Toddlers and preschoolers who are impulsive and tend to seek out new and unfamiliar activities overestimate their physical abilities as six year olds. They also experienced more injuries requiring medical attention compared with children who do not have these traits.
Young children's temperaments offer important clues to their later risk of being injured unintentionally, according to the results of a longitudinal study reported in the current issue of Child Development.
"Childhood injuries are among the few child health problems where annual mortality rates have not significantly decreased over the past several decades," says David C. Schwebel of the University of Iowa, Iowa City. As public health workers have sought to develop programs to prevent childhood injuries, researchers have begun to explore the psychological factors that may play a role.
Schwebel and colleague Jodie M. Plumert, Ph.D., evaluated 59 children when they were 33 months old, 46 months old and six years old. The children completed a standard battery of tests designed to measure their "inhibitory control" -- whether they were impulsive or deliberate in responding to new situations - and their level of "extraversion" - whether they sought out and responded to novel situations enthusiastically. At six years old, the researchers tested the children's skill at estimating their own physical abilities, for example, having them predict whether they could reach a toy off of a wooden block beyond their grasp. Mothers also provided ratings of their impulsivity and extraversion and a history of the children's injuries.
Children who scored high on extraversion and low on inhibitory control as preschoolers and toddlers tended to overestimate their physical abilities at age six. They also experienced more injuries requiring medical attention. The picture was reversed for those who scored low on extraversion and high on inhibitory control; they tended to underestimate their physical abilities and have few injuries.
Schwebel and Plumert suggest that injury prevention programs should target children with vulnerable temperaments, including those who tend to overestimate their physical abilities and those whose impulsiveness and desire for novel situations leaves them at higher risk of injury.
The data collected at age 6 was supported by a Spelman Rockefeller seed grant from the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. The data collected at 33 and 46 months were collected in a separate investigation conducted by Grazyna Kochanska, who was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Mental Health.
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