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OU on the BBC: Child of Our Time 2010 - Charlotte's story

Updated Wednesday, 22nd February 2006

What does Charlotte's story tell us about child development?

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Charlotte Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Each of us grows up in a unique set of circumstances and unique relations with the people in our family and with the wider world. These influence the way we develop and how we are as adults. The scientific study of development can help to make predictions about how events and circumstances can influence children. However, although this research allows us to predict what may happen, often this is not a 'racing certainty' - there is no guarantee about what the outcome will be for a particular child, but we are in a better position to anticipate what is likely to occur. Although in some respects this is disappointing, it is also reassuring that our life path can't be easily mapped out in advance.

Charlotte's development provides a good illustration of why it's difficult to know what makes an individual the way they are. We see in the programme that Charlotte is able to keep calm by withdrawing from situations and that she is popular with her classmates. We know that young infants have different temperaments, for example some infants are much easier to soothe than others, and some infants seem to find it easier relate to people. This may very well be a result of inherited dispositions that give us different ways of reacting to the world about us.

Interestingly, Charlotte's parents thought that she was a cheerful and friendly baby, and that this was noticeable from an early age. It may be that this early disposition carried through to her popularity with her classmates when she started school. However, it also could be that Charlotte's experiences of her parents' separation made her especially aware of the feelings of others and this accounts for her popularity, even though she does not seem to need to be with lots of other friends. It is also possible that having a young sister at a relatively early age made Charlotte more aware of social relationships. It often seems to be the case that children in the same family develop different styles of interaction and different characters, much as Charlotte and Jasmine seem to have done, one quieter and tolerant, the other more vocal and insistent.

It is also uncertain what impact the death of her twin has had on Charlotte. Her parents felt that it was best to discuss this openly and to commemorate his death. Clearly there are strong arguments for being open with children about significant family events, in a secure and supportive setting. By talking about this loss from an early age, Charlotte will gradually develop an understanding of what all of this means.

For young children death is not an easy concept to understand and so it is unlikely that at first Charlotte would understand the significance of the death of her brother, and her understanding obviously would be very different to that of an adult who is told the same thing. It is more likely that at first her understanding came from how her parents talked about the event and the non-verbal messages conveyed by their facial expression, tone of voice and body posture. However, as she became older Charlotte is likely to have brought together her understanding of different aspects of such things as biology and religion to help her understand something which is of significance to her family, and is very likely to be of great significance to her.

If you'd like to know more, why not try our feature on cause and effect in child development?





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