A child never learns faster and grows more quickly than in its first 12 months, but the next four years are also times of astonishing development, particularly of the mind.
By the age of five, most children have grown to over 3 feet (1 meter) tall more than half their adult height but a five-year-old’s brain is 90 per cent of final adult brain weight. By 18 months, most children can walk reasonably well on their own; at two years, they can run steadily; and by five, most can jump, skip, and hop and walk along a bench without falling off.
Conceptual development begins from the time that a child first begins to understand actions and spoken words. It continues throughout life, as there is a need to deal with all sorts of abstract ideas, from the simple to the complicated. Nutrition in infancy plays a very important part in this development, and inadequate feeding up to the age of 18 months may permanently impair a child’s conceptual abilities.
At age two, children’s abstract concepts are limited; they know their first name, and can point to common objects such as eyes, hair, or shoes. At this stage, a child cannot match pairs of three-dimensional shapes, but can use pencil and paper to copy simple lines.
By age three, a child knows his or her age and is beginning to be able to match shapes by trial and error. The child can copy circles, name some colors, and count up to ten. There is also considerable understanding of the concept “where,” “what,” “who,” and “whose.”
At four, a child can speak well and can understand simple comparisons such as “bigger” and “colder,” and constantly asks questions beginning “Why… ?”, “When . .. ?” and “How.. . ?”
At age five, most children have a vocabulary of 1,500-2,000 words and can repeat their full name, age, birthday, and address. A child of this age can copy a square and eight or nine simple capital letters and, when matching three-dimensional shapes, has learned to compare objects by eye before moving them to their correct positions.
Coordination improves rapidly through the first five years. At 18 months, a child can build a small tower of bricks and shows the first signs of being right- or left-handed. At two years, he or she can throw a ball and turn the pages of a book. At three years, a child can use a spoon and fork.
Toilet training occurs between the ages of one and four, beginning (usually at 24-28 months) when the child is able to signal that a diaper is wet or soiled. Most children have stopped wetting the bed at night by age three, with maybe a few accidents up to the age of four.
Children aged one through two require approximately 1,200 calories per day; by age five, this need increases to around 1,600 calories. At age five, most children sleep for about ten hours a night. Nightmares, however, can send a child screaming to the parents for reassurance and the warmth and comfort of the parents’ bed. A child may also need reassurance before bed, particularly about fears of the dark. By the age of six, most children have given up daytime naps.
As children become more active, the risk of illness increases in this age group, however, major infectious illness is less common than minor injuries from accidents. Exploration can also lead to serious accidents, particularly from poisoning, but also from burns or scalds. General health care includes sensible safety precautions, particularly in the home and garden; choice of clothing and footwear that inhibits neither movement nor growth; personal hygiene, including care of the teeth; nutritious diet; and a friendly acquaintance with both doctor and dentist to ensure that the natural anxieties about such encounters are minimized.
Through these years, emotions can change drastically as children discover their individuality. The two- to three-year-old stage can be particularly trying for the parents, as a child tries rebellion, demands constant attention, shows jealousy and possessiveness, and throws temper tantrums. Not all children show all these characteristics and some show them more vigorously than others. Nevertheless, these problems are familiar enough to most parents, and few families avoid the experience completely.
Emotions generally fluctuate a bit less in a four-year-old, and at this age, children start to play and share happily with other children. By the age of five, a child can show considerable concern and responsibility in protecting the interests of younger children.
Emotional upsets through these years are common particularly when new babies are born in the family. These can trigger rebellion or nervous habits, and a child may develop irrational fears. If at this age the child must be separated from its parents for instance, to enter the hospital great reassurance can be needed to quell fears of permanent separation. Starting school may also be difficult, but is often more traumatic for the parents than the child! Generally, if parents have encouraged their child’s independence and have tried to understand and relieve any fears, the child should be able to make the transition to the next stage of life easily.