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They are also important for those who attempt to engage with children for the purposes of research into those processes. Finally, we should not underestimate the effects of worry and bewilderment on children’s ability to take part in discussion. While writing this chapter I was in my local town when I met a friend of my younger son, a boy of eight years, fairly competent if a little shy. I passed him twice in a few minutes before realising that he seemed troubled. It turned out that he had lost his mother and was quite upset; but he had not been able to tell me, whom he knew fairly well, or speak to the staff in the shop he had been in with his mother, although it turned out that they were very kind and also knew him.

Childhood is understood as a social construction. As such it provides an interpretative frame for contextualizing the early years of human life. Childhood, as distinct from biological immaturity, is neither a natural nor universal feature of human groups but appears as a specific structural and cultural component of many societies. 2. Childhood is a variable of social analysis. It can never be entirely divorced from other variables such as class, gender, or ethnicity. Comparative and cross-cultural analysis reveals a variety of childhoods rather than a single and universal phenomenon.

In his view the infant and even the pre-school child had very limited awareness of other people as separate and autonomous entities, and it was the coming of that awareness at around age seven that stimulated the critical, questioning approach that produced operational thinking. 9 Aside from the social aspects of intellectual growth, however, the growth of social awareness is in itself worthy of study. Mead (1934) and the social interactionist school showed how social relationships are the key to the individual’s developing sense of identity.

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