Understanding Behaviour and Development in Early Childhood: A Guide to Theory and Practice

Understanding Behaviour and Development in Early Childhood: A Guide to Theory and Practice

Understanding Behaviour and Development in Early Childhood: A Guide to Theory and Practice

Understanding Behaviour and Development in Early Childhood: A Guide to Theory and Practice


In this accessible and thought-provoking text, the author examines the behaviour of babies and young children in a developmental context, and takes into account the shifts and changes over time as young children grow and mature.

Understanding Behaviour and Development in Early Childhood reveals, for example, how behaviour perceived as 'difficult' in a young child may be the manifestation of a response to emotional, sensory and cognitive experiences. Throughout the book, readers will find a strong emphasis on emotional well-being and the need to place our understanding of behaviour within a developmental time frame.

Based on wide ranging professional experience the topics examined and discussed in this insightful book include:

  • what we understand by 'behaviour'
  • how the brain and senses work and mature during early childhood
  • behaviour as a reflection of the child's internal state
  • what emotions are and how we learn what feelings mean to us as individuals
  • how emotions affect our ability to learn
  • how we develop a sense of self.

The book provides suggestions for how adults may think about and respond to changes in children's behaviour, and how we may support children in learning how to manage their own behaviour as they grow older and encounter wider and more complex situations.

Understanding the meaning of behaviour is a constant challenge for anyone working with children. This developmental approach promotes a helpful reflective stance for practitioners and students working in early childhood education and care.


A while ago, while sitting at breakfast, my husband was thinking over an invitation by a friend to go away for a few days. He was debating times, travel and so on and all the while I was conscious of a tight, unpleasant feeling in my stomach accompanied by a subtle sense of dread. Outwardly I was aware of speaking reasonably sensibly while at the same time aware that these feelings were growing into a sensation of panic. Later, reflecting on my inward reactions to this simple, non-threatening situation, I tried to make sense of it. True, I didn’t like being on my own at night (in spite of the comforting presence of two dogs!), nor did I resent or dislike the idea of my husband being away with a friend – in fact, I felt he deserved a break. So, what was the source of this sense of anxiety and panic? With a sigh of insight, I realized that the reaction was the faint echo of the pain and fear of abandonment – unfortunately a rather too common feature of my very early years. However, these uncomfortable feelings did not overwhelm my responses in this particular situation – in other words, I was able to cope with them and use my awareness that they were out of kilter to the situation, and so modify my reactions. Had I not, I could have had a range of responses to my husband, some of which may have been very unhelpful! In other words, my behaviour could have been a direct reflection of my feelings, raw and unmodified with only a limited view of possible options.

Without reflection and an ability to cope and consequently behave in a way that reflected the actual situation rather than the ancient echoes of old fears, my actions could have resembled those of the emotionally hurt and frightened child, fearful of being left. Not only children, but teenagers and adults who have not had support and help in being able to cope with their feelings may simply react as if they were threatened or in danger – sometimes in ways totally out of proportion to the particular circumstance. An example is that at the time of writing (2009) a dreadful incident is in the news of a woman who had bleach thrown at her because she told some young people to be quiet in a cinema: a non-threatening situation responded to in a way that of itself was appalling but also completely out of any relevance or correspondence to the original situation.

I have told you about this simple example from daily life and a news item because they highlight some of the ideas/concepts which will be discussed later in this book, The core argument will be that adult responses to our earliest awareness of threat/

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