Child development is like climbing the stairs
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Dear Dr. Vicki:
I know that there are certain child development stages that all children go through. But what if my child hasn’t reached that stage and her friends the same age have?
I like to think of child development as climbing a staircase, with each step representing a series of tasks to work on and master before going on to the next step. All children climb the stairs, in their own way and in their own time. Using Erikson’s model of stages of development, I’ll take you up the staircase:
On the first step, newborns and infants (ages birth-2) must develop the belief that their needs will be taken care of, and that their world is a safe and secure environment.
Once they can trust, toddlers (ages 2-4) can move on to the next step, beginning to break away, venture out in the world, and assert themselves as individuals. Having established some independence, the next step involves initiation and risk.
The 4-6 year olds begin to try new things, risking attempts at new situations in preparation for the tasks of later life. It is important to allow these children to try new things, and reinforce their effort, regardless of outcome.
Now that they can risk, school-aged children (ages 6-12) move onto the next step, where they are working hard to master and achieve in many areas: academic success, self image, social interaction (negotiating relationships with peers), beginning to find out who they are (what do I like, what am I good at, etc.), moral development and impulse control. They need to feel a sense of achievement in all these areas to go on to the next step, where their identity and independence begins to solidify.
Adolescents (ages 12-30) are bringing together all the tasks mastered thus far to begin the very import task of establishing their identity. Adolescents work hard on deciding and developing: sexual and social identity, vocational and role choices, judgment and independence. The early adolescent experiences rapid physical changes, unstable emotional periods, and a very self-centered view of the world. As they engage in the necessary breaking-away from parents, peers become more and more important. Peer groups also help adolescents find a way to belong and fit in, to off-set the myriad of fears and self-doubts they are experiencing.
Remember, we all climb the stairs, taking time on each step to master the tasks needed in order to be successful on the next step. Some children run up the staircase, others crawl, others go up backwards or slowly, taking their own sweet time. And some get stuck on a step and stay there for a while, or actual regress and head back down to the previous step. But all children climb the stairs. As parents, our job is to help the climb, nudging in supportive encouragement, staying nearby to catch them if they fall, and cheering from the sidelines as they work hard to reach the next step.
And should you have any serious concerns about delays in your child’s development, consult with your pediatrician or a child psychologist.
Enjoy your kids!
What do you notice about your own child’s development? Please feel free to leave a comment below.