How Individual Differences Impact Early Childhood Development

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will explain the ways in which the uniqueness of a child and individual differences like health, physical characteristics, heredity, and temperament can impact cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and language development in children ages 2-5.

What Do We Mean by Individual Differences?

Lots of factors can influence child development from ages 2 to 5. Some of these influential factors are external, like the environment the child is raised in or the experiences they have. Other influential factors are innate, meaning that the children are born with them. These innate individual differences might include health, physical characteristics, heredity, and temperament. In the debate about whether nature (genetics) or nurture (upbringing) has more impact on child development, these innate individual differences would represent the ''nature'' side, while environment and experience illustrate what we mean by ''nurture.''

Let's take a look at some of the ways a child's innate individual differences can impact cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and language development.

Cognitive Development

Some individual differences in children may impact their cognitive development. Consider the example of fertility clinics. Donors to a sperm or egg bank and surrogate mothers are given extensive genetic screening to ensure they are not only fertile enough to contribute, but also genetically desirable enough. Participants seeking assistance in having children are able to look through the results of these tests to make choices that might impact the heredity of the child based on the surrogate they choose. Some of the most popular donors are highly intelligent, have musical talent, or artistic creativity, because these traits are believed to be passed on through the genes.

On the other hand, cognitive development can be impeded by these individual differences in that some talents may not be in the family's genetic line. There may be other innate issues that also affect cognitive development. For example, premature birth or problems during gestation can cause developmental delays in children that aren't necessarily inherited. These individual differences can have negative impacts on brain growth and therefore cognitive development.

Emotional Development

Individual differences innate to a child can have an impact on their emotional development. Consider Fred and George, siblings raised in the same environment. One may be more expressive of his feelings than the other, or may be more likely to act out and throw a tantrum. Ask any parent of more than one child and they can give you specific details about the siblings' personality differences almost from birth.

These individual differences in the demeanor and temperament of children will help identify where preschool teachers can help with their emotional development. Some students may need to learn how to maintain control of their emotional state and others may need to understand how to express a variety of feelings in constructive ways. Most children at this age experience frustration and fear, but these may often be expressed as anger or even in violent outbursts. Helping them understand the wide range of human emotions and to recognize these states in others can help children develop compassion and emotional intelligence.

Social Development

A child's personality also has an impact on his or her social development. Just like the different emotional expressions of brothers in the last example, Fred and George's social development is also impacted as a result of their individual differences. Fred is outgoing and funny, so he has made several more friends in preschool. George, on the other hand, seems to be more serious, shy and reserved. He struggles to interact socially with his peers and relies on Fred's friends for much of his socialization, when he's allowed to tag along.

Preschool teachers can help accommodate individual differences in personalities that might negatively impact social development by instituting a classroom buddy system, encouraging diverse groups for work and playtime, and creating a culture of collaborative teamwork and connection with students. When students are being left out, teachers can find out if they prefer to play alone or if they are being deliberately ostracized.

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