Understanding the Importance of Development Throughout Childhood
Child development is complicated and messy. Children go through positive and negative stages of development, and these stages are usually not smooth or linear. It is common for children to master certain tasks and abilities, only to temporarily lose those skills as they continue down the path to maturity. Once more growth and maturity has been obtained, the skills return and are usually stronger than before. When it comes to child development, patience and understanding are key.
Children naturally cycle through phases of ups and downs as their bodies and brains are developing. Parents that are knowledgeable of child development are what we refer to as informed parents, because they use this information to adapt their parenting styles and approaches based on the child’s current developmental level.
There are times in a child’s life when it is necessary for parents to be strict and firm. There are other times where flexibility and the ability to brush things off are necessary (for the parent’s sanity and the child’s). Some phases of child development are smooth and peaceful, and require little discipline from parents as children in these phases usually behave in a way that is acceptable and pleasing to parents. Typical ages for this behavior is 2yrs, 3yrs, 5yrs, and 10yrs.
There are other ages in development in which children are at odds within themselves and in the environment, and their behavior is usually described as rigid, demanding, undesirable, insecure, worrisome, or fearful. These ages are typically those of 2 ½, 3 ½, 5 ½, and 9.
Informed parents are able to acknowledge their child’s developmental stage, rather than merely his or her chronological age, and respond accordingly. Parents of a pleasing 5 year old are able to get along well with their child, give verbal commands that are usually followed right away (as 5 year olds desire to please parents), and are able to delight in their child. Parents of children this age are able to provide their child with choices, expect a little more from them, and use firmness in limit setting. These parents understand that a child in a smooth phase of development is able to control his or her body, and is able to follow directions more easily.
Informed parents also know that flexibility and creativity is needed when children are in the breaking up phases of development, usually around the ½ year marks in young ages. Informed parents of a 4 ½ year old understand the developmental need for their child to be active, and are able to provide their child with multiple outlets and opportunities for movement. These parents also understand that the 4 ½ year old is insecure and in self-protective mode, and the onset of lying at this age is seen with understanding and empathy as it is the result of the child trying to protect his or her self and sense of identity of a good kid.
Based on a child’s developmental age, parents are able to adapt expectations and set up the environment for the child to succeed. Having difficulty with your 2 ½ year old not following directions? Set it up to where they don’t have a choice. Do not ask questions and give the opportunity for a child to say No, if you are wanting a Yes. Simply telling a child at this age what is going to happen next is a more effective approach than asking if they are ready to do something. Baby gates and door locks are wonderful for parents of children this age. Removing valuables or anything the child is not allowed to play with is more effective than telling the child not to do something, as verbal commands at this stage are ineffective.
Does your 3 ½ year old constantly ask if you love her? Most likely she is struggling with great insecurity that is typical of this age. Constant reassurance, patience, and love will help her gain growth and maturity and help her advance to become a more secure and confident 4 year old.
When parents are informed regarding child development and typical behaviors at each of these phases, they are able to adapt parenting methods and expectations of behavior. What your child is able to accomplish and do on his or her own varies from age to age, and your expectations must adapt as well. By being flexible and adapting to your child’s level of development, you are helping them to attain the skills necessary to move to the next phase.
Need help understanding your child’s current developmental level, or having trouble defining reasonable expectations for their age? Contact our office and speak with an informed play therapist who can help you adapt to your child and find solutions that work for the whole family. (469) 665-9416 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gesell Institute (www.gesellinstitute.org)