Ten Characteristics of Early Childhood Development

Early childhood, typically defined as the pre-school years, or ages three to five, is an important and distinct stage in childhood development 1. The general consensus is that biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional processes all play a considerable role children's maturation. Psychologists and philosophers have historically promoted diverse perspectives on the nature of children, yet they are generally in agreement about the following characteristics of early childhood development.


To begin with, of all the parts of the body, the brain grows most during early childhood, making for dramatic changes in cognitive development. Children’s memory, for instance, greatly advances after infancy. Young children can remember large amounts of information!

Second, children learn to convey thoughts and ideas relating to their everyday lives by using words and images. Psychologist Jean Piaget best illustrates what children understand and fail to understand at this stage. Children can’t distinguish their perspectives from others. But most psychologists realize that all people can have false beliefs by the age of five.


Children learn to self-regulate and control behavior without help. For instance, in terms of sexuality, early childhood, or the period Sigmund Freud defined as the phallic stage, is a time in which children focus pleasure on their genitals. After being reprimanded by their parents and others, children learn to stop touching themselves in public.

Moral Development

Children begin to make progress in terms of moral development. This has much to do with the values that are instilled by parents. As time goes on in early childhood, children are able to develop their own senses of right and wrong.

Physical Growth

In order to grow, children’s physical needs must be met. In early childhood, they require proper amounts of sleep. Most kids are able to get enough rest by sleeping throughout the night and taking one nap during the day. They also need timely immunizations, the right nutritious foods and exercise to lead healthy lives. Gross motor skills improve dramatically in early childhood if such needs are met.

As children play, they develop abilities to engage in many physical activities, from playing ball games to dancing and gymnastics.

Personality Development and Gender Socialization

A child’s social world influences the development of his personality and purposeful behavior. As children get into the latter stages of early childhood, they are given more responsibility. According to Erik Erikson’s psychoanalytic theory, they are in the initiative versus guilt stage. If they do not rise to the challenge of taking responsibility, they are likely to experience anxiety and guilt.

Children are socialized into gender roles and the appropriate cultural behaviors for being a boy or a girl. In early childhood, children generally prefer to play in same-sex groups. It is a time in which they learn what defines "pink" and what defines "blue." They often model their behaviors after the same-sex parent.

Development Through Family Relationships

Family relationships play a crucial role in the development of children. The parent-child relationship is one of the single greatest influences on a child’s self esteem and sense of self-control. Authoritative parenting is best. Children make rapid language advancements at this stage. The type of environment parents create can set the foundation for literacy if books and effective verbal exercises are utilized.

Emotional Development

Preschoolers become increasingly able to discuss their emotions and those of others. They can understand that people can react to the same event with different emotions. Children at this stage can even develop the type of empathy that will allow them to understand and respond to a friend’s sadness.

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