Jun | 2013

7th

Friday

Accelerating your child’s development by understanding their developmental stages

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Feel free to pass along the book resource I will discuss in this blog to any parent who has a child as young as just born and up to as old as ten years of age. I recommend the below resource having had experience mentoring gifted/talented youth as well as being a developmental expert who is been consulted by attorneys, pediatricians, teachers, and parents.

It is incredibly difficult to help your child mature through their many developmental stages when so few books are written about what healthy development looks like. There are thousands of books on what to do if something goes wrong with your child, if your child is too anxious, if your child has ADHD, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, as I have worked with hundreds of parents “in the trenches” as a child counselor and adolescent psychologist, I have come upon a few rare books that are a refreshing reminder that there is such a thing as quote “healthy development”. In an era where our country’s own Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported one in five children has a mental health condition (which I will talk about in another blog), it is especially important for parents to be preventative by knowing what is “healthy” at each developmental stage.

Before I share this valuable resource with you, I want to recognize that there is an incredible diversity of “healthy ” kids. As a child specialist I do not work from a narrow definition of healthiness, but rather with an understanding that there is wide range of healthy functioning at any developmental stage. So how do you know if your child’s particular emotional or behavioral problem is really a problem or something they will “grow out of”? You must educate yourself by reading books like the one I recommend next.

The name of the book I highly recommend is “Ages & Stages”, and its subtitle is “Tips and techniques for building your child’s social, emotional, interpersonal, and cognitive skills”. The authors are Dr. Charles Shaefer (PhD) and Teresa Foy DiGeronimo. Dr. Schaefer is a consultant to Family.com, Disney’s website. This subtitle makes transparent exactly why this book is so invaluable; not only does it address key developmental stages that children experience but it also at each stage discusses that stage in terms of the social, emotional, interpersonal, and cognitive skills that should be coming online for that child. This book also gives practical and user-friendly tips on what you can do at any developmental stage regarding any of the four key facets named at the beginning of this paragraph.

This is not a book where the authors say that “by age 6 every child should have been able to do X”. Child development is not that simple. Any book or professional who pretends every child’s developmental clock should be in sync with every other child’s is patently false and misleading. This leads to parents feeling envious and highly anxious if they hear the neighbor boy who was the same age as their child just reached a certain developmental milestone. But I understand the root of that and the anxiousness because there is something magical about being able to say your child talked early, or walked early. Or was THE FIRST in their class to be able to write a full sentence.

One of my favorite sayings is “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. It’s not which child was the first to talk, it’s which children end up living fulfilling lives because their parents watchfully shepherded their child’s development over time. Certainly doing things early can be assigned a precociousness and or giftedness/exceptional talent, but development is not as much a race to the starting line or a linear process as a bumpy and curvy road where children can make great strides and then show no progress for a while. The child who is the smartest in first grade can be one of the worst students in second grade.

The key is to understand where your child is at in terms of the four key facets of development at any one time. One of the most important roles of parent must serve is identifying where their child is weakest and helping them catch-up by developing skills that may be weak or nonexistent. Often this is such a tricky task! Because children exhibit what I called “latent learning”, where they are internalizing knowledge and skills which accumulate to a point where the volume of knowledge makes them confident enough to show that they have learned those skills.

Child and adolescent development is such a labyrinthine experience for any parent because each child is so different and trying to understand them feels like trying to map out a maze of twists and turns. The best parents are often exhausted parents because to truly appreciate your child’s uniqueness takes so much energy and time!!!

But luckily, there are a few good “lighthouse” resources out there that can help parents – even during the stormiest times – surf the challenging waves that parenthood brings. The book “ages and stages” is one of those lighthouses that can be a genuine guide even amidst the stormiest nights and darkest moments.

A final note: I urge you to not be one of those parents who will rush your child to the dentist or pediatrician, but would never bring your child to a child psychologist or therapist who has the appropriate training. While I admit you may shop carefully for the most highly trained child therapist, a true child specialist can help you determine if any particular behavior is within that healthy range of functioning or is something that is serious but could be corrected easily if you catch it early.

Especially here in Tucson, Arizona, I find parents still operate from a “Dark Ages” mentality; as if bringing your child to a psychologist is some sort of sign of weakness or means there is a “mental illness”. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Much of my practice is with forward thinking parents who have highly talented children and they simply wish to accelerate that child’s development!

Remember: the most successful corporations, athletes, and mature individuals have “coaches” that have the same core behavioral science training as the best child psychologists. Look around, and recognize just how many people are leaning into experts who can prevent the NEED for a therapist by using the professional early on as a coach/advisor/parental mentor. The best parents are resourceful versus defensive.


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