Toddler Observation and Parent Interview, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

My toddler observation was conducted at the Happy Friends Childcare Center, a daycare which works primarily with toddlers and pre-schoolers.  This dedicated facility has separate rooms for each age group as well as a large common area, a nap room, and a fenced playground.  Happy Friends cares for approximately 15-20 children on a daily basis and has three teachers on staff as well as one educational assistant.  Parental volunteers are also encouraged, provided that they receive approval prior to visiting.  On the day that I conducted my observation, there were seven toddlers ranging in age from 13 months to 28 months of age, four female and three male with two female teachers present.

The range in motor skills and language abilities was quite wide, which isn’t surprising given the 15-month age range between the youngest toddler and the eldest toddler.  The individual differences between children also corresponds with Davies assertion that the physical and mental growth of toddlers continues at a rapid pace, “although not nearly as fast as during the first year” (2010, p.186).  I noted that Kyle, the youngest child, was not yet walking independently, although he would ‘scoot’ quickly across the floor using his hands and feet to propel his motion.  He was also adept at pulling himself into a standing position so that he could ‘walk’ while holding onto surfaces such as tables, bookcases, and chairs.  Davies notes that “even though toddlers are gaining motor skills rapidly, they often must concentrate intently to maintain control of their bodies” (2010, p.186), a characteristic I noticed especially among the younger children who tended to fall down easily, especially when distracted by a toy or a peer.  Samarah, the eldest child, walked easily without assistance and was also able to run across the room, jump and clap at the same time, and stand on one leg without falling over.

The children also demonstrated a wide variety of language skills that ranged from Kyle’s ability to make vowel sounds (“Ah” and “Oh”) at different pitch and intensity levels to indicate his demands to Samarah’s ability to speak in short declarative sentences.  Many of her statements were in relation to objects which she perceived as hers, such as when she would state “Mine” and “Give me” while holding specific toys that other children were interested in or already playing with.  This echoes Davies (2010) observation that toddlers’ development of self-identity is demonstrated by their use of words like ‘mine’ and ‘me’ and impacts on their interactions with peers and parents as they strive to understand the world on their own terms.  As Davies (2010) writes, “toddlers often become possessive of toys.  They apply the word mine to whatever toy they happen to have.  To a toddler mine means ‘I have it’ or ‘I want it’. They regard objects they possess as extensions of themselves, regardless of who the actual ‘owner’ is” (p.192).

I had the opportunity to observe the ‘mine’ phenomenon extensively throughout my visit, especially in relation to Samarah and 20 month-old Simon.  Although the children were able to play side by side, they didn’t react very much to each other except when one of them would try to take a toy from the other one.  I briefly observed them sharing a small truck; with the teacher’s encouragement, they rolled it back and forth between each other.  This harmony was short-lived, however, when Samarah shouted “mine” and tried to hide the truck under her shirt.  When Simon tried to wrestle it back, the teacher explained to Simon that it was Samarah’s turn with the truck.  She then led him over to a toy bin and helped him to pick out a replacement truck, an option which seemed to satisfy him.  Perhaps upset that Simon was no longer playing beside her, Samarah began to cry.  After a moment, 24 month-old Jocelyn toddled over, patted Samarah on the head, and said, “You sad-cry?”  She then hugged Samarah, patted her back, and said, “Okay baby.  Baby okay.”  I later observed her holding a stuffed bear in her arms and uttering the same statement as she gently rocked the bear, an example of symbolic play.  In relation to Jocelyn’s behavior with Samarah, her display of spontaneous empathy illustrates Davies (2010) observation that toddlers display such behaviors not “in response to rules or prohibitions but rather to feelings of identification with the other child” (p.214).

This ability to display prosocial behavior is vital in the daycare environment, especially given that many young children spend a majority of their waking time in child care facilities surrounded by their peers.  Hanna and Meltzoff (1993) note that the everyday activities which occur in a daycare environment are conducive to building strong social relationships between toddlers wherein non-verbal communication and games allow for intense levels of positive interaction.  As they write, “observations of peer interaction have shown that toddlers develop reciprocal imitative games in which imitation of a gesture leads to its repetition and then yet another instance of imitation, in a kind of nonverbal conversation” (Hanna & Meltzoff, 1993, p.701).  This was something I observed personally while watching 15 month-old Keenan play with Samarah.  He watched her place colored blocks in a bin and then crawled over beside her and began to imitate the way that she would raise her arm high above the bin before dropping the block.  His engagement level was not as strong as hers, and he dumped the bin over.  Samarah frowned, but then seemed to gain control of her emotions.  Gathering the blocks onto her lap she said “Start again,” at which point she and Keenan began to throw blocks back into the bin together.  This display of self-control is a key milestone in a toddler’s development as the type of “effortful control” (Davies, 2010, p.207) practiced by Samarah “is an early sign of the executive function, the ability to exert self-control through cognitive strategies” (p.207-08).  As well, by dumping the blocks out of the bin, Keenan was engaging in sensorimotor play in order to determine what would happen if he turned the bin upside down.

The teachers at the Happy Friends Childcare Center had made arrangements prior to my visit for me to interview Charles and Diane, parents of 24 month-old Jocelyn.  They had been advised to think about differences in Jocelyn’s behavior as an infant and a toddler prior to our interview, and proved to be articulate and thoughtful in their responses.  Both parents are in their early thirties; Charles is a graduate student who does much of his work from home, and Diane works nights.  Jocelyn attends the daycare three days a week in order to stimulate her social development, rather than because of her parents’ need for childcare assistance.

Charles noted that his daughter has become much more of a “little person” (Charles, personal communication, November 4, 2011) as a toddler than she was as an infant.  He stated that he feels increasingly engaged with her as her verbal and physical skills develop, noting that  his childcare responsibilities were much more limited when she was 6 months old and not yet mobile.  Diane agreed with his assessment, stating that, “every time I think she’s reached the best age, she does something new and interesting, and I fall in love with her that much more” (Diane, personal communication, November 4, 2011).  Her relationship with her daughter has also changed, although Diane expressed some sadness at how much more independent Jocelyn was becoming.  She acknowledged that autonomy was a normal part of the development process, but admitted that she missed the days when Jocelyn wanted nothing more than to snuggle on her lap.  “Now she’s running everywhere,” Diane said, “and half the time I try to hold her she just wants to be off and running again,” (Diane).  This corresponds with Davies’ (2010) assertion that a “toddler’s persistence and determination, which can be very frustrating for parents, is also a sign of cognitive development” (p.193).

Jocelyn started walking independently at the age of 14 months, and both of her parents note that this was the period when she began to exhibit “temper tantrums” (Charles) that seemed to be related to her desire to exert her own free will and make her own decisions.  This is an normal stage of Jocelyn’s development as she begins to define her notion of self in relation to the people   around her.  According to Davies (2010), toddlers persist in activities and can exhibit extreme behaviors “because they can now formulate a conscious goal and keep the goal in mind” (p.193).  Charles and Diane both associate their daughter’s newfound mobility with an increased level of language ability because she spoke her first distinct word (“cat”) shortly after she began to walk.    Although Jocelyn has not yet begun to speak in full sentences, she demonstrates the “‘urge to convey’ [her] thoughts [in her] awareness of the uses of language as a social tool, a means of expressing her intentions, and a way of conveying her interpretations of reality” (Davies, 2010, p.193).  Charles stated that his relationship with his daughter has grown stronger now that he is better able to understand what she is trying to say, and joked that Joceyln calls him “fave” which he says is a shortened word for favorite (though his wife disagreed, suggesting that it might just be an abbreviation of ‘father’).

In concluding our interview, I asked Charles and Diane whether they find it more difficult to parent Jocelyn now that she has developed her own distinct personality and accompanying motor and language skills.  They both disagreed vehemently, stating that they found this to be an exciting, if challenging, time in their lives.  “Every day she’s different,” Diane said, “and that’s just great” (Diane).  Her husband echoed this, adding that he couldn’t imagine a time in his life that had more meaning than his time as a father.

Clearly, both Diane and Charles are invested and involved in their role as parents.  Their attachment to their daughter is further illustrated by the manner in which Joceyln positively engages with other children in the day care setting.  Davies (2010) suggests that “toddlers who demonstrate good capacities for empathy and prosocial behavior generally have histories of secure attachment with parents who have modelled empathetic perspective taking” (p.214).  By observing both the behavior of Jocelyn in the toddler room and talking to her parents, I was able to see the concrete effects of strong parenting on a child’s social skills and physical and cognitive development.

References

Davies, D. (2010). Childhood development: A practitioner’s guide. (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.

Hanna, E. & Meltzoff, A.N. (1993). Peer imitation by toddlers in laboratory, home, and    day-care contexts: Implications for social learning and memory. Developmental Psychology, 29(4): 701-710. Retrieved from             http://128.95.148.60/meltzoff/pdf/93Hanna_Meltzoff_DevPsy.pdf

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