For children in early childhood, play is seen as a symbolic activity that helps them to socialize and perceive the world around them. Symbolic activity is most evident in young children’s pretend play. Here we find children pretending that bananas are telephones, that chairs are cars, that shoeboxes are television sets, and so on. Watching young children engage in pretend play gives the impression that they are exercising their newly acquired symbolic ability purely for the delight of it.
There is reason to suppose that the symbolic element of pretend play is not just a manifestation of having reached a developmental milestone. Some argue persuasively that pretend to play promotes cognitive development in many ways as the child enters this stage, she can solve problems with the help of symbolic activity and is rapidly developing proficiency as a language user (Bee, 2000).
A parent would be forgiven for thinking that most of the developmental milestones have been achieved and that things are downhill from this point. It is not appropriate to say the young child is inconsiderate, since it is claimed that the young child is incapable of understanding that another person might have a viewpoint different from her own. In this case, ‘different viewpoint’ is used both in a literal sense, as in failing to understand that objects look different from different perspectives, and in a conceptual sense, as in failing to understand that people may hold opinions, beliefs, etc. different from her own.
Intimately linked with egocentrism is a profound inability to understand and apply principles to the world. The young child’s grasp of things is intuitive and highly subjective, rather than logical and objective. The child’s thinking is dominated by surface appearance, rather than by underlying principles. The best way to illustrate this is with examples of tests in which a preoperational child fails (Hendricl and Weissman 2005).
Attachment and bonding are developed from the moment of birth of a child. Although the baby shows a preference for the caregiver at this young age, a substantial change takes place at about 9 months. This can be demonstrated by the onset of ‘separation anxiety’. This is how the test is performed. The mother takes the baby into an unfamiliar room, where he is allowed to play with some toys which are provided. Then a stranger enters, and shortly afterward the mother leaves the room.
Sometime later, the stranger leaves, and then returns after a short absence. Finally, the mother returns. This scenario is used to provoke a response from the baby, a response which should be revealing about the baby’s sense of security and comfort he gets from the presence of his mother. In sum, his response should be revealing about the extent to which he is attached to his mother.
Before approximately 9 to 10 months of age, the baby may appear rather indifferent to the mother’s departure. Beyond this age, we see a very different reaction. When the mother gets up to leave the room, we see the baby walking, if he is able, or perhaps crawling after her. When she goes through the door, the baby cries and generally appears distressed. In the mother’s absence, the baby is likely to remain immobilized and perhaps will continue crying (Hendricl and Weissman 2005). On the mother’s return, he will appear relieved and might initiate cuddling with her.
The 10-to-12-month-old baby uses the parents as a safe base from which to explore the world. The attached person also becomes a source of comfort when the baby is stressed or distressed. In sum, the caregiver’s love provides the baby with a platform from which he can project himself into the world. When the baby is confronted with a stranger or a new toy, he is likely to turn to the parent apparently to read her emotional expression to find out whether the person or thing is safe. If the parent’s expression shows fear, then the baby is likely to stay close to her. If the expression is of joy, the baby is likely to venture near to the person or thing.
Bee, H. (2000). Child and Adolescent Development. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Hendricl, J., Weissman, P. (2005). The Whole Child: Development Education for the Early Years. Prentice Hall; 8 edition.