Welcome to My Virtual Child!


Congratulations! You are the proud parent of a virtual child! You will be raising this virtual child from birth to 12 years of age. Your virtual child has a unique set of characteristics at birth, some of which were influenced by your answers to the assessments you completed when you first logged onto My Virtual Child. These characteristics will gradually emerge and affect his or her behavior and development. In addition to these individual differences, there are also universal aspects of development that all virtual children will display. My virtual child covers physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development at several age levels. This will give you an opportunity to visualize "the whole child" at various points in development.


As your virtual child progresses through each age level, you will read about events occurring in his or her virtual life and you will be asked to make decisions about your virtual child. Answer the questions the way you think you would act as a real parent. You will have a "partner" (which you can assume to be your spouse, unmarried partner, or whatever you like). You and your partner are assumed to be the biological parents (a male and a female) to make the programming of My Virtual Child as simple as possible. You should assume that a week or more passes between each event or question at a particular age level. The events that happen in your child's life, and the decisions you make as a parent will gradually change your child's inborn characteristics, and will shape other characteristics of the child that emerge after birth. The virtual child’s behavior may vary across ages and settings, although there are basic personality and intellectual traits that remain generally consistent. In addition to the events and questions, you will see typical assessments of your child's behavior at the end of many age levels (pediatrician's report, developmental assessment, psychologist's report, and various school report cards). Some terms and concepts may be unfamiliar to you. Approximately 50 short definitions are available as you roll over certain terms. More complex concepts (such as temperament, personality type and multiple intelligences) are explained in boxes that pop up at appropriate points. Finally, to help you visualize some of the concepts in My Virtual Child, brief videos are available at almost every age level.


There are 13 sets of critical thinking questions (three questions per set) built in to the program.  However, you will not be answering these online questions.  Instead, I will be providing you with a handout containing the questions you must answer. These question sets are designed to be written up as brief papers or used as the basis for discussions in class, and are designed to help you connect your virtual child’s development with course concepts.  Generally, you will need to run through two or more age levels before answering the questions I provide.  Your answers should be neatly typed and carefully proofread and spell-checked, as you would with any other writing assignment.  Your grade will be based on the thoroughness and accuracy of your responses.


At any point, you can look at past events, questions, and answers by clicking on the time line at the top of the screen. Click on "Resume Questions" to go from the time line back to the questions where you left off.

You can log off at any time; your information and completed responses are saved automatically. Should you accidentally skip a question, you will be prompted to go back. If you see a screen that says "Time Passes", there are no questions at that point for your particular child. Continue on.


Many students wonder how they will know when they have given the "right" response to the questions posed to them as parents. The goal of the program is to convey the broad sweep of child development from the point of view of a parent observing a child. The way this is done is by showing you "snapshots" of a child's typical behavior over a period of time (e.g., one year). The program is not fully interactive; that is, the child in the scenarios rarely responds immediately to something you do as a parent. Instead, the child gradually changes, in response to parenting choices, innate temperamental or personality characteristics, random environmental events, and general developmental principles. In other words, as in real life, you won't find out whether you have made the "right" choices as a parent until you see how the child turns out at various ages, in a variety of contexts (e.g., home, school, peer group). Feedback about child outcomes can be gleaned from your observation of the child's behavior, from comments or reports from teachers and other professionals, and from other "outcome data" (e.g., grades in school, success in peer relationships).


Although feedback about parenting choices is not provided on a question by question basis, some guidelines for being a "good" parent to your Virtual Child can be articulated. In many cases, the "right" answer is the answer provided by developmental research and theory, which often corresponds to common sense (e.g., comfort a crying baby). In some cases, the "right" answer to a question will depend on the child's developmental level or personality. In other cases, there is more than one "right" answer. Generally speaking, the more extreme answers (i.e., overly strict or overly lenient) will lead to more extreme outcomes with regard to the child's behavior, but this may interact with your child's temperament. Some Virtual Children are harder to get along with and to control, as appears to be the case in real life. Occasionally someone (a developmental examiner, a teacher, a psychologist, or your child him/herself) will tell you directly how you are doing as a parent in terms of two dimensions: warmth/affection and control/discipline. These dimensions are the basis for four main parenting styles discussed in your book (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglecting). You and your classmates may deliberately decide to vary methods and styles of parenting in order to see how this affects your Virtual Children.

Have fun raising your Virtual Child!

My Virtual Child Assignment


Instructions:  Answer the questions listed under each assignment briefly, citing specific examples from your child.  Type up the answers in 12 point font, double-spaced, with a recommended 3-page length for assignments except where noted.  Assignments are worth 10 points each.  The assignments add up to 63 points with the additional 37 points coming from your participation in the 3 in-class Parent Forums (roughly 12 points each).


General guidelines:  A good answer will address every part of the question, and will describe the child’s behavior and provide 1 or 2 supporting examples.  In addition, wherever possible, you should relate your descriptions and explanations of the child’s behavior to the concepts, theories and research covered in class or in the book.  Please avoid expressing an unfounded option – try to base your arguments on research studies and conclusions, or a theory that seems well supported by the research in the field.  The questions are printed below.


Assignment 1:  Infant physical and cognitive development: main ages are 3 mos, 8 mos, 12 mos, and 18 mos (run through 19 months).  10 points


  1. How does your baby’s eating, sleeping and motor development compare to the typical developmental patterns in the first 8 months?
  2. Is your child delayed or advanced in any area of development according to the 19-month developmental examiner’s report?  Based on what you have studied, do you think this is most likely a result of specific biological or environmental factors?
  3. Describe and give examples of changes in your child’s exploratory or problem solving behavior from 8 through 18 months and categorize them according to Piagetian and information processing theories.
  4. Describe your child’s communication and language development in the first 18 months.  Is your child developing at a typical or atypical rate?


Assignment 2:  Infant social and emotional development: main ages are 8 ,12 and 18 months (run through 19 months).  11 points


  1. At 8 months of age, was your child an “easy”, “slow to warm up”, or “difficult” baby in terms of Thomas and Chess’s classic temperamental categories?  On what do you base this judgment?
  2. How is your child’s attachment relationship to you and your partner developing?  What is happening at the 8, 12 and 18-month periods that might affect attachment security according to Bowlby and Ainsworth, and various research studies?
  3. Analyze your baby’s temperament in more detail at 18 months than you did at 8 months.  How would your describe your baby in terms of the five aspects of temperament utilized by the Virtual Child program (activity, sociability, emotionality, aggressiveness vs. cooperativeness, and self control).  Has your child’s temperament been stable over the first 18months?  A blurb defining and providing examples of the five aspects of temperament is provided at 12 months, but you should seek out further explanations of temperament from your textbook.  Explain how the concept of goodness of fit (also discussed in the blurb on infant temperament) applies to your interactions with your child.
  4. Analyze the implicit assumptions that might be guiding you in your own parenting practices.  Choose three theories from the following list and discuss whether your parenting choices reflect a major concept from these theories (classic learning theory, social learning theory, attachment theory, Piaget, sociocultural theories, information processing theories, ethology, or developmental neuroscience).


Assignment 3:  Early childhood physical and cognitive development: main ages are 24 months through 3 years (run through 3 years, 11 months).  10 points


  1. Have there been any environmental events in your child’s first three years that you think might have influenced his or her behavior?  On what do you base your hypotheses?
  2. What activities and experiences you and your child have engaged in might be promoting healthy behavioral practices and an interest in physical activity?
  3. Describe the development of your child’s language and communication skills and discuss how these might be affecting his or her interactions with you and your responses.
  4. Describe the development of your child’s memory, information processing and reasoning skills, including the theory of mind and explain how these changes might be affecting your interactions with your child.


Assignment 4:  Early childhood social and emotional development: main ages are 24 months through 4 years (run through 4 years, 10 months).  12 points


  1. How is your child progressing on early childhood issues, such as learning household rules, learning to follow routines, listening to you, developing self control and learning to get along with others?  Does your child have any behavior or emotional problems at this point?  Why do you think these problems are occurring and what are you doing about them?
  2. How might your child’s development have been different if s/he was raised by people with a different socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural background?  Base your answer on specific evidence of SES/cultural differences from the textbook and class lectures.  Note, if your cultural background differs from the predominant culture in the U.S., how might you have raised the child differently or made different decisions based on your own culture (e.g., being stricter or more lenient, emphasis on assertive/independent vs. cooperative behavior, emphasis on family relationships vs. relationships outside the family).
  3. How would you characterize your parenting style?  How have your specific parenting techniques changes since infancy?  Can you find any examples of how your parenting might have affected your child, based on research cited in your text or lecture?
  4. How would you characterized your child’s personality?  Would you say that your child is primarily overcontrolled, undercontrolled, or resilient?  Support your argument.  The program stated at the beginning of age three that the Virtual Child’s behavior at age 3 and 4 is designed to resemble on of three personality types.  The personality types combine some of the temperamental traits with which you are already familiar.  The overcontrolled category refers to a child who is cooperative and follows the rules, but is shy in social situations and anxious and clingy under pressure.  The undercontrolled category refers to a child who is uncooperative or even aggressive, does not follow the rules, is not particularly shy in social situations, and has a tendency to become distracted and overly emotional, particularly when under stress.  The resilient category refers to a child who is cooperative and follows the rules, is friendly, non-aggressive and outgoing, able to focus on tasks without being too distracted, has good regulation of his or her emotions, and is adaptable to new situations.


Assignment 5:  Middle childhood physical and cognitive development: main ages are 24 through 8 years (run through 8 years, 11 months).  10 points


  1. What activities and experiences you and your child have engaged in might be promoting healthy behavioral practices and an interest in physical activity?
  2. do you notice any improvements in language, communication, memory, reasoning or theory of mind since age 4?  Give specific examples.  Does your child have any special needs with regard to cognitive or language development at this point and what do you plan to do?
  3. Describe changes in your child’s academic skills between ages 6 and 10 and assess how well these skills are developing.  The first grade report card (age 6; 11) and the psychologist’s report (age 8; 10) will be useful for this but you should also incorporate your own observations.  What are you doing to help your child?
  4. How smart is your child and in what areas?  Think back to the blurb on multiple intelligences that appeared at age 6.  Find specific evidence regarding your child’s verbal, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence from your observations of your own child as well as the psychologist’s report at age 8 years, 11 months.


Assignment 6:  Middle childhood social and emotional development: main ages are 6 through 10 years (run through 10 years, 11 months).  10 points


  1. Describe your child’s personality in terms of the three subtypes (resilient, overcontrolled and undercontrolled).  Which aspects of your child’s social behavior and emotional responses reflect continuities from earlier behavior (e.g., at ages 3-4 years) and which seem to be novel for this age level?
  2. Describe some examples of your child’s behavior or thinking that you think are due to typical American gender role socialization and explain why you think so.  Several examples can be found at ages 6 and 8.  How closely does your attitude toward gender roles correspond to typical American attitudes, and if there is a discrepancy, to what do you attribute this (e.g., cultural background, attitudes of your own parents, etc.)?
  3. How well is your child adapting to social situations in the home and outside the home?  Does your child have any behavior or emotional problems at this point?  Why do you think these problems are occurring and what are you doing about them?
  4. Has your parenting changed since the preschool period and if so, why do you think it has changed and what effect might this have on your child?  Refer to your textbook or lecture notes for evidence on typical changes in parenting that occur in middle childhood.



Extra Credit Questions


Run through 14 years, 11 months.

  1. Describe any physical or behavioral sings if incipient puberty, including changes in physical appearance, behavior or emotions.
  2. What activities or experiences at ages 12 and 14 has your teen been involved in that might promote healthy behavioral practices, physical fitness and skill in sports.
  3. Describe changes in your child’s thinking (e.g., changes in humor, abstract thinking, or theory of mind) and discuss how this might be affecting his or her interactions with you & your responses and his or her interactions with peers.
  4. Using the 7th and 9Th grade report cards and your own observations, summarize your child’s academic skills at this point.  What specific activities might promote some of these skills?  What careers or courses of study might be best suited to your teen’s abilities and interests?


Run through 18 years, 1 month.

  1. How important have your teen’s relationships with peers been to his/her social development, emotional well-being and school achievement from 14-18 years of age?
  2. How has your teen adjusted at 14-18 years of age to typical adolescent issues such as risk-taking, drugs, alcohol, and sexual interests, and how have you responded to your teen?
  3. As the program ends, what pathways does your child appear to be on in terms of physical, cognitive, social, emotional and moral development?  Choose four aspects of your child to discuss.  To what extent could you have predicted these pathways based on what you knew of your child’s earlier development?
  4. Describe two specific ways in which you think your parenting mattered for your child’s development, based on evidence from the course regarding the contributions of parents to child development.
  5. Describe two specific ways in which your child developed that appeared to be influenced by factors outside your control, such as genes, random environmental events or the general influence of contemporary middle-class American culture.