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Understanding the Ages & Stages of Children

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Knowing the behaviors to expect at every stage of your child's life is important. Certified Parent Educator and Family Coach, Kim DeMarchi, joined us live at Miller Paint in SE Portland to tell us more.

For more great tips from Kim, check out her Passport to Parenting Facebook page.

There are definitely predictable stages that coincide with ages, and it is our job as parents to be aware of them:

Approx. 1 yrs Throws food and sippy cups from high chair

Why? Very young babies are experimenting with “cause and effect.” and gravity. That is, they’re performing little experiments: “Will the blueberry roll on the floor again if I keep throwing it?” “Will the yogurt splash?” “Will my dog come and eat what I throw every time?” “Will my Dad say no again?" "Will my mom pick it up again?" "Will the cup make a loud noise when it hits the floor?"

Approx. 2 yrs Climbs out of the crib, refuses to eat certain foods, says "NO" often, likes to do the opposite of what is asked, and is in a constant state of "me do it".

Why? The once totally dependent baby is now oppositional and that is her job. This is the period in your child’s development when she begins to understand that she is separate from you and can exert some control over her world. One powerful way she can do this is by defying you and what you’re asking of her or letting you know in her own, strong way that she doesn’t need your help. Being able to do some things for herself builds her confidence.

Approx. 3 yrs Can't always distinguish between reality and fantasy

Why? Because the frontal lobes of their brains are just developing, toddlers don't have the brain circuitry they need to delay gratification. 3-year-olds are focused on getting what they want, and don't think it's wrong to lie about having washed their hands as long as it gets them to the Goldfish crackers faster. It doesn't occur to them that we see the dirt all over their hands, and know they haven't gone into the restroom yet to wash.

Approx. 4 yrs Uses potty words such as "poopy head", and "butt face"

Why? Kids at this age have a budding sense of humor, are socially silly and they know they'll get a response from potty language. The four year old is also becoming very aware and fascinated with their bodies, body parts, and what the body can do.

Approx. 5 yrs May develop fears they didn't have in the past, such as being afraid of the unknown such as ghosts, thunder and lightning. They may also fear failure, being harmed, being separated from a parent, and of "bad guys"

Why? Your child’s growing understanding of the world around them contributes to fear and anxiety. Even if exposure to news, "action" TV, and movies is limited, children still hear about the violence in the world.

Are these really just "stages"? YES, children enter into, and exit out of them. Or at least they are supposed to be merely stages. When we expect a certain stage, we are usually more capable of responding to it in an effective way. However, when we aren't expecting our children to experiment with gravity, i.e.: throwing food and sippy cup from the high chair, we usually have a big parental reaction! Our voice is much louder and more high pitched than normal, with the accompanying red face, wide eyes, and very surprised look on our faces. Imagine our child not only getting the very cool reaction of gravity, but the added bonus of our performance! That's a lot of power for a toddler. What's supposed to be a stage, now becomes a learned behavior, because of our reaction!

What can parents do when the child has fun experimenting?

  • Have a poker face. No big reaction.
  • Set limits, kindly, but firmly.
  • Be patient.
  • Give them choices.
  • Use distraction.
  • Join in the silliness.

Of course, there are wonderful stages that come with each stage, but if you understand the more challenging stages with various ages, you can work out effective techniques to deal with them. It does help if you realize that most of your child's worrisome behavior is not anybody's fault, but a normal part of growing up, and that this, too, shall pass.