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Understanding Your Child’s Developmental Stages

August 2014

As children grow they must master six major developmental stages.  Each stage provides building blocks for intelligence, morality, emotional health, and academic skills.  You, as a parent, must provide certain necessary experiences at each stage.  For example, during one developmental stage children learn to relate to others with compassion and empathy, during another to read social cues, and in a third to think imaginatively and logically.  Correspondingly, for your child to learn to relate to others requires that you interact with him in nurturing and empathetic ways.  For him to learn to read social cues, you must join in interactive play and negotiations with him.  For your child to think creatively and logically, you must become partners with him in pretend play, opinion oriented discussions, and open debates.

Each stage requires your active participation and good example.  If you learn to recognize which developmental stage your child is going through, which one(s) he has mastered, and which one(s) require more emphasis or practice, you can tailor experiences to your child’s most pressing developmental needs, help him overcome challenges, and promote healthy growth and development.

The first developmental skill your child needs is to be calm and regulated while she remains interested and engaged with people, things, sights, sounds, smells, movements and so on.  It’s not easy for a child to learn how to be calm and regulated and at the same time attentive to an exciting world.  The second developmental ability, to feel warmth, trust and intimacy with others, gives your child the inner security that makes it possible for her to pay attention.  A child who isn’t able to relate to people in this warm, trusting manner becomes isolated and unable to hear what someone else is saying. 

The third basic developmental ability, to have an intentional two way conversation without words, builds on the first two.  A child who can use and understand nonverbal communication comprehends the fundamentals of human interaction and communication much better than children who can’t.  As a result, they tend to be more cooperative and attentive in school.

Learning how to solve problems, the fourth basic developmental ability, helps him begin to develop a sense of self and enables him to get what he wants and needs.  When a child cannot get his needs met, he is doomed to be frustrated forever.  The fifth ability, experiencing an emotion and being able to understand what that emotion is, how to express it, and what to do with it, enables your child to exercise his mind, body, and emotions as one.  If your child can’t identify his feelings and intentions, he is more apt to use aggression as a way to cope with all challenging situations. 

The sixth developmental ability, building bridges between ideas, is a sophisticated one that even many adults have trouble with.  However, it is extremely important because it underlies logical thought.  In the beginning, this ability is as simple as recognizing that “I feel happy because Mom was nice,” or “If I do something hurtful to someone else, I will be in trouble.”  Being able to understand that actions have consequences that will affect them later is essential for doing well in school, having positive relationships, and being successful at work. 

Helping your child through these developmental stages requires you to spend a great deal of time interacting with him, “down on the floor,” so to speak.  It requires you to be an energetic person who can truly enjoy your child and his emerging capacities.  Though the requirement may seem overwhelming at times, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your child has the foundation for negotiating many of the challenges that life presents.



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