Parenting With Psychology

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How Does Family Dynamics Affect Child Development?

ages 0 - 6 months ages 11 years - 18 years ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years choices & checkpoints Jan 10, 2024

Do you want to know why I love talking to parents about stage theories in the psychology of human development?  It's because knowledge of the various stages that children progress through can alleviate so many worries and fears that amazing parents inevitably feel as they monitor their child's development.  Throughout the years, different theorists from the field of psychology and related fields have proposed theories on how humans develop, with particular attention paid to the early years.  Many of these theories suggest that children progress through a series of stages, with clear milestones achieved at each stage.  Some of the most well-known stage theories include Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, and Erik Erikson's psychosocial developmental theory.  In today’s post, I’ll give you a fun and practical example from Piaget’s work that will ring true to everyone who has raised a child through infancy.  Keep reading to learn how basic knowledge of developmental stage theories can produce a simple mindset shift that can dramatically improve your parent-child dynamic.


The Fascinating Case of Piaget’s Object Permanence 

Now, parents don’t need to understand every intricacy of these theories to benefit from knowing about them.  For example, understanding the difference between the six sensorimotor substages of Piaget's theory is primarily of interest to researchers, not parents.  However, there are elements within these theories that parents often find fascinating and tremendously helpful.  Let's take a closer look at one such element: object permanenceDid you know that in their first two years of life, children's brains develop the ability to understand that objects exist permanently and have a location, even if they can't be seen?  Before four months of age, if you hide a toy behind your back, your baby will think it has completely disappeared and no longer exists - out of sight, out of mind.  But a two-year-old knows how to find that hidden object; you’re not tricking them.


Here's where it gets interesting.  As children grow, there are increasing levels of complexity in the development of object permanence.  They progress from simply believing the toy to be gone to looking behind your back for the toy to looking further back behind you to see where the toy may have rolled if you dropped it (knowing that it must be somewhere back there).  Full object permanence typically develops by age two, so there is about a year and a half when your child will have only a partial understanding of the permanent nature of objects in their environment.  Being aware of these stages can make parenting a fascinating journey of exploration.  It also provides parents with tricks they can use along the way.  For example, if there's a shiny object that your infant keeps trying to touch but you don't want them to have, simply hide it.  They'll shortly forget it ever existed!


The Value of Different Developmental Stage Theories

There are indeed fascinating elements to other developmental stage theories as well.  For example, learning about Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development can help parents feel patience rather than frustration when their children experiment with lying.  It is through exposure to a variety of social interactions and experiences that children develop moral reasoning and an understanding of what is acceptable human behavior.  What is morally right or wrong is not always black and white and sometimes, bending a rule is the most appropriate choice.  Understanding that lying behavior is part of a child’s moral development can help parents guide their children toward making more ethical choices without judgment or concern.


Similarly, Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory of development can help parents feel empathy rather than irritation during the "terrible twos" years when children are seeking autonomy, or during the identity crisis and role confusion typical of adolescence.  Recognizing that these stages are a normal part of a child’s social and emotional development can help parents navigate this challenging phase with understanding and support.  In future posts, I will delve deeper into these topics and explore how they can be applied in everyday parenting.  I also review stage theories in more depth in my upcoming course, "Parent Like a Pro!" which teaches my 5 C’s parenting framework to help parents load their parenting toolboxes with effective parenting strategies (see Check Yourself: Are You an Intentional Parent? to learn more about the 5 C’s).


There’s No Rush to Progress Through the Stages 

It's important to note that these stages don't need to be rushed.  Some developmental theorists emphasize that the stages must be completed in a hierarchical order, meaning a child must successfully master one stage before moving on to the next.  Others warn that not fully completing a stage may lead to future problems with emotion and behavior.  There aren’t any theories of human development that say kids will have better outcomes the faster they progress through the stages.  It's essential to remember that every child is unique and may progress through these stages at their own pace.  The key is to provide a supportive and nurturing environment that allows them to explore and grow within each stage.  Trust that they will reach their developmental milestones.  If you have any concerns, absolutely check with your child’s pediatrician, but rest assured that most kids are on the right path to be where they need to be at landmark ages, such as starting kindergarten around age five, transitioning to middle school or junior high around age 11, and ultimately spreading their wings at age 18.


I saw a post on social media recently for an infant walking device that holds a child in an upright position, supporting them at their armpits rather than by the wrist or forearm.  While there absolutely are orthopedic injuries that can result from pulling a young child’s arm, baby walk training devices are not the solution to that problem.  Kids develop at their own pace and don’t need to be rushed into walking.  Instead, praise them for their current developmental milestones by clapping when they pull to a stand or stand on their own.  You can motivate them to walk by sitting a couple of feet away and holding out your arms, warmly encouraging them to come to you.  Parenting doesn’t need to involve a lot of devices or time pressure; it’s a very natural process.


Take-Home Message

Parenting can be challenging on a day-to-day basis, but by empowering ourselves with knowledge of developmental stage theories, we can adjust our parenting perspective and improve our parent-child dynamic.  Understanding these stages helps us recognize that certain behaviors are typical for your child’s developmental stage, allowing us to respond with patience and understanding.  It allows you to appreciate the unique journey your child is on and provides insights into their evolving abilities and needs.  So, embrace the wonder of these stages and enjoy the incredible adventure of parenting.  This week, if you have moments when your child is struggling, and their behavior is difficult for you to tolerate, take a moment to think about whether it is typical behavior for their developmental stage.  Rest assured, knowing that these stages are a normal part of the developmental process that will help your child reach their full potential.  You have time to guide them to where they need to be at each stage, so try supporting them where they're at now.  Together, we can navigate the journey of parenting with confidence and joy.


Understanding the impact of developmental stages on your parent-child dynamic is part of the Choices & Checkpoints category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (click here to learn more about the 5 C’s).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!


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