Tag Archives: child development

Wait for it…

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As a parent educator, I often tell my students: we can’t make our children do something before they’re developmentally ready. We can encourage them, provide opportunities to try a new skill, model behavior, try praise and punishment to motivate them, and create an environment that encourages them to master that skill. But sometimes, we just have to wait for them to be ready.

Sometimes when it comes to raising my own kids, the advice I give to other parents just flies out of my head…

Just 4 weeks ago, I was despairing that my child would ever want to write or draw anything. He is five years old, and was about to start kindergarten. Yet, I could count on one hand the number of times he’d attempted to draw a picture. The only time he would write was if we made him do it to earn something. “Want a chocolate Kiss? OK, write the word kiss and you can have it.” His grandma started paying him a penny for every letter he writes for her, and despite that, he didn’t write much.

This is in stark contrast to my older kids, but especially to my daughter who started drawing and trying to write when she was less than 18 months! And in contrast to one of his buddies, Jelly Bean, who sent him a lovely card covered with flowers and butterflies she had drawn when she was 3 and he was 4 and didn’t want to draw a straight line.

Any time your child seems developmentally behind where you feel he should be, or behind other children, it’s always worth checking into. Look up developmental newsletters and checklists to check whether your expectations are reasonable. It could be you’re expecting too much, too early. If he’s not meeting the exact questions on a checklist, ask yourself whether he is doing other tasks which show that same developmental capability.

For example, with my son, he was generally right on track developmentally. When it came to writing, I knew that the issue wasn’t that he didn’t understand letters, or the power of the written word. He was an early reader – beginning to read words at age 3, and reading chapter books by age 5. The issue wasn’t small motor skills – he could easily manipulate small lego pieces and small pieces in “experiments” he was working on. He just truly had no internal motivation to draw or write or paint.

From time to time I’d suggest it. I would show him the fully stocked cabinet of art supplies, and he would walk away and do something else. He even took an arts enrichment class, called Creative Development Lab for a full year, and managed to never paint or draw a thing.

So, there we were, on the brink of starting kindergarten and wondering if he’d even be willing to write his name.

Then, overnight, for no external reason, he started drawing. And writing. A lot! And talking about how exciting it was that he had his own “art studio” (the art supply cabinet). And producing drawing after drawing. We went to the meet-the-teacher session at kindergarten and she asked him to draw a picture of himself. My husband and I looked at each other with doubt – what would he do? He happily sat down, drew a stick figure drawing (his first!) and wrote his full name next to it. Now, one week into kindergarten, every day he brings home pictures he’s drawn, coloring pages he’s completed (mostly coloring inside of the lines when he chooses to do so), worksheets where he’s traced every letter carefully and well, and craft projects where he’s easily mimicked the teacher’s sample project.

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Over and over, we wondered whether he’d ever be willing to write or draw. But then, when he was ready, he leaped right into the deep end of non-stop creative work. It reminds me of the validity of the advice… sometimes you just have to wait for a child to be developmentally ready to make that leap in skills.

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My duplicate did it!

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Last week, my five year old was playing with friends on the playground. One of the children stomped past me, saying “He’s being mean to me.”

I went to my child and said “X says you’re being mean to him.” My child said “I wasn’t mean. It wasn’t me. It was my duplicate #6.” (He’s been reading Calvin and Hobbes, and loves the part where Calvin build a duplicator and makes duplicates of himself.)

So, was he lying? Should he be punished for lying?

When talking about discipline, it’s essential to understand child development. A five year old is in the midst of the magical thinking stage. If you teach them one day about planting pea seeds and growing peas, then the next day, you may find them hovering over the garden plot, waving a stick ‘magic wand’ over the seeds to make them grow now. Or, you may find them planting their favorite toy in hopes that many more will grow.

Sometimes their magical thinking is terribly cute. A friend of mine was making a toy jet pack for a 4 year old, from recycled 2 liter bottles. As they worked, my friend talked about how cool jet packs are and how fun it would be to fly around the neighborhood. When she finished the jet pack and put it on, the 4 year old stood there with her eyes clenched tight in excitement, saying “I’m ready! How do I make it go?” She truly believed that her jet pack would help her lift off and fly.

Sometimes magical thinking is very frustrating. Your child believes that if they do the special magical thing, then they have the power to shape their reality. Sometimes they believe they have the power to change the rules. My middle child knew that our rule is a maximum of “two sweet credits a day” (a sweet credit is a candy or a cookie or a soda, or whatever.) But she kept coming up with one reason after another why that rule shouldn’t apply to her today. It wasn’t that she was trying to talk me into changing my rule (she knew that wouldn’t happen), it was more that she was saying things like “when it’s a sunny day in February, all mamas give their kids four sweet credits” or “Remember, we read that book where she ate lots and lots of cake at a summer picnic and never got sick. So it’s OK to eat lots of cake in the summer.” In other words, the whim of the weather has declared that today is different from a regular day, so what can you do but adapt your routine?

Just as children use magical thinking for things they wish would happen, they also use it for things they wish wouldn’t happen, or didn’t happen.

When my son told me that duplicate #6 was the one who’d been mean, you might jump to the conclusion that he was lying to avoid punishment. But it’s more complex than that. He was actually feeling bad about being mean to his friend. He was sad that his friend had walked away and didn’t want to play with him any more. My son (like all of us) wants to think of himself as a good person, not someone who does mean things. So, he used his magical thinking to say that someone other than him was really the mean one. He was a nice kid who wanted to play with his friend still.

So, I get from a developmental perspective why he’s doing this. But how do I respond? Honor his thinking, but also reinforce that taking responsibility for your actions is important.

“You and duplicate 6 both want to be good people, don’t you? But for both you and duplicate 6, sometimes you forget and you act mean, is that right? Being mean is not OK for either of you.” I pause to be sure he’s heard the message, then say “I see your friend is feeling very sad right now. Can you go over and apologize for being mean, and see if he wants to play again?”

He did go and apologize and they went back to playing happily.

If he’d come back to me with “I don’t need to apologize because I didn’t do anything. Duplicate #6 did”, then I would have said “Duplicate #6 is still figuring out how to be nice. I know you know how to be nice. Can you show #6 how by showing him how you do a really nice apology to your friend?”

This was a one time incident. I might respond differently if I felt like this was a chronic problem that he was frequently behaving badly and blaming it on his duplicate. If that was the case, I would be stricter about calling him on his lie, while still acknowledging the reason for the magical thinking: “You’re not telling the truth. I know you wish that it was duplicate #6 that did it, or you wish it was anyone other than you who did it. But that isn’t true, is it? You did it and you need to apologize for it.”

Pathways Developmental Screening Tool

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Pathways has a sensory motor checklist for ages birth to 7 years. It’s available at https://pathways.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/sensorymotorchecklist_english.pdf

Parents check off how their child is doing in these areas: play and social skills, coordination, daily activities, and self-expression. The instructions state “It is important to look at your child’s overall tendencies and clusters of behavior. One or two concerns should not cause alarm. However, if your child is not frequently and consistently demonstrating more than a few of the listed items in each category, print the list, check your concerns, and discuss them with your healthcare professional.”

While I don’t know if it is validated by the same rigorous testing as the ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaire) or PEDS (Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status), it does look like a helpful and easy to use tool. And it’s free, and you are encouraged to copy it freely. They also have good information on their site about Sensory Integration and signs that a child has a sensory issue.

I have added it to my list of Resources for Understanding Child Development.

Growth Based Mindset

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent decades studying achievement and success. She has developed the concept of a growth-based mindset, summarized here:

Fixed Mindset Growth-Based Mindset
Belief Intelligence and talent are static. They’re something you’re born with: you have it or you don’t. Intelligence develops with effort. The brain is like a muscle that can be trained.
Goals To look smart in every situation.
To never fail.
To push myself and try new things.
To take on new challenges.
Success Proving I’m smart or talented. Stretching to learn something new.
Evaluation of a new situation Will I succeed at it or will I fail?
Will it make me look good or bad?
Will it allow me to grow?
Attitude to challenges I avoid challenges.
I stick to what I do well.
I embrace challenges.
I persist when things get tough.
Response to setback I’m a failure. (identity)
I give up.
I failed. (action)   I’ll learn from it and move on. I’ll try harder next time
Effort Why bother? It’s pointless. Effort is the key to mastery.
Criticism Ignore criticism or deflect: “It’s not my fault.” Learn from criticism: how can I improve?
Success of others I feel threatened by it.
If they succeed, I fail.
I find lessons and inspiration in other people’s successes.
I feel good When it’s perfect. When I win. When I try hard. When I figure something out.
Results They plateau early. Never reach full potential. They achieve ever-higher levels of success.

Mindsets in the classroom:

Students were given a test. Then some of the children were praised for their intelligence: “that’s a good score. You must be smart.” Some were praised for the process: “that’s a good score. You must have worked hard.” The kids were then asked what they wanted to do next, and they were given the option of something easy where they wouldn’t make mistakes or something challenging where they might make mistakes but would learn something important. Those who were praised for intelligence chose the easy task. Those who were praised for effort chose the hard task they could learn from. Later, they gave everyone a very hard test – the kids praised for intelligence lost confidence and lost their enjoyment of the task and later lied about their scores. The kids who were praised for the effort and the process stayed confident, worked hard at the problems and remained engaged and didn’t lie about their results, because they felt they had done as well as they could on a hard test.

In other research, by Dweck and Blackwell, a group of low achieving students attended a class that taught that intelligence, like a muscle, grows stronger with exercise. As they learned to believe that intelligence was something they could learn, rather than something they could never achieve if they weren’t “born with it”, their motivation increased. They worked harder. When they had difficulty, instead of saying “I’m just not smart enough”, they would say that they needed to work harder or smarter. Their math scores improved, and continued to improve in the following year.

Another example of where these mindsets play out is in the math classroom. 3 out of 10 American describe themselves as “bad at math.” This leads to the belief that “I will never be good at math, so there’s no point in even trying.” Parents and teachers often reinforce this perception. Research shows that while genetics and inherent intelligence can help children initially score well, over time the kids that do best in math are the ones who work hard, have good study habits, and enjoy doing math.

To help your child develop a growth based mindset:

  • think about how you praise them: praise effort, not talent. Praise process not product.
  • pay attention to how you talk about your own abilities… do you say “I’m just no good at…” or do you say “this is hard for me right now, but if I keep trying I think I’ll do it”
  • think about how you respond to their failures and frustrations. Do you let them give up, or encourage them to keep trying? Do you say things like “I know it seems hard now, but I also know that the more you practice, the better you’ll get.”
  • encourage them to tinker: play around at something – try and try again until you get the result you were hoping for

Learn more about growth mindsets at http://www.whatkidscando.org/resources/spec_growthmindset.html and Mind-sets and Equitable Education: http://www.principals.org/Content.aspx?topic=61219

Read more on math at “The Myth of ‘I’m bad at math’” at www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/ and “’I’m not a math person’ is no longer a valid excuse” at www.businessinsider.com/being-good-at-math-is-not-about-natural-ability-2013-11

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can attend a lecture on the Growth Mindset by Tracy Kutchlow on Wednesday, April 29. Learn more here.

Stages of Play

Children’s play evolves as they get older. Mildred Parten developed a theory in the 1930’s that is still used today, although some of the details and timing have been re-interpreted over the years.

  1. Unoccupied Play—birth and up. Babies gaze at the world and absorb information, but don’t seem to be doing anything.
  2. Solitary Play—3 months and up. Babies or toddlers explore toys and their environment. They don’t really notice other children.
  3. Onlooker Play—9 months and up. They watch other children play but don’t join in.
  4. Parallel Play—18 months—3 years. Children play side by side. They often look like they aren’t paying attention to each other, but one will mimic what the other one is doing.
  5. Associative Play—3 years and up. Playing separately but on the same project (building a block city  together). Talking together, problem-solving together.
  6. Cooperative Play— 4 years and up. Playing WITH a friend. Some examples:
  • Dramatic / Fantasy play: Dress-up, school, etc. Pretending to be characters in the same scenario.
  • Competitive play: Sports, board games, tag, hide and seek.
  • Constructive play: Building with blocks, making a fort, sculpting a sand castle.

Note: Ages given are for kids playing together with peers. If they are playing with someone of a higher developmental level, they can achieve more. (e.g. a one year old can parallel play with an adult, a 2 year old may be able to do cooperative play with an older sibling.)

When watching children play on the playground, or in the classroom, can you identify each of these types of play?

Child Development Milestones

When we look at child development, we always want to look at the whole child, not just one set of skills, so experts have divided developmental milestones into the 5 categories below.

Children develop skills on a fairly predictable timeline, but can have uneven development – for example, a 24 month old may have the motor skills we expect of a 30 month old, and the communication skills typical of an 18 month old… if you look at that same child 6 months later, they may have surged in their communication skills. Temperament and interest levels have big effects on which skills they focus most on, but parents can also ensure they have opportunities and encouragement to develop in all these areas.

It is helpful for parents to have a good working knowledge of typical development (see the resources post for great information) so they know if their child is on track, and children may also benefit from occasional screenings to make sure children are progressing well. (You can complete the ASQ developmental screening online anytime.)

Gross Motor (aka Large Motor)

These skills include: running, jumping, throwing, kicking, climbing, and dancing.

To build these skills, ensure that your child has plenty of time and opportunity to move: playgrounds, indoor gyms, hikes in the woods where they can balance on logs, going up and down stairs, tumbling on a mat. Try for a mixture of free play time where they explore movement on their own, and playing together. Kids love wrestling with parents, dancing, chasing around the house together, kicking a ball together. You can teach basic skills of any sport – just don’t expect them to follow rules yet!

Fine Motor

Fine motor skills allow a child to pick up and manipulate small objects. These skills help them to feed themselves, dress themselves, hold a pencil, and other essential skills for independence.

You can help build these skills with activities like: coloring / drawing / painting, threading beads onto a pipe cleaner, threading pipe cleaners through the holes on a colander, putting dried beans inside a bottle, taking lids on and off containers, feeding them small and slippery finger foods (like diced peaches), letting them feed themselves with a fork or a spoon, and stacking blocks.

If your child tends to still mouth small objects, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let them use small items ever…  but you should supervise them when they play, and put small items away when you’re done.

Social-Emotional Development

These skills can be seen when your child copies your actions, notices the emotions of other people, shows empathy for others, or plays games where they are pretending to be/do something.

These skills are primarily built in interaction with others. However, children can also learn a lot about social interaction and emotions by reading books or watching TV. When you read to your child, talk about the emotions the characters may be feeling. Talk about the ways they are interacting with each other – are they being nice? Mean? How does their behavior make the other characters feel?

Language & Communication

Communication is not just saying words out loud. Especially for a young toddler, we want to know: do they seem to understand the words that are said to them (e.g. Can they follow simple directions – like ‘close the door’? If asked to point at a picture of a cat, can they do so? Do they point/gesture to indicate what they want? Do they follow your gestures? Can they name a few familiar objects?)

The best way to build language skills is to follow your child’s lead… rather than throwing language at them about what you see around you, first watch them. What are they looking at? What has their attention at the moment? Talk to them about that, giving them words to describe what they see.

Cognitive Development: Problem-Solving

This is about using tools, and solving challenges. For example, a child who sees a toy you put on the counter out of reach, then gets a stool and pushes it over to the counter and climbs up on the stool to get the toy is a great problem-solver! (And a frustrating child to parent!)

To build problem-solving skills, give them challenges: puzzles, shape sorters, tasks that require multiple steps (first you take the lid off the box, then you put the toy in, then you put the lid back on the box), sorting objects by color or size or other characteristics, and putting toys away in their proper places. Allow your child to become frustrated without always “rescuing” them from that frustration. Notice their triggers, and signs that frustration is building, and move in for a little extra support, but don’t just take over and do the task for them – they can learn through those challenges. You can sit with your child and provide emotional support for their feelings of frustration while still encouraging them to keep trying to solve the puzzle. You may suggest things they could try, but don’t do it for them.

It can be helpful to watch other children at the playground in your child’s classes to get a sense of typical development, but try not to compare your child too much to other children. They all develop in their own way at their own pace.

I still remember something that happened when my now 20-year-old was a toddler. I was very proud that they were stringing together simple 2 word phrases – ‘throw ball’, ‘more crackers’, and ‘doggy book’. Then I talked with a friend who had a child the same age… she said her child had said the day before ‘Hey Grandma, Grandpa, come downstairs, breakfast ready.’ I was devastated, feeling like there was something wrong with my child. But then later in that conversation, I shared how my child had played at the park that week, climbing up the ladder on the slide, sliding down, then climbing up the slide itself and sliding back down. The other mom sheepishly admitted that her child could barely climb on and off the couch!

That’s when it became clear that at that moment in time, my child was working on physical skills and hers was working on verbal skills. Developmental theorists will tell you it all evens out in time, and I can also tell you the same from my experience. Those two children are now a sophomore at Oberlin College and a sophomore at Reed College, and both very bright independent young adults with solid skills in all developmental areas. It all works out in the end…

Resources for Understanding Child Development

This is a collection of all my favorite resources for understanding developmental milestones, and enhancing your child’s development at any stage.

Great Resources for Understanding Child Development, Tailored to the Age of Your Child:

Just in Time Parenting from eXtension. 8 page newsletters, which include sections on milestones (how I talk, how I understand, how I move), activities parents can do to enhance development, and tips for managing the predictable challenges of each phase. Issues are available in 2 month intervals (e.g. 19 – 20 months; 21 – 22 months, etc. Up to 5 years.) You can subscribe to receive free automatic email updates every two months, or you can download any newsletter issue now at: http://jitp.extension.org/

Zero to Three. Healthy Minds, Nurturing Your Child’s Development: Each 2 page handout includes a summary of what your child is capable of, ideas for activities you can do to enhance development, and questions to ask yourself about your child. Toddler handouts for 12 – 18 months, 18 – 24 months, and 24 – 36 months. www.zerotothree.org/about-us/areas-of-expertise/free-parent-brochures-and-guides/age-based-handouts.html

Screening Tools to Assess Whether Your Child is Developing Normally

Ages and Stages Questionnaire: http://asqoregon.com/. This questionnaire takes about 15 minutes to complete online. It will ask 6 questions in each of 5 areas of development: small motor skills, large motor, communication, problem-solving, and personal-social. If your child is developing normally, you will see that you will mark some of the skills as “yes, my child has mastered this”, some as “my child can sometimes do this” and some as “not yet.” After you complete the questionnaire, you will receive a brief summary of the results. Learn more about the ASQ and interpreting your results. Up to 6 years. (Note, this screening is also available at www.easterseals.com/mtffc/asq/)

In Seattle/King County, professional ASQ screenings are available free at Parent Trust for Washington Children. www.parenttrust.org/index.php?page=asq

Learn the Signs, Act Early from the Centers for Disease Control. One page checklists of “What Most Children Do at This Age” AND checklists of “Act Early by Talking to Your Child’s Doctor if Your Child Does Not Do…” In English and Spanish. Up to 5 years. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/downloads.html

Pathways Sensory-Motor Checklist. Checklists of: play and social skills, coordination milestones, ability to manage daily activities, and self-expression. A list of milestones – if your child has achieved most, they are on track. If there are multiple items in a category that your child is not consistently capable of, discuss with a professional.  https://pathways.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/sensorymotorchecklist_english.pdf. Up to 7 years.

Resources for activities that stimulate development

Ideas for Activities to enhance all areas of development, and an overview of brain development: www.bbbgeorgia.org/parentsActivities.php

Learning Opportunities in Everyday Activities (e.g. laundry!) www.bornlearning.org/learning-on-the-go

For each age, ideas to enhance learning in creative arts, language, literacy, math, science, emotional growth. Up to age 8.
www.pbs.org/parents/child-development/