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Lifespan Development: a Chronological Approach

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  • Pages: 8
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  • Category: Childhood

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This paper will attempt to explain the physical, cognitive and psychosocial development that occurs in the pre-school child from positive encouragement of environmental influences, such as parents, siblings, kindergarten teachers and peers. It will incorporate the works of several theorists including Erikson and Piaget to help to explain how these environmental influences affect the pre-school child in the above three phases of development.

Period of lifespan

Lifespan period of the 4 year old is encompassed within early childhood, which ranges from three to six years old. This is stage three of Erik Erikson’s theory of the eight stages of lifespan development (Hoffnung et al., 2013). During this period there are major changes in the physical growth, the cognitive development and the psychosocial interactions with others. Even though a person’s growth and development is individual, the sequence of this development is not, as it is directly related to certain stages, these stages relate to certain developmental changes (Berman et al., 2012). Key physical aspects of the pre-school child are a slowdown of growth and a more proportionate body, progressively more adult-like. In early childhood the acquisition of language is a major advance in cognitive development. Around four years old they become more curious, asking many ‘WHY’ questions. Pre-schoolers learn to deal with conflict and aggression and develop the ability to relate to others empathically (Hoffnung, et al., 2013).

Environmental influences on physical development

Good nutrition can positively affect the physical development of the young child. This can lead good health, better physical growth and can also have a good impact on their intellectual development (Berman … [et al.]. 2012). There can be vast differences in how same age children process information. These differences or variations can exist due to a child being under less stress or living in a nurturing environment. Confidence and self-esteem can affect physical grown in a positive way. A child can have a much greater self-esteem and a higher level of confidence in themselves through positive encouragement from parents, siblings, teachers and peers (Smitherman et al., 2007).

This can contribute to them deciding to participate in more sport and physical activity. This in turn will promote more physical growth through more muscle development (Crisp and Taylor 2001). ‘Involving the parents is important, because the home environment can be considered as the most important place where children develop these behaviours’ (De Craemer, et al., 2013). Parents by limiting television time and by being highly supportive of their children’s active pursuits can promote physical activity among pre-schoolers. Physical activity is particularly important in children, as it improves gross and fine motor skill development (De Craemer et al., 2013).

Environmental influences on cognitive development

Using Erik Erikson stages of development as a model for the stages of thinking and learning for children, you will notice that in this stage there are opportunities for positive ego development (Harder 2012). It is important to encourage children to find their own answers, depending on one’s response; you can promote higher-order thinking (The Curious Child, 2013). This depends on the child’s age and the questions that you ask. You can suggest that you help them look for the answers. It is important that you let your child find these answer, even if they assist that they can’t, you can guide them to the correct answers (The Curious Child, 2013). If you give them the chance, the pre-schooler can explore new ideas and activities and achieve the tasks and goals that they desire (Harder, 2013).

The pre-schooler is abound with curiosity and is forever searching for answers to a myriad of questions, they want to know why? To enhance a child’s reasoning ability, it is important to give them the support and encouragement that they require and reward them in their efforts. This will promote a positive attitude towards thinking and assist in their cognitive development (Hoffnung, 2013). Parents are not the only people that can help a pre-school child with their cognitive development. Older siblings don’t realise that the younger child sees and hears what they say and how they respond to situations and they learn from this observing and listening. Other environmental influences that help shape their development are other children their age (peers) and kindergarten and pre-school teachers.

If they respond to the child’s question in a positive manner, they can gain confidence and learn at a better rate than with negative responses. Many of the things that children do are simply because they want to do them, like selecting a toy or a shirt to wear is the result of “intrinsic motivation”. When the child makes their own choice they get great pleasure in the act of choosing and the satisfaction of playing with the toy or wearing that t-shirt. When the motivation is “intrinsic” the child receives their own reward and they with continue that activity for as long as they want to do that activity (Carlton, 2003).

Environmental influences on psychosocial development

In Erikson’s Initiative verses Guilt stage the child experiences a need to ape or copy the adult. The child sees what the adult does, including the outcome, and they determine that if they try this, then they too, would be more like an adult. They learn from observing, and with social contact with others, thus their thinking is influenced, be it directly or indirectly, by the adult’s behaviour (Hoffnung et al., 2013). They imagine scenarios with toy cars, toy mobile phones and Ken and Barbie dolls, playing little storylines in an attempt to be like their mother and father, and other adults. The child also develops a unique way of exploring their world by the use of that word ‘WHY?’ that most find to be annoying, A child that is healthy has little trouble interacting with others, be it child or adult, although this can depend on their level of social development.

When adults interact on a more personal level and they do this more often, the child’s psychosocial development is enhanced and at a greater level than the child that lacks this interaction (Hoffnung et al., 2013). The parent’s attachment with the child continues to play a central role in their social/emotional development. During early childhood, child/parent relationships should ideally be empathic, warm and mutually respectful and responsive. This type of relationship nurtures emotional fulfilment in both parents and child (Hoffnung et al., 2013). Teaching the child cooperative behaviours can assist the family in avoiding child behaviour disorders and parental violence (Crisp and Taylor 2001). This is outlined in Erikson’s ‘Initiative verses Guilt’ Stage of development.


Toys are not only fun for the child to play with; they are also tools that help the child develop their skills. These skills include gross motors skills that are developed when they learn to run, climb, balance crawl and grasp; Fine motor skills that are developed when they pick up small puzzle pieces, pencils and paper. Play is critical to the healthy growth and development of children (Zecevic et al., 2010). A puzzle activity is a good way for a child’s physical, cognitive and psychosocial skills. The most important thing with the puzzle is to ensure that it is not to intricate and consists of no more than 24 pieces and has small knobs on the pieces to make it easier for the pre-school child to grasp.

They develop fine and gross motor skills, as they reach for pieces, pick up these pieces and try to slot them into the correct position. They develop cognitive abilities in thinking where the piece fits and how to position the piece the correct way . When doing these puzzles with other children, parents and with other siblings, they learn to interact with the others and form social bonds whilst developing their social skills (Zecevic et al., 2010). According to Craig, Kermis & Didgeon (Hoffnung et al., 2013. p212-213) the pre-schooler has developed gross motor skills of a walking stride of 80% of the adult, a running of 30% of the adult and are able to catch large balls. Their fine motor skills have developed where they can handle large buttons, make simple representational drawings and copy simple shapes. They can manipulate simple jigsaw puzzles and fit shapes into form boards.


The child’s growth in early childhood slows down; however, they look more proportional to the adult than the toddler. They create their scenarios using props such as toy phones and Ken and Barbie dolls in an attempt to gather an idea of the adult’s life style through role play. This is the time to provide opportunities for social activities and play which should nurture the child and assist in their developmental growth. Theorists such as Erikson (1902-1994) and Piaget (1896-1980) use their theories to help us in understanding the developmental stages of the person from birth to old age. They help us realise that positive influences aid the growing child to develop positive attitudes, ego, and confidence and assists them in developing physically, emotionally, cognitively and in developing a more positive attitude and personality.

With parents being more proactive towards the child’s overall development, the child greatly benefits and grows in all aspects of development. Teachers, siblings and peers can also assist the developing child with assistance in play, learning and social interaction. Introducing age appropriate activities, the parents and educators can help the child develop their mental and social skills and with proper nutrition the child has a better foothold in physical and cognitive development. Everyone involved with the child in early childhood can have an effect on their development be it in a positive way or in a negative way. It is up to us to try to introduce positive input in an attempt to aid the child to develop positive attitudes and develop better cognitively and physically.

Berman, A., Snyder, S J., Levett-Jones, T., Dwyer, T., Hales, M., & Harvey, N. et al. (2012). Kozier and Erb’s Fundamentals of Nursing. (2nd ed.) (Vol 1) Sydney, Australia: Pearson Australia. p395-415.

Carlton, M. (2003). Motivating Learning in Young Children. Available: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/home_school/earlychildmotiv_ho.aspx. Last accessed 20/07/2013.

Crisp, J. and Taylor, C. (2001). Developmental Theories. In: Potter & Perry’s Fundamentals of Nursing. Marrickville, NSW: Harcourt Australia. 155-169.

De Craemer, M., De Decker, E., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., Deforche, B., Vereecken, C., Duvinage, K., Grammatikaki, E., Iotova, V., et al., (2013). Parental influences on physical behavior in children and adolescents: a brief review. BMC Public Health.. 13 (3). doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-278

Harder, A. F. (2011). The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson Available: http://www.support4change.com/Index.php ?option=com_content&view=article&id=47&Itemid=108. Last accessed 16/07/2013.

Hoffnung, M. Hoffnung, R., Seifert, K. L., Burton Smith, R., Hine, A., Ward, L., Pause, C. (2013). Lifespan Development. A Chronological Approach. 2nd ed. Milton, Qld: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd. p198-279.

The Curious Child. (2013). Available: http://www.illinois earlylearning.org/tipsheets/curiouschild.htm. Last accessed 16/07/2013.

Smitherman, T. A., Kendzor, D. E., Grothe, K. B. and Dubbert, P. M. (2007). Parental influences on physical behavior in children and adolescents. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 1 (5), 397-409.

Zecevic, C. A., Tremblay, L., Lovsin, T., and Michel, L. (2010). Parental Influence on Young Children’s Physical Activity. International Journal of Paediatrics. 2010 (Article ID 468526).

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