Make the Most of Your Child’s Ages and Stages
From crawling, walking, and babbling to the angst and rebellion of the tween and teen years, children constantly go through a predictable set of developmental stages in four domains: physical, cognitive, emotional, and social.
“Along the way, any of these areas can be ahead or behind the others in their timing, then switch, which can be confusing for parents,” says Vivian Seltzer, Ph.D., a professor of human development and behavior.
You can start out with a kid who is really smart and seemingly ahead of everyone else in school, for example, only to find out two years later that his classmates have caught up and they’re speeding ahead.
Not to worry. It’s all just part of growing up.
Still, “knowing where your child is at developmentally can help you understand and support him,” Seltzer says. Most kids don’t need a lot of help navigating the landscape, especially the older they get.”
But it helps to be aware of what’s normal and what’s not so you can guide them along the way and step in if you need to. Use our guide to tune your radar and help your child make the most of every age and stage, from preschool through college.
Preschool: When “Me, Me, Me” Becomes “We”
What’s happening now? From ages 2 to 5, kids make big leaps in all areas of development. At age 2, they’ll begin to develop their vocabulary as they associate sounds with objects (“brown cow”).
By age 5, they’ll be able to string complete sentences together and use words in different contexts—“I saw a brown cow on my Grandma’s farm and at the zoo too.”
“Preschool is an environment in which kids have the opportunity to use language in many different ways with others who are at the same developmental age,” says preschool teacher Jennifer Kurumada Chuang.
But, overall, preschool helps young, naturally egocentric kids learn how to exist with others in a classroom environment.
“They learn how take turns, follow directions, pick up after themselves, stand in line, sit in a circle, raise their hand, use their words to express themselves instead of physically acting out, and talk when it’s appropriate,” Kurumada Chuang says. “If they master those social skills in preschool, they’re ready to learn in kindergarten.”
Success Rx: Read, Read, Read to Your Child
“Being read to is the single most consistent and reliable predictor of academic success later in life,” says Kurumada Chuang.
She recommends reading to your child for 20 minutes every night at bedtime. While you’re at it, stop every so often and ask your child a question about the story before turning the page, such as: “Gosh, why do you think she was sad?” or “What do you think it going to happen next?”
Making reading more interactive makes it more fun and helps build your child’s comprehension skills.
Practice sharing at home. From age 3 to 5, kids aren’t yet capable of grasping the concept of sharing, but you can help your preschooler practice by having her “take turns” with toys and catching her when she shares on her own.
“Stating what she did and how it makes others feel, such as: ‘Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share your toast,’ helps her develop the empathy that true sharing requires,” says Marcy Guddemi, Ph.D., executive director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development in New Haven, Connecticut.
You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them.
Help your child learn to follow directions. At home, give simple commands, such as “Please help me pick up your toys and put them in the toy box.” Then, encourage your child to follow through by offering an incentive to do whatever it is you’re asking.
Tell your child that she can play outside once she’s finished putting her toys away. An incentive helps her understand that following directions makes other fun activities possible.
If, for example, she doesn’t follow your directions and put her toys away, calmly explain that she won’t be able to play with those toys for the rest of the day or go to the park. Keep it positive by focusing on how clean the playroom will look when you’re done. Then praise her when she’s successful.
“You followed my directions so well. Thank you for helping me put your toys in the toy box like I asked you to! That was so helpful.”
Elementary School: Milestone Mania
What’s happening now? From kindergarten through the fifth grade, kids make major strides, from initially learning how to transition to school and being comfortable with a classroom routine to learning how to read (kindergarten and first grade) and to reading to learn (the third grade and beyond) in all subject areas. Emotionally, they begin to develop their academic self-esteem based on feedback from you and their teachers.
By the fourth and fifth grade, they’re moving from concrete to abstract thinking.
“When a concrete thinker sees the Statute of Liberty, they see it as a lady with a torch. An abstract thinker also sees it as a symbol of freedom and democracy,” says Rebecca Branstetter, an educational and clinical psychologist.
By the fifth grade, they’re also beginning to set goals, work independently, work better in groups, make more complex decisions, and become organized with their school and homework.
Success Rx: Extend Learning Beyond School
Work activities into your child’s day that use concepts she’s learning at school; it helps reinforce them and connect what your child is learning to the real world.
For example, let your second-grader count change at the checkout and measure the ingredients while you’re baking cookies together (fractions). Have her tell time. Talk about numbers while you’re driving, such as how fast you’re going, the distance you’ll travel, and how long it will take to get there.
Play board games together involving money, time, logic, or vocabulary, such as the family edition of Monopoly, Scrabble, or Apples to Apples.
On the weekends, consider family outings to museums and zoos to visit exhibits that coincide with school subjects.
“If your child is learning about Egypt, take a trip to a local museum with an Egyptian exhibit,” says Branstetter. “It reinforces curiosity, sends the subtle message that school is important, and shows your child that school and home are connected.”
Develop a homework habit. Make doing homework automatic by coming up with a routine that fits your child’s personality. Some kids like doing homework right after school. Others need to burn off steam by playing for half an hour (set a timer) before getting down to business.
Whatever you choose, stick to the schedule you establish for your kids as much as possible. To minimize distractions, keep the TV off during homework time.
For younger kids, begin each homework session by asking your child to explain what she’s supposed to do, then gauge if she can do it alone of if she needs your help. If you’re not around when your child does his homework, let him know you’ll look at it when you get home and be sure to follow through.
“Praise him when he completes him homework by emphasizing the process, such as ‘You worked really hard to learn your math facts,’ rather than the product ‘Good job on learning your math facts.’ Praising the process teaches persistence, which is a skill kids need for school success,” Branstetter says.
We’ve touched on the younger years for your child. Check back next month when we delve into the middle school years and beyond! BW