By Abha Ranjan Khanna
Understanding the complex process of development helps parents get to know and appreciate their child as the unique individual she/he is, each with her/his own interests, strengths and needs. This, in turn, can boost a parent’s competence and skills to become effective and lovingly responsive.
As one mother explains, “Knowing about development lets me slow down and put aside my assumptions in order to see my child as an individual and pay attention to where she is developmentally rather than where I think she ‘should’ be.”
What you decide to say and do every day matters. Whether you think of yourself as a mother or a teacher of your infant/toddler your nurturing interaction is critically important. Every day as you bond with your child during daily routines, playtime and fun family time, you are teaching your child about herself, other people, and the world around her.
Young children develop at their own pace but in predictable ways. Only by knowing about how children develop can you develop relationships that help individual children feel safe and secure and support their learning as well as their sense of competence and confidence.
Here are a few doable, practical strategies and tips to start using development information to guide you in everyday parenting. Parents know the joys and challenges of caring for and nurturing young children day after day. As one mother said: “My baby deserves my best – and she gets it! So many people say, ‘they are so little …it doesn’t matter’. But it does matter! I am her mother. I’m setting the foundation for her learning for the rest of her life. Knowing about development helps me do this.”
The decisions you make about what you say and do every day with your young child makes a difference. Every day you make many decisions about what to say and do – small and big. As one mother explains: When am I not making decisions? What to serve for snack, what do we read, what music to play, what interesting toy/object should we play with and talk about today?
Another mother shared: Every decision I make in the day affects the environment, my interactions with my child, and her interactions with others!
Knowing about how children develop will help assure the decisions you make meet the needs of your child and will support her ongoing development.
For example: Knowing that babies need to move freely to develop their muscles and bones, you will create safe places without tiny objects that can be swallowed and out of the path of new walkers and toddlers. Then give infants lots of time to lie on the floor so they can stretch, kick their legs and reach for a toy.
Imagine six-month-old Meera is lying on the floor on her sheet. Rolling over on her tummy, she spots a big bright red plastic ring nearby on the floor. She reaches for it, kicking her legs and stretching her arm out. Almost … and then she gets it. She pulls the ring toward her babbling the whole time. She rolls onto her back, looks at the ring, smiles broadly and brings it to her mouth. Without this knowledge, you might instead keep her in a swing or an infant seat that limit movement and development. Meera wouldn’t have had this experience that gave her the chance to develop physical skills, be successful and competent, and learn a little more about her world.
If you don’t know that two-year-olds often refuse to cooperate with adults as they attempt to figure out who they are, you might spend your energy trying to make them do so. But if you know that this is a sign of healthy development, then you think of ways to structure things so that your toddler can be powerful and make choices – all of which you can agree with. If you really know and understand toddlers, you may even find yourself appreciating their refusals to cooperate as you see them developing their autonomy!
Thus, understanding development is crucial in your child’s happy safe and healthy development!
(The writer is an occupational therapist.)