According to the studies by Arnold Gesell and confirmed by more recent research conducted by the Gesell Institute of Child Development, children cycle through a six stage social/emotional developmental pattern for at least their first 16 years.
Through the age of seven, these stages last approximately six months (then gradually lengthen to about 12 months) and as children move from one stage to the next, they also alternate between periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium when they are more or less in balance within themselves as well as with their environment. Therefore, it follows that as children move from three to four, four to five, and five to five-and-a-half, they are moving through many developmental stages.
While there are great strides in the fine and gross motor and cognitive development of most young children, the most challenging changes may occur in their personal, emotional and social development.
As they cycle through these stages, children exhibit changes and experiment with new behaviors. Parents may see their child go from meek, mild and/or compliant to trying to assert his/her independence or vice versa. When they see less desirable traits and/or behavior, parents sometimes wonder whom is to blame, or where did they see or hear such things. While it is true that the children may have heard or seen a friend say or do something less than desirable, they are just moving through natural stages of development.
As children become more independent, they test their boundaries to see how far they can go, but also to be sure the boundaries are there, for within the boundaries they feel safe. The key for parents and teachers is to be consistent with the boundaries and the consequences. When children say, "But so-and-so does that," rather than to pass judgement on the other child, a more appropriate response would be, “In our family (or class or school), it is not okay to do that.”
If children receive consistent, calm reactions, clear responses and related logical consequences when they question their limits or behave inappropriately, they will develop an understanding of what is acceptable and why, feel safe and secure, and moderate their behavior.