Professional Development


Development of School Age Children

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Development of School Age Children

I.    Physical Development

      a.     Growth patterns

                i.     The rapid growth of infancy and early childhood slows.

                ii.     During this time, children grow at a rate of about 3 or 4 per year until puberty.

      b.     Additional information

II.   Cognitive Development

       a.     The nature of thought processes

                 i.  Until about age seven, the child’s thought processes are not logical and the child is becoming adept at using symbols in speech, play, gestures and mental pictures.

                ii.     From about age seven to eleven, the child develops logic based on objects and states that can be manipulated. She can relate dimensions, appreciate that some aspects of objects remain the same despite changes in appearance, and classify elements into hierarchies.

               iii.     Selective attention increases and becomes more reliable, sustained and selective, as incidental learning decreases between the age of 7 and 11. Several conditions can interfere with the child’s ability to selectively attend to school tasks: attention deficit disorder, certain perceptual learning disabilities, and certain emotional difficulties such as preoccupation with home problems which prohibit the child from paying attention in class.

               iv.     Cognitive skills generally increase with age, but vary greatly during development. Some children have more difficulty in school than others do regarding using these skills and comprehending concepts.

                v.     The ability to use concepts and rules increases at this time.

                vi.     Causal reasoning begins (as opposed to pre-causal reasoning which is typical of early childhood development). The child’s reasoning is based on concrete, rather than abstract thinking. For example, the abused child at this age is likely to find a specific, concrete cause for the mistreatment i.e. “I was hit because I broke the lamp.”

         b.     Role Taking

                  i.     During this stage of development, egocentrism decreases and the ability to take on another’s perspective increases.

                 ii.     A child who has not yet developed the capacity to see another’s perspective, reflects egocentrism in his speech, and may leave out pertinent details in relating information to others, because he assumes the other person has the same information that he has.

                iii.     The ability to take on roles varies with specific situations.

               iv.     The ability to understand social complexities and issues develops over time.

                v.     The ability to take on another’s perspective makes it possible for children to play board and strategy games.

       c.      Problem solving skills

                 i.     Children at this age can be taught systematic problem solving.

                 ii.     Although the thinking process is generally concrete, a child at this age can be taught some abstract concepts if she is given verbal or physical concrete examples of the new concept.

                 iii.     Children under the age of 11 do not generalize, or grasp general concepts. The abused child, for example, has no understanding of all the dynamic causative factors which lead to abuse.

        d.     Memory

                i.     Memory continues to develop between the age of 6 and 11.

                ii.     The interaction of memory and advances in cognition may result in improved memory over time. For example, a child may more accurately remember an incident 6 months after it happens compared to a month after it happens.

        e.     Language

                i.     Early in this stage of development, as cognitive competence increases, children become aware of the rules of grammar. This is called metalinguistic awareness.

                ii.     After the age of 8, the child has attained a more mature, abstract level of linguistic competence, closely linked to increasing metalinguistic awareness. The child reflects on language and makes judgments that rely on the language itself, as adults do.

               iii.     With greater metalinguistic awareness comes the appreciation of ambiguity, and the different meanings of words. This enables children of this age to create metaphors and jokes.

III.           Social Development

         a.     Play

                  i.     Children’s play at this stage is interactive with other children, or adults, and is governed by rules.

                  ii.     At this age, children can distinguish reality from fantasy and the fantasy content of the play decreases. However, it is still possible to track a child’s interest by observing the content of their play (i.e.: cops and robbers, detective, teacher, etc.)

                iii.     Play is an opportunity to experiment with social roles and rules, and to learn and practice cooperation.

               iv.     Play is also a training ground for creativity and social development (i.e.: trying on various roles, acting out troublesome issues), as well as cognitive development (i.e.: exercising memory, strategizing, language skills)

                v.     There is a rigid adherence to the rules of the game. It is not until early adolescence that children can agree to change rules of a game. This strict following of rules increases their impulse control. For this reason, board games and sports activities are used by teachers, and therapists alike to promote pro-social behavior such as turn taking, controlling aggression, fairness.

                vi.     Play increases the child’s mastery over the body; some children in some circumstances enjoy the playing of the game more than the winning of the game.

                vii.     There are also emotional benefits to play:

                          1.     Through play children can express fears and conflicts which are unacceptable for them to express in other ways.

                          2.     Through play children can gain a sense of mastery over themselves and their environments.

                          3.     Through play children can satisfy wishes thought fantasy.

                viii.     Pro-social behavior and social cognition. During this discussion, ask participants to imagine the impact an abusive environment has on these developmental processes. For example, physical aggression may not come under control in a home where violence is displayed frequently, and as a problem solver.

                         1.     During this age stage, children become aware of, and establish, rules or social interaction, which include the pro-social behaviors.

                         2.     Because the child’s ability to take perspective increases at this time, the child can imagine and engage in actions which help others who are in trouble.

                         3.     Empathy contributes to pro-social behavior at this age.

                         4.     By the age of 5 or 6 children can accurately recognize the basic emotions (i.e. happiness, anger, fear) in others. As the child grows older she becomes better at perceiving personal cues (i.e.; facial expression, body postures, etc.) that indicate subtle and complex emotions.

                         5.     Negative behavior comes under internal control between the ages of 8 and 9, as adults punish it, and the child engages in positive outlets for aggression (i.e.; sports).

         ix.     Development of Self-Esteem

                         1.     Self-esteem refers to the value, and feelings, whether positive or negative, that the child places on his qualities.

                         2.     At age 9 or 10, the child has a clear sense of self worth and competence in different areas. These feelings remain stable over the 10-12 year age range and are differentiated. For example, a 9 year old may feel good about his social abilities, but may feel badly about his math abilities. Research has shown that improving a child’s general feelings about himself does not necessarily improve his feelings about specific areas, such as his math skills.

                        3.     Self-esteem is connected to a child’s sense of self-efficacy and sense of control over his destiny. His perception of himself, what others tell him (overtly or covertly, verbally or behaviorally) about his qualities, and what he experiences in his environment contribute to his self-esteem.

                        4.     Low self-esteem adversely influences children’s school performance, peer relations, and their attempts to adapt to their environments. Low self-esteem has pervasive influence on the child’s development, adaptation and interpersonal relationships. Some psychologists claim that childhood self-esteem is the single most revealing prediction of mental health in later life.

x.     Psychosocial task: Industry vs. Inferiority

                        1.     The task for the child at this age is to find activities that he is good at doing, to identify his special competencies, to gain recognition and pride by completing tasks and producing things.

                        2.     The positive outcome of this struggle is that the child develops his popularity, his potential for leadership, his ability to exert control over his environment. He is therefore able to make positive contributions to those around him. His ability to be productive, self-directing and accepted contributes to his self-esteem.

                        3.     The negative outcome is a basic sense of inferiority; the child may consider herself doomed to inadequacy and mediocrity. Often a sense of futility is connected to the sense of inferiority, and discourages the child from attempting new or difficult tasks.

IV.    The Effects of Abuse and Neglect on Development

                 a.     Psychological effects
It is important to make the connection between lack of resolution of developmental crises and emotional disturbance. Also review with trainees, through large or small group discussion, the difference between lack of opportunity to resolve developmental crises, development of pathological behavior to respond to an unhealthy home situation and healthy responses to an unhealthy home situation.

          i.     The child is likely to suffer severe damage to his self-esteem, due to many denigrating and punitive messages he receives from the abusive parent. Poor self-esteem can negatively influence the child’s school performance, ability to form meaningful relationships with peers and adults, and derail his drive towards developmental mastery.

          ii.     The child is at risk of suffering from depression, which may include self-destructive behavior (inflicting injury, drug/alcohol abuse, running away from home, truancy from school). The seriousness of this condition should not be underestimated; suicidal ideation and/or gestures should be treated seriously.

           iii.     The child is at risk for emotional problems such as overanxious disorder, unsocial zed disorders. Discuss with trainees the variables that may be involved in the development of such a disorder i.e.; child’s temperament, the nature (severity, chronicity or acuteness) of the abuse, the availability of healthy and nurturing significant others in the child’s life, the emotional health or illness of the parents, the family dynamics surrounding the abuse, the child’s coping mechanisms, the child’s level of ego development the child’s level of cognitive development, etc.

                     b.     Behavior Patterns of Abused Children
When appropriate (depending on how inclusive the previous discussion was), review how and why these behaviors are developed.

 i.     Expressiveness and apparent sense of self:

                       1.     The child may have few opinions, with no strong likes or dislikes.

                       2.     The child may be impulsive or, at the other extreme, unable to be spontaneous.

                       3.     These children may show extremes of behavior, such as acting in over aggressive or withdrawn ways.

                       4.     The child’s behavior may seem to reflect an earlier stage of emotional development (i.e.; he may continue to use physical aggression at an age when most children have started using verbal aggression instead).

                       5.     The child may comfort himself through rocking and sucking.

                       6.     The child’s behavior may show feelings of low self-esteem: he may believe himself to be worthless, bad unlovable.

j.       The child may have very low tolerance to frustration or adversity, and may require immediate gratification

k.     Language and learning problems:

        a.     Learning disabilities

        b.     Speech impediments

        c.      Poor memory

        d.     Declining academic ability

        e.     The child may appear to be driven to excel academically or show steady decline in schoolwork and I.Q.

l.       Relationships with peers

        a.     The child may feel different from peers and may not know how to make friends.

        b.     The child may be apprehensive when others cry.

        c.      The child may attempt to control, exploit, or manipulate peers to get things, services.

        d.     The child may blame others when things go wrong.

        e.     The child may have great difficulty making friends.

        f.      The child may lack empathy for others’ feelings.

        g.     The child may become a scapegoat.

        h.     The child may be self-destructive, exhibit antisocial behavior or withdrawn, passive behavior.

 m.   Relationships with parents

       a.     The child may exhibit suspicious, mistrustful behavior which mirrors that of his/her parents.

       b.     The child may talk glowingly (if unrealistically) about home and parents.

       c.      The child may be solicitous of parent’s needs.

      d.     The child may not turn to parent for comfort.

      e.     The child may exhibit inappropriately adult like behavior.

      f.      The child may seek approval, attention.

n.     Relationships with other adults

     a.     The child may be solicitous and agreeable or suspicious and mistrustful towards adults.

     b.     The child may try to control and manipulate to obtain food and favors.

     c.      The child may not respond to praise and positive attention.

     d.     The child may not respond to limits.

     e.     The child may avoid being touched.

                        c.      The long term effects on a child’s interpersonal skills

                                 1.     The child’s sense may become muted, to avoid a painful environment. This often occurs in infancy.

                                 2.     Since the child’s basic needs may not be met, he may not develop a basic sense of trust in adults in his life, and in his ability to impact on his environment.

                                 3.     The child may engage in role reversal with the parent, or pseudo – mature behavior, since the parent expects the child to meet the parent’s needs.

                                 4.     The child may have impaired decision-making and problem solving.

                                 5.     Since the child cannot trust others, he may have difficulty forming true, lasting friendships.

                                 6.     The child may equate feelings with actions, that is, he has not learned that a cognitive process occurs between the thinking of a thought and an action.

                                 7.     There are factors within the provision of child welfare services that may have deletrious results:

                                         a.     The child’s with natural parents may be too infrequent to ensure attachment, or to solve relationship problems.

                                         b.     Feelings of worthlessness, and guilt may increase as a result of the placement process.

ii.     Treatment Implications

         1.     Most abused or neglected children probably need mental health counseling to resolve the behavioral and emotional problems discussed above.

         2.     Remediation for academic difficulty or learning problems should be assessed and provided when necessary.

         3.     Speech therapy and occupational therapy for gross of fine motor delays should be assessed and provided when necessary.

         4.     Since the child’s sense of self-confidence and master is seriously impaired, remediation of learning problems alone is not enough. The child may need special therapeutic activities which enhance his sense of mastery.

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