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The main developmental stages

Parents often ask me at what age their children should be doing certain things or key things to expect.   I am usually quite reluctant to give definitive ages because there is so much variation between one child and another and I don’t want parents to worry if their child doesn’t reach a specific milestone at a certain age.  For instance some kids start walking at 9 months and others could be nearly 2.  Some pick up reading independently at 3 and for others it may not click until 6 or 7.  Some teens are very independent and responsible, others require more boundaries and guidance.

The other big factor influencing a child’s behaviour at all ages is their inborn temperament.

Below is a brief overview of common stages and things to expect but of course the age ranges are just a rough guide.

Toddlers, 18 months – 4 years

  • Egocentric – world revolves around them
  • More clingy
  • Want lots of attention
  • No concept of time and don’t like to be rushed
  • Focus is to have fun, everything is a game
  • Active, curious, impulsive and messy
  • Quite stubborn
  • Sensitive and don’t like change
  • Can be emotionally volatile and easily frustrated – react with actions not words
  • Developing imagination – hard to distinguish fantasy from reality
  • Slowly learning how to understand limits
  • Language developing – can be very literal.  Give one instructon at a time.

Primary school age, 4-10 Years

  • More independent, creative, analytical and less self-centred than toddlers.
  • Developing understanding and impulse control
  • Live in the moment and find delayed gratification hard
  • Very curious, logic developing.   Ask lots of questions!
  • Often very active
  • Learning the idea of right and wrong – testing boundaries
  • Can be very literal and inflexible – black and white. Obsessed with ‘fairness’
  • Learning the consequences of their actions
  • Lying and stealing not uncommon
  • At some point likely to explore morality and ask questions about death
  • Can feel anxious – need lots of attention and approval.  Maybe shy, clingy, competitive, bragging, un co-operative
  • May have a single ‘best’ friend or small group. Making up and falling out with friends normal social development
  • Can only retain one or two pieces of information at a time. Easily distracted
  • Exploring their own bodies and gender roles

 Tweens, 10-12

Child may go from being very agreeable and affectionate to opinionated, lippy, moody and defiant!

  • Massive changes in the brain going on. The pre frontal cortex doubles in thickness between 10 and 12 and then shrinks back during the teenage years.  This affects a child’s executive functioning skills – ability to control impulses, plan ahead, consider other and consequences of their actions
  • More self-aware, analyse, developing strong opinions
  • Less dependent on parents and influenced more by peers, social media
  • Thinking about themselves, hopes and fears for the future

 Teenagers, 12-18

  • More emotional separation from family.  Family events and parents ‘uncool’.
  • Increasingly independent, going out on their own, more secretive
  • Strong need to fit in with the peer group. Measure themselves against friends, appearance, grades, material possessions, sports.
  • Becoming more responsible for feelings and behaviour.
  • Developing own identity – dress, hair, language, music, cleanliness.
  • May be under a lot of pressure, stress and may have dip in self-esteem.
  • Developing as sexual beings.

Having some understanding of these key stages of development, should help parents to be more realistic about what they can expect their child to be doing.

Some say ‘Expectations are resentments waiting to happen’.

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