This guest article is written by Tia Brisco, MS, LMFT, a practicing clinician and member of ACI’s EAP provider panel.
As many schools remain closed or in hybrid, children are struggling more and more with adjustment issues. In times of dramatic change, parents are essential in creating stability and promoting growth for children. Helping children establish some form of normalcy by maintaining structure, boundaries, and validation is key. For every age of child development, there are important lessons and learning curves that each child will experience, and it is the parent’s job to support and encourage growth throughout those stages. Being aware of the different stages of growth can help parents better respond to needs and be more mindful in supporting development changes.
The Newborn and Baby Stage
Imagine entering a room, and not knowing anyone or the environment. How would you feel? Possibly scared, nervous, or unsure. This is how newborns and babies feel 24/7. Since language skills have yet to be developed, babies use cries, coos, and giggles to express their needs and wants. At this point in development, it is the job of the parent to fulfill their baby’s basic needs and acclimate them into their different environments. This is achieved by providing the baby with a safe environment to develop their physical and language skills. During this early stage, babies are learning how to utilize their extremities, speak, and use facial expressions to understand emotions, which are all necessities to getting along in the world.
Toddlers and Young Children
As babies are learning the basic functioning of the world around them, toddlers and young children are developing their identities. Toddlers and young children actively engage in tasks that build upon their basic skillsets, for example, throwing a ball or learning to color in the lines. They are also engaging in social activities, like making new friends and going on play dates. During this time, parents may also observe more tantrums and lying behaviors. Parents can assist their young children’s development by introducing them to new environments, utilizing behavior charts/negotiation to encourage positive behaviors, nurturing their independence, allowing them to do basic skills on their own (brushing teeth, changing clothes, etc.) and building on their social skills by communicating and playing with them. Discipline at this age should focus on exchanging negative behaviors (such as tantrums) with positive behaviors (using language to express their needs, thoughts, and feelings).
Preteens, Teenagers and Young Adults
At last, your baby, who was barely able to stand by themselves, is now a preteen, teenager, or young adult! Where did the time go? Parents may see their teen wanting to spend more time with friends or doing independent activities that they enjoy. At these ages, teens are preparing to take on more adult responsibilities, like having a job or getting their driver’s license. We also see mood changes, and more arguments tend to occur between teens and their parents. This is primarily due to hormones and the need for more independence that comes with growing up. It is important to give age-appropriate consequences and utilize any challenge as a learning lesson. Allow teens and young adults to engage in independent responsibilities such as filling out paperwork or making their own doctors’ appointments. The goal of this age is to instill values and promote independence.
Never forget, support is one the most important pieces of parenting. Providing children with age-appropriate challenges, discipline, and positive reinforcement are the building blocks to healthy development. While healthy parenting is necessary, it is also vital for parents to be in their best mental, physical, and emotional shape. If you are struggling with issues surrounding parenting or mental health, please reach out to ACI by phone at 800.932.0034, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the myACI Benefits mobile app to speak with a mental health clinician.