Ages Three to Six
Early childhood is a time of massive growth and development. As one might expect, there are warehouses full of evidence showing that the first five years of life are extremely important. (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000) It’s also one of the favorite ages among parents, and for good reason. A child’s independence blossoms, their curiosity peeks, and children this age are extremely loving and affectionate.
During the preschool years, a child’s language and social development will explode. Between the ages of two and six, children will acquire an average of eight new words a day. (Gormly & Brodzinsky, 1993) Kids waste no time making use of this new skill. Preschoolers are known for talking and talking and talking, and good luck getting them to shut-up about it. (Not that you’d want to even if you could.) The whole world is so wonderful and new and they can’t wait to tell you everything about it. Verbal abuse or emotional neglect during this time would be extremely painful to a child and catastrophic for their development. Any type of ridicule, put-downs, or emotional disinterest is like poison to their drive for exploration.
By the age of three, children will have formed a view of themselves based on the way they are seen and interacted with by others. Pride and guilt begin to develop as a byproduct. (Stipeck, 1983) As such, it’s important for parents to do everything they can to keep their child from developing shameful beliefs about themselves or their body. This is also the age at which many parents begin to clamp down on stereotypes and social dogma themselves, which is the worst thing they could do. Parents should do all they can to fight this social nonsense and keep their children carefree and shameless for as long as possible. The best way to accomplish this is to reject such nonsense themselves.
A preschooler’s social development covers leaps and bounds in these 3-4 years. They’ll learn group skills, cooperation, socialization, and a variety of other life skills. Preschoolers are parent pleasers. It may not seem like it at times, but they live to obtain the favor and approval of their caregivers. Their social world is blossoming, and parents are the center of this new universe. This also makes this age another delicate time for any rejection, verbal abuse, or breaks in attachment.
The preschool years also welcome the first major stages in sexual development. (Third according to Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, but the first where ‘mature’ sexual behaviors begin to emerge.) Childhood masturbation, body exploration, and sexual play are common among this age group. Preschoolers are usually very affectionate, and will also tend to experience their first crushes during this age.
All in all, three- to six-year-olds have several key qualities that can insulate them from abuse. Language development takes hold, and so they are able to voice their fears and concerns. They’re at that age where they are still relatively insulated from the irrational beliefs that makes life a field of land mines for the rest of us. This is one of their greatest assets. Without the penchant for adding in harmful social beliefs, they usually end up faring much better than either their older counterparts or even adults. On the downside, their small size means they are still brittle and relatively helpless, and any sort of conflict or aggression can be catastrophic. The child’s emerging social self and identity make any sort of legitimate hostility, whether verbal or physical, extremely hurtful to them.