We often hear about the “terrible twos” from parents struggling with their child’s behaviors in toddlerhood. Hopefully, this article will help you understand what children are going through during their early childhood years. This week we continue in a series of articles on child development and helpful parenting tips for each stage of development.
Early childhood is the range from ages 2 to 6. It is an important developmental period, laying the foundation for later competencies in physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Once again, brain development and nurturing parenting are at the heart of healthy development. Increases in body size lead to increases in big muscle movement skills (running, jumping, hopping, etc.). Amazing improvement in fine motor skills takes place as evidenced by the child moving from drawing scribbles to drawing shapes and people. There is a huge leap in language skills during early childhood, with the average number of words used increasing from about 900 words to between 8,000 -14,000 words! Children at this age begin to develop a desire to be independent… to do things on their own. They want to explore their work and begin to learn to make sense of it. They also begin to focus on adults and children outside of their own family. It is critical that parents allow children to explore within safe limits. Moving, exploring environments, using their five senses, and interacting with others all allow for brain connections to take place. Play is huge during early childhood! Through imaginative play, playing alone and playing with others, children develop both cognitively and socially/emotionally. Because of their drive to explore and learn, children in early childhood will test their physical, behavioral and emotional limits. This makes it hard for parents to find a balance between setting limits and allowing kids enough freedom to explore and face new challenges. As children become involved in more formal schooling (preschool, kindergarten), there are significant differences in their abilities (attention span, reading readiness, fine and big motor skills). Parents and teachers of children at this age need to understand these differences and allow children to continue to develop at their own pace without undue pressure.
What can parents do to help their child through early childhood? First, and foremost, parents need to continue to provide love and nurture their child. The trust developed between a caregiver and the child in infancy continues into early childhood; parents need to be present for their children. As children begin to develop a sense if independence and autonomy in early childhood, they also begin to test their limits! This can bring a great deal of stress to you … which trickles down to the child. It is important to begin to learn to respond instead of reacting to your child. In early childhood, kids need 10-13 hours of sleep. This is critical for healthy brain and body development. Children also need to eat nutritious food; this may be difficult as children display their independence! Starting off with healthy food during infancy and continuing into toddlerhood and early childhood is often the best way to accomplish this. Again, screen time (TV, phones, tablets) should be limited to 2 hours or less of quality programs (American Academy of Pediatrics). Finally, it is important for you to develop a social support network. Finding a circle of support among friends and family, seeking sources of information on development and services, and gaining assistance in obtaining childcare and meeting your child’s material needs is critical.
Here is a short list of parenting suggestions during early childhood. I encourage you to seek out more information on your own, as there is much more out there than I could cover in the column this week.
• Read to and with your child daily!
• Talk to your child throughout the day using complete sentences and guiding them to use correct words and phrases.
• Play with your child – let them direct you in play. Join in them in imaginative play.
• Teach your child songs and rhymes…. get them involved in repeating them.
• Allow your child to help with chores, dress themselves, and begin to take of their daily needs on their own (brushing teeth, combing hair, picking up toys, etc.).
• Encourage your child to play with other children.
• Develop a daily routine and make expectations clear (bedtimes, eating together, etc.).
• Begin to give your child choices. Starting with limited and simple choices in toddlerhood (what to war, when to play) to choices about behavior, as they get older. Make sure these are choices you can live with!
• Discipline using a choice system: present your child with a limited number of choices. When a child behaves in a way that is not acceptable, create some fair and age-appropriate consequences. This can be a great learning tool and helps them develop a sense of responsibility and autonomy. Consequences can include a “time out” and/or taking away privileges or toys.
• I don’t often use “don’ts” in my tips, but I will make an exception this week! Don’t do everything for your child, and don’t make all their decisions. Help them develop a sense of competence and responsibility. Let them learn from their choices when the stakes are small.
• Set limits for your child’s safety. There are some non-negotiables to keep your child safe. Traffic, water safety, care seats, stranger danger, are some areas that you must communicate rules and enforce them.
Next week we will look at middle childhood. Until then, Happy Parenting!
Gail Roaten has taught counseling students for 13 years, and was a counselor in schools for 12 years. She has provided parenting classes and trainings through various churches and the Department of Family and Protective Services. She has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas. She is the parent of three children and has six grandchildren.
The information Roaten is providing is based on research and research-based practices as well as from well-known theories. The parenting information and tips offered is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal or other professional assistance or therapy.
The information found in this column is not intended to treat or diagnose; nor is it meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional.
This column, its author and The Rockport Pilot are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any information provided that may be used in parenting. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.