Child development is like climbing the stairs

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Ask Dr. Vicki, Child Development, Parenting

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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?

Dr. Vicki’s response:

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.




3 Responses to “Child development is like climbing the stairs”
  1. Joanne says:

    Well as the mammy to four boys aged 12,11,7,1 I have realised,now looking back, on number one 1 &;2 I worried a lot about how quick they hit the milestones; I wasted a lot of brain space on worrying. I relaxed a lot with number 3; still worried though, mainly that I wasn’t a good enough mother… So I did a parenting course, which helped me so much with the realisation that I was in fact doing a great job and learnt so much. I actually think everyone that is to embark on the rocky road to parenthood should attend one. Nearly go as far as using the word compulsory. Anyways I digress on to number 4. He was 3 months premature, he was very ill when born, had a few complications and was told that he may have cerebal palsy. So when he smiled for the first time, rolled over, touched his toes, I was so grateful. My point…the expectations were removed so I just enjoyed him. I really really really do everyday he just took his first steps, something no one expected him to do. I am a grateful parent.

  2. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Dear Joanne: Thank you SO much for sharing your heart-warming story with us. Children are remarkable. If we let them grow in their own way, they climb their stairs at their own pace and in their own fashion. Hooray for your boys—and hooray for you! Many parents feel unprepared, yet don’t look for resources to assist them. Your choosing to take a parenting class is to be commended. And, I agree that parents-to-be should be at least URGED to take classes. Not even only one series of classes, but on-going to help them parent each child at each stage of development.

    The other thing you said was that you worried about not being a good enough mother. Unfortunately, we hear about all the things that parents are doing wrong; yet there is little written about what they are doing right. And moms are hardest on themselves—when do they ever pat themselves on the back for doing a good job? I believe that every parent does the best that he/she can. Is there room for improvement? Always. And, that’s what makes them good parents. Like you, they search for answers, because they want to do it better. Kudos to you!

  3. Thank you for your wonderful, usually spot on post about children. I’d also like to add that Parenting classes really do seem to either validate the already good job one is doing and then turn it into a great job. Some of the tips I learned along the way were invaluable in keeping my 2 boys organized, cenetered, and establishing a set of core values. Their milestones may have varied along the way but because I always remained the “centered constant” they could move to their own cognitive developement and style. No two people are created equal and each one of my boys has their own style of learning and perceiveing the world. I do celebrate their uniquness and try to find harmony raising two very different children. I do rely on the support of articles such as yours, (although I laughed when i saw the age jump from 12-30) that is a little far reaching in scope. Knowing that boys brains are not fully developed until 23, now maybe 25 also gives parents a little more understanding on why children do certain things that seem erratic. I work as a Therapist and often the parents look at me quizickly like how could me son do that? and sometimes the answer is they just do. I am past the stage of questioning everything…Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? or Is it just a thing? Find solutions, coping skills are life skills and embrace the changes. There are sure to be many