Review of the Literature. EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND CARE
87:39-46. EJ 473 175.