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Insight into the minds of 5-year-olds

FIVE-YEAR-OLDS have no concept of time or other people's feelings but are keen to develop understanding of the world around them, according to a new guide.

Linda Hopper, a child counsellor, has produced an outline of the levels of emotional development that can be expected of primary pupils.

Writing in the journal Counselling Children and Young People, Ms Hopper points out that children do not become capable of empathy until around the age of 8. "The question, 'How do you think it makes me feel?' is unlikely to be understood by a younger child," she said.

Similarly, she points out that the child of 5 has no concept of time. The idea of "yesterday" can blend into any time in the past, while "tomorrow" is often more than 24 hours away, so teachers should not take issue with pupils if their discussion of time does not stand up to scrutiny.

School is usually the first authoritative influence outside the home and "but my mummy says" will be used to challenge the teacher. This is not intended to undermine authority because "but my teacher says" will similarly be used to test parents. Children will begin to compare responses and make choices for themselves.

Young children's previous experiences also have a significant impact on how they respond to school. Where trust and autonomy have been successfully learnt at home, pupils are able to befriend other children and approach school tasks with confidence.

Children who have not yet achieved autonomy are often reluctant to undertake a task for fear of getting it wrong or incurring disapproval. And those who have not learnt to trust will either believe everything the teacher tells them or nothing at all.

Ms Hopper said negative experiences at primary school can have an effect on the rest of pupils' school careers. Pupils who feel they cannot keep up with their classmates often see themselves as inferior.

They tend to react in one of three ways: some withdraw into themselves; others try to find different ways to succeed with their peers for example, they may become the class clown, making other people laugh to give them a sense of belonging; and the third group become angry about the fact that they feel different from their peers and may bully those whom they believe have greater advantages.

Ms Hopper believes teachers can help prevent such outcomes by being aware of potential motives behind different types of behaviour.

"Teachers have a huge responsibility in how they deal with each child who comes under their tuition," she said. "Creating a learning environment is of far greater value than delivering a lesson."


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