Have you ever watched your child and wondered, “is this behavior normal?” This question crosses the mind of every parent from time to time. At certain stages in your child’s development, you may have this question everyday or even multiple times a day. And guess what? This is a great question. In fact, the next time you have this thought, congratulate yourself because it shows that you are paying attention.
Unfortunately, far too many parents are criticized or feel ashamed to ask this and similar questions out loud. Rather than experiencing support around learning how to meet their children’s needs or understanding the stages of child development, the typical assumption seems to be that being a good parent should come “naturally” or be instinctual.
But while some aspects of parenting may come easily to you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking out more knowledge to ease your mind and support your child’s development. You may have even noticed that in difficult moments you’ve found yourself doing things with your child that your parent did when you were little that you didn’t like. You had told yourself you wouldn’t do those things, but in the moment they sneak in. Learning more about development and new ways of handling things can help you parent the way you want to and feel less overwhelmed.
Parenting and Child Development Action Steps
As children grow, parents may need to adjust how they support their children’s talents and address their children’s need. This requires continuing to learn about your children’s emerging needs and development.
Following are 3 action steps you can take to improve your knowledge about ways to guide your child and support your child’s development at any stage:
1. See the world from your child’s point of view
Understanding how your child sees the world can make you more empathetic and better able to respond to his or her needs. Spend time paying attention to your children’s play to better understand how they are learning to navigate the world. You will gain valuable insight into what they’re experiencing and feeling.
Explore a room with your toddler on hands and knees. This will also help you identify any safety issues such as outlets and low-hanging cords.
Follow your child’s lead. Play with the toys your child picks out or talk about the things they are curious about.
Read an age-appropriate book together. Let your child choose the book and don’t worry about reading all the words--your child develops a love of books from turning the pages and hearing you talk about the pictures.
2. Understand typical behaviors of children at different ages
When parents are totally in the dark about normal developmental milestones, they may interpret their child’s behaviors in negative ways or simply not understand how to manage their child’s behavior. They may resort to harsh discipline simply from a lack of knowledge or out of desperation. Educating yourself about the typical behaviors of children at different ages can go a long way toward raising successful, well-adjusted kids.
While most parents can’t expect to become experts in all aspects of infant, child, and teenage development, knowing general information and simple behaviors to look for at each particular stage of childhood can make life easier both for parents and children.
- 2 months: begins to smile at people and look at familiar faces; coos and makes gurgling sounds; turns head toward sounds; begins to follow things with eyes and recognize people at a distance; can hold head up and begins to push up when on the tummy
- 6 months: likes to play with others, especially parents; likes to look at self in the mirror; responds to sounds by making sounds; responds to own name; starts to string vowel sounds together (“ah” “eh” and “oh”); puts things in mouth; shows curiosity about objects and reaches for things; rolls over from front to back and back to front; sits without support; can support weight with legs and may bounce when standing up; rocks back and forth, may crawl backwards before forwards
- 1 year: is shy or nervous with strangers; cries when their main caretakers leave; responds to simple spoken requests; uses simple gestures such as shaking head “no” or waving “bye-bye;” says “mama” or “dada” and simple expressions, like “uh-oh;” explores objects in different ways like shaking, banging, or throwing; starts to use objects correctly, like brushing hair or drinking from a cup; follows simple directions like “pick up the toy;” gets to a seated position without help; pulls up to stand; may stand unassisted
- 2 years: copies others, especially adults and older children; gets excited when around other children; starts to display defiant behavior; points to things or pictures when named; knows names of familiar people and body parts; begins to sort shapes and colors; builds towers of 4 or more blocks; follows two-step instructions, like “pick up your shoe and put it in the closet;” stands on tip-toes; begins to run; climbs onto furniture without help; walks up and down the stairs while holding on
- 5 years: wants to please friends; wants to be like friends; is aware of gender; is sometimes demanding and is sometimes cooperative; speaks clearly; can tell a simple story using complete sentences; counts to 10 or more; can draw a person with at least 6 body parts; can print some letters or numbers; stands on one foot for 10 seconds or longer; hops; may be able to skip; can do a somersault; swings and climbs; can use the toilet by him or herself
For a more complete checklist, plus tips for helping your child learn and grow during different development stages, see helpful online resources from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
We’ll be taking a deep dive into important child development milestones in upcoming parenting tip blogs. So be sure to check back with us and stay tuned!
A word of caution: remember that every child develops slightly differently. The milestones above are rough guidelines, not strict measurements. If you are concerned about your child’s development, the best approach is to ask your child’s pediatrician and have him or her evaluated by experts. Early intervention can often quickly improve delays.
3. Join a parenting group, take a class, or meet with a parenting coach
A supportive group setting gives you a chance to share and learn new parenting strategies from others who may be dealing with similar challenges and struggles. At the Exchange Family Center, we offer free assistance and resources for parents and caregivers. Because parenting children well at different stages calls for different types of intervention, we offer lots of different kinds of support. Reach out to us and we can help you find a group for your family, a workshop where you can get more ideas, or connect you with a parenting coach to help you putting new strategies into action.
Interacting with other children of similar ages can help you better understand your own children too. Observing how other caregivers who use positive techniques for managing children’s behavior also provides an opportunity for parents to learn healthy alternatives. Look for local parenting groups, volunteer at your child’s school, or simply make an effort to get out and interact with other parents and children at a park or library when you have free time.
Parents of children with special needs may benefit from additional coaching and support to reduce stress and frustration. You are the parent your children need. We recommend 3 resources for local parents of children with disabilities or other special needs:
- The North Carolina Infant Toddler Program: If you have a child under age 3 who has a disability or you are concerned about his/her development, contact your Child Development Service Agency (CDSA) to make a referral and get an assessment/services. To refer your child in Durham, call the CDSA at 919-560-5600.
- The Family Support Network of North Carolina: The Family Support Network connects families with children with disabilities with another family who has managed the same issues. Families benefit from the help and support that other families can provide and from information about their child's special needs and available resources. With this information, families can make informed decisions about services and support.
- Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center: The Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center is a private non-profit organization that is operated by and staffed primarily with parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs. ECAC is a private non-profit parent organization committed to improving the education of ALL children through a special emphasis on children with disabilities.
There is a lot of information out there about child development and parenting. Sources include extended families, media, formal parent education classes, and your child’s school or child care. While all of these sources can offer beneficial advice, it’s important to consider what is best for your child and your family. General advice, even from well-meaning individuals, may not be what’s best for your particular child. Seek out supportive voices rather than critical ones.
Parents who understand generally what to expect as their child grows and have age appropriate ways to shape behavior set their child up for success. Parents who are knowledgeable about child development and have strong parenting skills are more likely to communicate respectfully and effectively, provide consistent rules and expectations, set developmentally appropriate boundaries, and promote independence. Different developmental moments can be challenging, but understanding what’s normal and having effective strategies to respond makes it easier.
This blog article is the third in our series on Parental Protective Factors. Earlier posts in this series, include How to Build Parental Resilience and Tips for Finding Strong Social Support. If you are in need of more targeted guidance, contact us here for more information about our parental support resources and workshops.