Among the first people beyond the family who have a long-term influence on the nursery-age child are teachers and peers. A good teacher brings out the best in a child, especially at this important and formative age. Four- to six-year-olds are easily embarrassed by comparisons with their peers for good or bad, and are still too young to understand examples. They find favouritism or singling out for blame incomprehensible, particularly if they come from warm and loving families. (Children at this age notice if one of their number is given special treatment by a teacher, in much the same way as they observe the ‘naughty boy’ in the class.) Too much praise or constant rebuke can disturb any child.
Rejections of simple gifts may also do harm. A child raised in a family where personally-made gifts, however rudimentary’, are warmly received experiences the pains of rejection if teachers ignore or disparage his efforts at creativity. This can undermine a child’s confidence. Similarly, children who experience being unfairly laughed at become embarrassed and may withdraw psychologically from contact beyond the family; as a rule, children decide for themselves when laughter is admissible. Teachers who respect the children in their charge can do much to increase their confidence and abilities.
These days, most nursery classes contain children from a variety of differing home environments; there may be a wide range of emotional and social abilities still developing.
The desire among children to copy each other – in play, in dress and in language – begins at this age. Children want to try new activities, explore new domains, extend their social encounters. Some of these activities may seem unacceptable to parents; or parents may nurse apprehension about new relationships, or behaviour patterns. However, most parental worries are groundless. Only rarely does a child between four and six select an enduring friend. Sociability is natural at this age, and parents should encourage it: peers play a large part in helping each other through the seemingly inconsistent, even illogical, world of the adult.
Moral and psychosexual development of pre-school children
A very young child has to learn to respond to ‘no’ or ‘stop’ in order to protect him. A nursery-age child. Though, has to learn to cope with more complicated issues such as not taking a forbidden sweet from the tin because he has been previously told not to, even if there is no one else present to see. Some people enforce their rules by punishment; but there is usually another way of helping a child learn the difference between right and wrong which involves explanation and a desire to please the parent. This is positive reinforcement: the child aims for good behaviour because it wants to be highly regarded. Developing a moral code takes time and there will be many slips. Also, much depends on the example set by parents and others.
The pre-school years are vital in terms of psychosexual development because it is now that a child’s attitudes and beliefs are being formed. Parents are also important as models for their child’s sexuality: the same-sex parent’s behaviour will undoubtedly influence the child’s perception of what it means to be a man or a woman.
Similarly, the opposite-sex parent’s actions, and attitudes towards both the child and the spouse, affect how the child thinks of the opposite sex.