By definition, parenting involves at least two parties: a child and a parent. There are many aspects pertaining to children that have the potential to shape how we interact with and parent them. Some of these factors change with time, such as the normal ages and stages of growth and development; some remain quite static throughout an individual’s life, such as personality or temperament; and some can change as a family grows, such as birth order.
The gender of a child can also play a role in how we parent him or her. In this series of articles, each of these aspects will be considered. The first factor concerning our children that plays a role in how we parent them is the Developmental Stages. This article will outline the Developmental Stages from birth to age six with the following ages addressed in the next article.
Developmental stages describe theoretical milestones of children’s growth and development. Many stage models of development have been proposed, dealing with physical growth and motor skills, language acquisition and cognitive development, and/or social and emotional development. It is always important to understand that there is wide variation in terms of what is considered ‘normal,’ driven by a variety of ‘nature’ factors (genetics, biology) and ‘nurture’ elements (family, culture, nutrition, education, environment). Many children will reach the various milestones at different times from the ‘official’ norm, yet will still be considered to be growing and developing normally.
In terms of parenting, it is important for parents to become familiar with developmental stages so that they can have realistic expectations for their children. Physical growth and motor skills often are the easiest to monitor, as it can be quite obvious when children are able to do something new, like rolling over for instance, or when they cannot yet complete a fine motor task, such as tying shoelaces.
Language acquisition is also an area in which growth and development is readily apparent, especially in the first few years of infancy, toddlerhood and the preschool years as children make use of their ever-increasing vocabulary and continually improving sentence structure. However, growth in the cognitive, social and emotional development stages is harder to measure.
The cycle of development theory, encompassing six stages dealing with cognitive, social and emotional growth, was developed by Pam Levin and subsequently adapted by Jean Ilsley-Clarke and Connie Dawson. During each stage, children have particular developmental needs and they make important decisions about life based on their experiences up to that point in their development.
Stage I (birth to 6 months old) is referred to as the Being stage, in which babies need recognition, nurturing and emotional bonding with parents. Most parents have little trouble meeting their infant's needs in this stage, for instance, as they feed them, rock them to sleep or carry the babies around.
Stage II (6 to 18 months old) is the Doing stage, in which babies and toddlers need to explore and develop sensory awareness. This stage can be a challenge for parents if they do not provide opportunities for exploration in safe environments, such as child-proofing the kitchen cabinets to limit the toddler’s investigating to those things that won’t hurt him or her, or moving the valuable knick-knacks to higher shelves for the duration of this stage.
Stage III (18 months to 3 years old) is called the Thinking stage, in which toddlers need to begin testing reality, asserting themselves against others, expressing negativity and to experience cause and effect. Often seen as a very challenging stage, this is one in which awareness on the parent's part can make life easier for everyone concerned. Recognizing that saying ‘no’ a lot is totally normal, and not a sign that a previously agreeable toddler has morphed into a little imp can help parents to deal with situations differently.
Stage IV (3 to 6 years old) is referred to as the Identity and Power stage in which preschoolers need to learn to separate reality from fantasy, to test reality by experiencing consequences, to become aware of power dynamics in relationships and to start learning socially acceptable behavior. In the quest for power, preschoolers may behave very inappropriately (kicking, hitting, using inappropriate language, etc.), but if their parents understand what is driving the unpleasant behavior, they can structure the environment and interactions to allow for appropriate opportunities for preschoolers to express opinions or have input into things happening around them. The use of limited choices in this stage can be very helpful, as it allows the preschooler to have some power and make some decisions, but also allows the parent to get the cooperation he or she wants from the child. For instance, a defiant preschooler could be asked to choose what color bowl to eat out of at mealtime, or which jacket he or she prefers when going out. Parents must always ensure that either choice is acceptable to them, and that both options lead to the same outcome (in the examples above, eating a meal, or getting ready to go out).
Coming next article: The V, VI, and VII Developmental Stages addressing normal cognitive, social, and emotional development in children aged 6 to 19.
Tanya is a certified Adult Education Facilitator and Parent Educator in Calgary. She has a M.Ed. in Child Development but has also learned a lot ‘in the trenches’ parenting her own three children.
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