LEARNING MORE ABOUT CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Children develop best when parents act on knowledge & educated common sense & not instinct or guesswork alone. Most new parents know very little about child development. Prime-time parents must be willing to learn & to continue learning through a child’s growing years.
If parents have never studied or had much experience with babies & young children, their expectations may be unrealistic. Young teenage parents with little knowledge or experience can expect their children to do certain things before the child is developmentally ready.
In many instances, whether it was a social smile or a first word, these teenage parents expected this behaviour weeks & sometimes months before the average child is actually capable. Imagine how much frustration & anguish these young parents would have been spared had they known what to expect! (Editor: If they’ve had a lot of experience in childcare, of course, this would rarely apply.)
At this point you may want to test yourself to see how well your expectations compare to expert opinion. At what age would you expect the following behaviors to occur? Your score may motivate you to learn more about children!
- Sitting up.
- Purposefully reaching for & grasping objects.
- Understanding when someone is talking about him.
- Creeping (on stomach).
- Crawling (on hands & knees).
- Seeking for a hidden object.
- Walking alone.
- Understanding the command “no.”
- Speaking in simple sentences.
- Sleeping through the night.
- Peddling a tricycle.
- Girls begin menstruation.
- Able to draw a diamond.
[Answers: 1) 6mo; 2) 3 mo; 3) 9mo; 4) 7-8 mo; 5) 8-9 mo; 6) 5 mo; 7) 12 mo; 8) 9 mo; 9) 2yr; 10) 6 mo; 11) 3 yr; 12) 11-14 yr; 13) 7yr.]
A Child Development Guide for the Working Parent
There are certain developmental concepts that are extremely important for prime-time parents to know. These concepts relate to the developing child’s needs & behaviour, & can cause family conflicts if working parents are not aware of them.
Infancy–the first year–A Child Development Guide for the Working Parent
The first month of life is an adjustment period for the entire family. Baby is adjusting to life outside of his mother’s warm “incubator.” Mom is adjusting to breastfeeding and/or getting her body back in shape. Dad is adjusting to a new mouth to feed. Dad & Mom are both adjusting to sleepless nights. Everybody is more tired, more irritable, & probably needs more attention than ever before. Mom needs Dad. Dad needs Mom. The older children need to be convinced that their place & importance in the family has not been usurped by the newcomer. And the baby seems to need everything!
Do yourself & your family a favor by taking time to strengthen the relationship between you & your newborn. Spend as much time together as possible. Psychologists consider this period prime time to establish the bonding process.
The absent father (or mother) syndrome begins when Dad or Mom spend very little time with the infant. Time together is the one essential element necessary for bonding to occur. It is impossible to form attachments unless time is invested in a relationship. When the father fails to spend time with the infant during the first four or five months, the child doesn’t recognise him as a familiar person; between five & eight months of age, he may even cry when the father picks him up. If the child doesn’t know his father, he doesn’t develop trust in him, so when the father tries to help the child, the child won’t respond. He cries harder, pushes his father away, & if he has mastered his first word, he now uses it & yells, “Mamamamamama!” This situation is obviously frustrating to the father.
Because of the father’s lack of satisfaction in the relationship, he usually will not respond as readily to the infant’s future cries for help. Instead, he will call for his wife to take care of the infant’s needs. The result, of course, is that the father spends less & less time with the infant. The child never really gets to know & establish a relationship with his father. Thus, it becomes almost impossible for the father to be effective in the care & training of his child.
In too many cases, the father continues to absent himself from the care & nurturing of his growing child. Instead of spending time with his child, he tries to buy the child’s love & attention by offering him little gifts–until he willingly hands his 16-year-old son keys to a new Porsche because he feels guilty that he didn’t have time to watch his son pitch a high school baseball game.
During the first year, a child develops so rapidly that one must always be aware of new skills & capabilities in order to prevent accidents. I often hear parents lament:
“Yesterday he couldn’t roll over. Today I left the baby on the bed for a moment & he rolled off.”
“Yesterday she couldn’t stand up in the crib. I left the guardrail down & today she tumbled out.”
“Yesterday he couldn’t crawl. Today he crawled to the stairs & fell down the whole flight.”
This is a normal pattern during the first year, so it’s vital to know what developmental changes to expect next. Then you can safety-proof your home & avoid needless worry about possible accidents. Put breakables or harmful substances away. Medicines & poisons should be kept in locked containers far out of reach. Caustic cleaning solutions should be stored in childproof locked closets. Discard broken equipment & frayed electrical cords. Place safety plugs in electrical sockets. Turn the temperature on the water heater down so a child can’t get scalded with hot tap water. Remove poisonous plants from the house & yard. Fence dangerous equipment or swimming pools. Remove sharp-cornered furniture. Keep the doors of the older children’s rooms shut, as it is usually impossible to keep every potentially dangerous object there out of reach.
Toddlers–from 1 to 2-1/2 years of age–A Child Development Guide for the Working Parent
This is the time when the child takes his first steps toward independence. He starts talking, so he can ask for what he wants. He perfects his walking, so he can go wherever he wants. He starts feeding himself, so he can eat what he wants. This all culminates in what people call the “terrible twos.” But this child who is growing so independent continues to need people who will give him attention, affection, & affirmation of his worth. The toddler also needs firm, gentle, consistent discipline as he begins testing out parent-imposed limitations in his life.
Preschoolers–from 2-1/2 to 5 years of age–A Child Development Guide for the Working Parent
This is the age when children become more interested in other children. They need a variety of toys & play equipment, & a place to play. They need stories, songs, finger plays, & language development experiences. They need someone to answer their questions about how cows make milk & why birds have beaks. They need to be introduced to their community–to have a chance to go shopping at a local market, take a trip to the barbershop, visit the fire station & the zoo.
Children of this age continue to thrive in groups with a small adult-child ratio. Make sure that the teacher is not overworked, loves her job, & shows an individual interest in each one of her little charges.
The School-Age Child–A Child Development Guide for the Working Parent
Between six & twelve years of age, a child usually experiences steady, developmental progress. The first years in school are an especially important time for a child to learn to step out on his own & make new friends.
School-age children are sensitive to slights. They want to be accepted. They need to discuss their conflicts with an understanding parent who will not belittle them. Relational problems aren’t just blurted out at the dinner table. Children need time to find the right words to ask for help. A typical problem might be, “Mary was calling Julie names & made her cry. I still want Mary to be my friend, but I felt sorry for Julie. What should I do?” This is the time to establish the fact that you are interested in listening to your child’s problems & will offer good practical advice. School-age children are much more interested in asking for & taking parental advice than teenagers. If you take the time to establish good communication with your school-age children, they will be more willing to accept parental counsel when they are teenagers.
This is the age when children need training in taking responsibility. They enjoy completing & checking off a list of chores that have been left for them. They also enjoy learning new skills & playing games.
Teenagers–A Child Development Guide for the Working Parent
Working parents often think they’re in the home stretch when their child reaches his teens. He is not as dependent upon his parents, & he is fully capable of taking care of himself. Therefore, when parents are away from the home they tend to leave teenagers with little or no supervision.
Some working parents, however, feel that it is even more important to spend time with their children during the critical teenage years. This is the age when children can reap bitter consequences if parents don’t provide proper guidance & supervision. One parent stated, “To encourage & influence my teenagers, instead of threatening & forcing them, requires every ounce of my intelligence, judgement & wit.”
Teenagers need attention. They need someone to talk to. They need someone who thinks they are special. If they don’t receive this attention from their parents, & sometimes even if they do, they will establish this type of relationship with someone else. Members of their own peer group often fill this need, & without parental guidance they may be led into drug experimentation or questionable habits that make them feel important.
Teenagers need to be needed. They want to do worthwhile work. If your child is too young for an outside job, create one at home. Hire him to do various chores & pay him whatever you would pay someone else.
Your teenager should be in your thoughts & your plans as much as younger children. Your home must be as responsive to the teenager’s needs as it was to your preschooler’s needs. If it’s not, teenagers will choose to spend their time elsewhere.
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Now focus on your child & ask yourself these questions:
- What do you think your child’s basic needs are at this time?
- How are you as a working parent meeting those needs? Is there anything else you feel you should be doing?
- As you look ahead to your child’s next stage of development, what changes do you feel you may have to make in order to better meet his developmental needs?
Recognising Problem Behaviour
It is important for prime-time parents to spot problem behavior in its first stages. In this way, necessary changes can be made before deep-seated emotional problems envelop a child’s life. Be aware of the possible signs that may occur when a child does not feel good about himself and when he is experiencing an emotional problem.
Signs of lack of self-worth
Low self-worth does not develop suddenly. It’s a slow process that occurs when a child perceives that the significant people in his life don’t think very much of him. In reality, they may love & care for him very much, but his perception is the important factor. If a child feels that his own parents don’t love him or think that he isn’t as good as other children, his belief in himself will be seriously damaged. Even if parents shower their children with love & support, there may be periods when he feels that other people don’t like him, or that his friends are rejecting him. When this occurs, his self-esteem may suffer.
The behaviors listed below might be considered signs of low self-worth for the pre-school & school-age child. If your child exhibits some of these signs, don’t assume that he has an emotional problem. Consider such behavior an indication that your child could use a little more quality time with you.
Signs of Low Self-Worth
- Child is unrealistically fearful.
- Does not ask questions or is afraid to answer questions. Encourage questions when you are alone with the child or in a safe family setting. Reward the child for asking questions by saying, “That’s a good question,” or “I can tell you were really thinking.” In turn, ask the child questions. At first, make sure your questions have simple or obvious answers. Accept all answers by saying something like, “That’s an interesting idea.”
- When asked to do something, immediately says, “I don’t know how.” Reassure the child that it is okay not to know how. Say, “When I was your age I didn’t know how either.” Offer to do it & “hire” him as your special assistant. Let him do every small part of the task that he is obviously capable of.
- Afraid to try things for the first time, even when a teacher or parent offers help. Reassure him that it is acceptable to watch. Let him decide when he will try something new. One way to do this is to ask him, “How long do you think you’ll want to watch before trying?” After he indicates the amount of time he needs, tell him to let you know when he’s ready so you can help him.
- Is afraid to be left in a new situation or with a new person. Stay with the child until he feels comfortable. Ask him to tell you when it is okay for you to leave. Don’t appear anxious to go. If you have allowed a reasonable time, you might warn the child, “I will have to leave in one hour.” When the hour is up, go to the child & say, “Goodbye,” tell him when you will return, & leave. Keep your promise by returning on time.
- Does not ask for things he needs. Make it easy for a child to ask. Never belittle a child. Reward requests by saying, “I’m glad you asked,” & fulfil the request immediately.
- Child exhibits unusual or negative behaviour.
- Exhibits excessive, undesirable behavior, such as biting, kicking, hitting or spitting. Realize that these behaviors are indications of a discouraged, unhappy child. Encourage him. Find the little things he does well & capitalise on those. Stop the negative behaviour by saying, “I can’t let you hurt someone else,” but don’t belittle the child with criticism. Teach them positively & definitely.
- Seeks attention by doing something prohibited, by acting silly, or by disturbing others. * Ignore the bad behaviour, but say, “I bet you’d like me to play with you. Let’s go…” Later, tell the child that he can use a magic word to get your attention. Invent a word so you’ll both know what it means & the child won’t have to resort to inappropriate behaviour to get your attention. *(Editor: The idea of the magic word is cute & could be effective. However, it’s certainly best not to just ignore bad behaviour.–It needs to be dealt with. If you ignore it, though it may seem to go away temporarily, the problem will probably recur at a later date, as it’s still there in their hearts. You’ve got to come to terms with real problems. Otherwise, you’ll end up, as many modern psychologists & psychiatrists have, blaming bad or anti-social behaviour on circumstances, & never taking the blame yourself.
(It’s true to some extent that our parents, mate or school chums may have affected us adversely, but we have some responsibility too, & we need to teach our children that they have responsibility. For example, perhaps your parents did make some mistakes in not giving you the attention you needed, but you don’t have to live with the adverse effects of that for the rest of your life. You can change your behaviour, & Jesus can help you get out of that channel. So we need to teach our children that no matter what happens, even if we can’t always give them what they need in every respect, Jesus can compensate & be more than enough. He can even help them overcome the adverse results that some of our lacks may have brought about in their lives.)
- Exhibits such behaviour as lying, stealing, or otherwise being deceptive. This behaviour is often a cry for attention. Spend more quality time with the child. Let him know that you can’t be deceived. Say simply, “I know you took the tape. The consequence is that you must return it or pay for it.” Don’t get in an argument about the truth of a statement.
- Deliberately hurts others or himself. Simply say, “You may not hurt others or yourself.” Stop the child. Hold him. Comfort him. Talk about the situation. “You were really angry. What happened? What else could you do when that happens again?” Make sure he knows that he is special & you won’t allow him to hurt himself or others.
- Child is overly concerned about being liked & accepted.
- Constantly gives things to people to buy their attention & friendship. Discourage the constant giving of gifts. Concentrate on showing the child how much you like him because he exists, not because of his gifts. Compliment him on things he can’t change; for example, his blue eyes or black curly hair. Spend time with the child when it’s not related to the receiving of a gift. Explain to a child that the most important gift is friendship because that can’t be broken or lost.
- Child exaggerates or is unrealistic about certain situations.
- Brags or boasts by saying such things as, “I’m better than you are.” Shock the child by agreeing. “You are an important person & can do a lot of things better than _______. Let’s list the things you can do better.” (Think of the obvious. If a child is smaller, he can crawl through a smaller hole, etc.) Then talk about how everybody can do something better than somebody. But there is always somebody who can do something better than you.
- Is jealous when a child, parent or teacher shows attention to others. Spend time with the child. Reassure him that he is important & that your love for him will never change.
- Child has difficulty with social relationships.
- Is extremely competitive with other children. Deemphasize competition. Be sure that both your words & behaviour give the message that the child is valuable whether or not he wins.
- Does not initiate contact with others. Show the child how to initiate contacts. For example, show a toy to another child or select a child that looks lonely & walk up & say, “Hi, I’m Jim, do you want to play?”
- Does not participate in group activities. Don’t force him. Let him know it’s okay to be a bystander. Give him something special to do.
Emotional problems are often triggered by events & situations in a child’s life that are particularly stressful. The following list indicates some of these potentially difficult periods.
Potentially Difficult Times for a Child
- Parental divorce.
- Parental conflict in the home (family conflict as well).
- Parental tension over work or personal problems.
- Disruption of the home routine, such as too much company staying for too long a time.
- New situations, like starting school or a new babysitter.
- Dissatisfaction with one’s own behaviour, such as not being able to stay dry during the night.
- Too much criticism of the child.
- Unrealistic expectations of the child.
- Lack of sufficient quality time together with the family.
- Problems with making friends at school.
- Scholastic pressures or difficulties (such as learning to read, meeting a deadline for an essay etc.)
- Illness, fatigue, or the death of a family member.
Once in a while my work piles up & several deadlines come due at once. When pressures hit my husband Jan at the same time, we often notice emotional & behavioral changes in our children. During one such period Kevin’s behaviour became atrocious. He refused to get dressed in the morning, he wouldn’t brush his teeth, he wouldn’t get into the bathtub, & once he was, he wouldn’t get out. He couldn’t find anything to do at home, even though his room was filled with toys, so he would pounce upon me like a little lion cub. I shortened my working hours, said “no” to a couple of commitments, Jan caught up at work, & before long Kevin was back to being the spice of our lives instead of the fly that spoiled the ointment!
Once you have observed potential danger signals in your child’s behaviour, what should you do? First, look for the reason. Reconstruct the events of the last month or two. Did anything unusual or stressful happen during this time? Try to pinpoint the onset of this behaviour to give you a clue to the changes that need to be made to prevent further problems.
Second, establish a closer relationship with your child. If your child is very young, spend more time together. Give him more attention & touch him frequently–rub his back or hold him on your lap. If the child is older, do something special together. Show that you are supportive & interested in the child in unique ways. Talk together. Be as open as possible about your feelings.
Third, determine if the problem is a person-problem, a situation-problem, or both, & establish a plan of attack. A person-problem can only be solved by the person with the problem. A person-problem might be a child who bullies other children or a six-year-old who still sucks her thumb. When these behaviors become habitual, they are almost impossible to change unless the children themselves are willing to make a change.
Situation-problems can only be solved by changing the situation, such as a wet diaper etc. These can often be solved by parents, especially if a young child is involved.
Getting to Know Your Child’s Individual Characteristics
Parents must accept & work with what they have–a unique, special individual. Some children are simply more difficult to rear. For example, a child who is moody, & has irregular bodily functions, intense emotions, & slow adaptability is not going to be as easy to raise as a more pleasant, easygoing adaptable child.
Your responsibility is to show your child unconditional love & acceptance–regardless of his individual characteristics or traits. Parents must realistically help a child accept his own strengths & weaknesses & grow toward his own unique potential.
Being the Person You Want Your Child to Be
Although you may not be able to change your child’s innate characteristics, you can influence his development by being the person you want him to be. Children model adults–both the bad & the good.
What about all those bad habits you don’t want your children to pick up? What about smoking, lying, cheating, showing anger, mouthing off, shirking duties, staying up late, or watching too much TV? You may not be perfect in all those areas, but you can give your children these positive examples. Let them know that you want to & can change. Set short-term goals for your advancement, & meet those goals. Recognize your failures. Encourage the family to remind you when you start to fall, & accept your lapses with good humor. Don’t be defensive & spout off hollow excuses. Finally, be willing to apologize when necessary. Don’t blame someone else for your behaviour.
When they copy behaviour that you don’t like in yourself, it is easier for you to recognise it. Furthermore, negative examples are often highly charged emotionally; anger & aggression, for example. Such behaviour is not only easy to notice, it is also very easy for children to model. The next time you raise your voice at the children & threaten them, listen. Before long you’ll probably hear them threaten a younger sibling, curse the dog, or even yell at a toy.