School-age children have certain behavioral patterns in their developmental years that manifest themselves in different ways. Developmental variations can affect a child's behavior as well as his or her ability to learn. In addition to being able to teach, educators must also be capable of understanding these behavioral patterns and evaluating behavioral problems. Accordingly, this article will also discuss a teacher's capacity to evaluate behavioral patterns and how this ability is connected to successfully teaching school age children. Finally, this article will include a discussion of the role that parents and families play in conjunction with teachers to create a satisfying classroom experience for children and teachers alike.
Keywords Abnormal Behavior; Autonomy; Childhood Development; Cultural Differences; Developmental Stages; Emotional Development; Empathy; Motor Skills; National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC); PsychoSocial Crises; Social Development; Variations in Development
The study of childhood development is a thoroughly analyzed field and this article will relate that area of study to the successful teaching of young children. As children progress through the first five to seven years of life, a number of developmental stages occur. During this time, there are variations in development that can affect a child's behavior. These variations, in turn, are influenced by a host of factors. Further, determining whether or not that behavior is normal depends on a number of considerations. According to Schor (2000), most children have basic desires for recognition, success, acceptance and unconditional love. Children also have corollary needs for privacy and autonomy. In addition to these basic needs and desires, as children grow, they also experience transitions of life that include entering school, meeting new people and making friends, as well as trying new activities.
As children go through these stages of development and life changes, their behavior also undergoes changes, and while there is a difference between normal and abnormal behavior, determining the difference between the two can be difficult. This is because there are a number of influences that affect a child's behavior. At times, these differences are related to the differences between an individual child's unique developmental growth as well as external influences such as social factors. These factors are usually related to family issues and there are many differences in family styles, sizes, cultures, and even schedules that come into play. There are however, clues to determine if certain behaviors are abnormal.
For example, some children are very well behaved. In fact, they may be too well behaved. According to the Schor (2000), these children have been found to be "overly anxious to please, very needy of attention, love and approval or fearful of rejection." Such children have been found to be "overly cautious, shy and insecure." Other abnormal behavior patterns are seen in children who intentionally do poorly in school, refuse to follow rules and seek out "no-win" situations. These children often lack self-esteem and self-confidence (Schor, 2000).
The fact that certain children develop the so-called abnormal behaviors elucidated above while other children seem to progress normally through the early stages of life can be attributed to a number of factors. The study of the social development and emotional development of children is rooted in the work of child psychologist Erik Erikson. He established criteria for stages of development that are widely followed by child psychologists. Moreover, he termed these stages psychosocial crises that demand resolution before the next stage can be handled. Some of the early stages of development include learning basic trust, learning autonomy, learning initiative, learning industry, and learning identity (Schor, 2000).
During a child's formative years, parents, guardians and families have the greatest influence on this development. At this time, children should develop the capacity to trust and have a sense of basic optimism. Well-adjusted children also become sure of themselves, or autonomous. As children continue to grow, they develop new skills by playing and fantasizing. In so doing, they should learn to cooperate with others, and should be able to relate with their peers. As children enter school, they should be able to follow rules and work in a team environment. When they begin more formal studies of reading and math, and are given homework, they should have the self-discipline to meet these challenges. In short, children that have successfully developed through the first stages of childhood should be trusting, autonomous, and have initiative. Children who have not resolved these so-called psychosocial crises become mistrusting and are doubtful about the future. Such children usually experience defeat and feel inferior (Schor, 2000).
There are a number of reasons why certain children are able to master the early stages of development while others seem to lag or have behavioral or emotional problems. Some of these variations in development are natural and arise from the different paces at which children develop. In these cases, a child that apparently is developing more slowly may not in fact be experiencing a problem or exhibiting an abnormal behavior pattern. In addition, a number of family-related factors also influence a child's early development. For example, children born into a family where there are cultural and ethnic differences may develop at a different pace. In homes where English is not the primary language, there can be apparent delays in emotional development that can be the result of a child's ability to learn to speak English outside of the home.
There are other factors that contribute to variations in the pace of emotional development in children. In particular, there are variations in development stages for boys and girls. In her article, "Guiding Boys in the Early Years to Lead Healthy Emotional Lives," Christine Mercurio (2003) contends that there are differences in the development of boys and girls. She states that boys and girls have different capabilities and that this is seen in their capacity for "mathematical reasoning, mechanical reasoning and greater motor coordination." Her research indicates that in these areas young boys usually are more advanced than girls. On the other hand, girls show a greater capacity for "fine motor coordination, memory of sequential details and social cognition" (Mercurio, 2003).
Motor skills are essentially actions that enable people to move the muscles in their bodies. "Greater" motor skills relate to the movement of the arms, legs, feet and the entire body in general. The development of these skills is seen as children begin to crawl, then walk, and then by running and jumping. "Fine" motor skills, on the other hand, are smaller actions such as being able to grasp objects with the hands, and to use the lips and tongue to taste objects. While there are differences between boys and girls, children attain these developmental benchmarks at different rates and acquire these skills at their own paces.
Boys and girls also display different styles of communication. While boys tend to be more adversarial, girls tend to be agreeable and more likely to have empathy. Girls tend to externalize positive emotions and internalize sadness and anxiety (Chaplin & Aldao, 2013), whereas boys appear to have a harder time expressing emotions, in particular anger. Many teachers claim that boys can be more troublesome than girls. This can be seen by the fact that boys are more likely to shout, to be stubborn, to argue and to seek attention. In so doing they also are likely to disrupt others. Such behavior usually causes a teacher to react negatively. The gender of the teacher can also be important in light of the fact that the majority of teachers of childhood-aged students are women. For Mercurio, "boys need to master an environment in which they feel tested." But the challenge for girls is to "find a voice … while guarding against the danger of fracturing relationships and being cut off from them" (Mercurio, 2003 p. 256).
While differences between boys and girls' development are...