Parents experience a lot of pleasure watching their children grow. 'You won't believe what he did today,' is a statement I often hear from mothers of young children. A growing child, however, poses a real challenge for parents. The challenge is to know what each stage is all about and how to best help a child grow during each stage.
Children's growth is, in many ways, predictable. For example, between 4 and 8 months, a baby has little memory, if any, and is generally happy to be approached by others. Between 8 months and 15 months, however, memory kicks in and children begin to show stranger anxiety.
Some parents have a very casual approach about knowing what each stage of development is all about. They just wing it, picking up bits of information from friends, grandparents and their pediatrician. Other parents read and learn what to expect with each stage. I believe parents are better off not winging it, and recommend they become informed about each stage. This way, they will know what is normal and what to expect. For example, it is normal for 20-month-olds to bite, but it is not normal for 3-year-olds to bite. Or, expecting a 2-year-old to stop having temper tantrums is unrealistic. By knowing what to expect, parents will not fall into the trap of pressuring their child to do something that is beyond his or her ability. And learning about each stage of development in advance helps parents be more effective in helping their child to grow.
There are many books to help parents learn about child development—one of my favourites is 'What To Expect The Toddler Years,' by Eisenberg, Murkoff and Hathaway. And I think it's a good idea for parents to remind themselves, from time to time, of their ultimate goal: to help their children pass successfully through all the stages of development until, eventually, they can run their own lives. Here are some tips to help your child along the way:
1) Try not to overreact to your children's mistakes and failures. No one ever grew up to become a competent adult without making many, many mistakes. Expect your children to make mistakes. I'm not saying you shouldn't get upset at times, but when you remember that children's mistakes are normal, you are less likely to overreact. When parents overreact by screaming and yelling and carrying on like the world is coming to an end, children look upon themselves as inferior and bad and resist coming to their parents for help when they are in trouble. Try thinking of your children's mistakes as opportunities for you to teach them another lesson about life.
2) Allow natural consequences to take place in your family. Natural consequences are very powerful in helping children to grow up and learn some very important lessons about life. For example, if a child is repeatedly late in getting up for school, then that youngster may miss breakfast, or end up walking to school, or having to answer to the principal. These are all natural consequences. Parents may, out of love, lose the advantage of these natural consequences by driving their child to school while feeding him a snack in the car, and then writing a phony excuse to the teacher to help their child avoid getting into trouble. Good parents know that the natural punishments in life can often teach children a great deal on how they need to direct their lives.
3) Help your children develop self-awareness by providing good, supportive feedback on their behaviour. A mirror gives us feedback on how we look. In the same way, children need parents to give them feedback on how they are doing as they interact with others. A child's social awareness needs to grow over time. When parents provide feedback to their children that is not sarcastic or hurtful, children improve their behaviour as they age.
4) Children are natural-born copycats, and as they grow older, they learn tons about life just by watching their parents and copying them. Parents, therefore, need to be alert to the fact that they teach their children a great deal just by the way they conduct their own lives. And parents who set a good example end up teaching their children many valuable lessons about life.
5) Be supportive and loving with your children when they find themselves hurt by the events of life…a friend moves…a grandparent dies. Love and support help children develop courage when life becomes painful. And we all need courage as we grow older to cope with the struggles and heartaches in life.
Remember, helping children to grow and to become all they can be is what good parenting is all about.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.