The Challenges and Rewards of Taking Care of Pre-School Toddlers
These are characteristic of the two-year-old who is learning independence and is testing out his parents. He needs assurance that they can help him to control his intense angry feelings when they boil over, as it were, and he will suffer immeasurably if he does not meet with wise restraint to temper his violence.
Gradually, as he proves to himself that his tempers do not bring down irretrievable retribution, and that he can still rely on his parents’ love despite his naughtiness, tantrums become less frequent. By the age of four they should not occur very often.
This is often a form of experimentation. The child seeks to learn the how and why of things, and, of course, the kitchen clock or the wireless will suffer. Sometimes it is to show his own power, sometimes a form of sublimation.
He destroys what he hates in an indirect or symbolic way. In clinical work, when the child is provided with suitable material and encouraged to express himself freely, the young child will bury, cut up, drown with water or hammer to bits little figures which represent the hated mother or father of his unconscious mind. In this way he gains relief and comes to terms with his emotion.
Quarrelsomeness, of course, is to be expected at these times when the child is learning the difficult art of social adjustment. He has to learn to take turns when his sense of possession and insistence on his own rights are very strong.
If his rivalry with his brothers and sisters is very keen, his difficulties will be more apparent. The clash of opinion and purpose is bound to occur, but gradually he learns to compromise and also combine with others.
It is far healthier from a psychological point of view to be sometimes quarrelsome, pugnacious and determined than always docile, submissive and yielding. At three years of age quarrels are usually at their height, but between four and five years, children show real ability to play happily together for longer periods. After that time arguments and wordy battles tend to take the place of fisticuffs.
Comfort Habits, e.g. Thumb-Sucking,
These habits, which are rather common now, are generally a child’s means of seeking comfort. Thumb-sucking is often a legacy from babyhood, and the child will return to a habit, which is a substitute for breast feeding, when he is frightened, anxious, lonely, or bored.
Fears and Anxieties:
Fears and anxieties in some form or another must be expected now and again at this time. Nightmares are fairly common and probably reflect the disturbance which is going on in the child’s unconscious mind.
Usually the terrifying figures of his dreams represent the parents in the guise of revengeful or retributive figures. His own wishes to destroy and damage are let loose, and he is terrified by the strength of his own feelings.
Here emotional development and control, coupled with experience of real, kind and loving parents, will gradually reduce the persistence of nightmares.
Irrational fears, experienced in the daytime, are probably related to the same unconscious phenomenon, but in this case the fear is projected on to some animal or object in the external world which it is safe to hate and fear, and against which he can enlist protection and sympathy from his parents, e.g. dogs, cats, mice, or spiders.
The child who is persistently timid and nervous is not a normal child, and if acute fears and sleep disturbances are present, psychological treatment may be advisable.
In general, normal maturation and a normal environment will be sufficient to counteract most of these emotional difficulties, and by five years of age the child will appear much more stable and placid.
This state of mental health will be attained with much greater facility if he is allowed sufficient outlet in free play. His play during these years does not only provide an intellectual and social education, but also a valuable emotional outlet.
His need to play out his inner thoughts and feelings is most pressing, and he needs space and scope and companions for this purpose. His media may be sand and water, clay or plasticize, bricks, paint or crayons, or dolls or teddy bears.
He may dramatize all the familiar homely scenes which he witnesses every day bathing and bedding and feeding and loving and hating and by this means, he masters his own anxieties in relation to his own parents. Much has been written on this subject in recent years, and the value of free play to the pre-school child is widely recognized nowadays.
The psychology of play is a particularly fascinating subject and a good deal has been written about it. It has certainly assumed greater importance in the minds of educators, youth leaders, social workers, administrators as well as psychologists.
Herbert Spencer was one of the earliest psychologists to discuss play, and he defined it as excess of energy which the young person has in abundance and needs an outlet through play to discharge.
Karl Gross held that play should best be considered as a preparation for life, for the child learns through different play activities those mental and manual operations which he will need in later life. Just as a kitten plays with a cotton-reel as if it were a mouse, so the little child will play “house” or “school” and seek to imitate the behaviour of grown-ups.
Stanley Hall postulated the Recapitulatory Theory of play. He states that a child re-lives the life of his ancestors in his play, and plays hunting and fighting and home- making games which represent the way the primitive peoples live.
Montessori and Froebel stressed the educational value of play. Montessori devised a set of sense-training apparatus which are known and used widely.
They are designed to help a little child to learn in a pleasurable way to distinguish between shapes, sizes, colours, height, weight, volume and sound.
Although many modifications have been made and few teachers, except those teaching in a Montessori school, use the material exactly as it was originally designed, much modern sense-training apparatus owes its origin to the genius of Maria Montessori.
Froebel has devised a most useful play method of teaching, or rather of introducing formal work gradually through the medium of play, and has designed some delightful play material.
The Froebel approach to education is considered to be very sound, and a Froebel-trained teacher is recognized as a valuable and capable teacher.
Modern psychology stresses the social and emotional value of play. Through free play unorganized by adults, the young child learns to adapt to his playmates, to accept leadership, to make compromises, to co-operate in a common purpose, to defend property rights and to withstand antagonism.
Through early play activities the child learns to abandon the egocentric position to some extent and to reciprocate and co-operate with other children. The simplest form of play is free muscular play-the rough and tumble, running, jumping, climbing, pulling, scrambling activities of the healthy young person.
Such play is often snored alone, and does not involve such close contact with other children. Manipulator play is also primarily with things rather than with people-when the child explores and experiments with whatever material is available.
Destructive and constructive play also involves the use of materials, but often three-year-old and four-year-old children will join together in some constructional activity with sand or clay or bricks and the pleasure of joint activity is first appreciated.
But the older child spends more time in dramatic and imitative play. This involves the selection of roles-mother, father and baby, engine- driver and passenger, horse and driver. A more difficult adjustment has to be made and much give and take is required.
In dramatic play the child gains to a valuable emotional outlet. By playing out family scenes the child gains release from emotional conflicts which surround his relationships to his parents and brothers and sisters.
Lowe- fled has written at length on this aspect of play, and has developed a therapeutic technique known as projection therapy, or play therapy.