Music and Motivation
Creative Parents' Credo
Profiles in Creativity
Inspiration For Artists
My Childhood and Theirs
Notes from the Library
Who Are Creative Parents
ocean-liner journey through childhood may be far preferable to Concorde
transit. Allowing time for each stage of development can help a child
arrive in adolescence without jet lag
by Istar Schwager, Ph.D.
almost four. Sara’s the same age. Justine sounds out words from
her books and is on her way to reading independently. Sara, on the other
hand, has only just begun recognizing letters of the alphabet.
these two kids are at different levels in reading, they’re both
within a normal range of development.
way some babies cut their teeth earlier and some later, children mature
socially, physically, and intellectually at different rates And when it
comes to growing up, faster is not necessarily better None of us would
consider pulling our children’ baby teeth out at age six to make
the kids more grown up. Yet some parents do the equivalent in rushing
children through essential stages of emotional and intellectual growth,
before the “new teeth”—or the new skills and competencies—have
evolved to the point where they are ready to serve their child.
To really appreciate
the richness and excitement that exist in childhood, we need to understand
what’s going on at different points in a child’s development
and how each stage fits into the overall scheme of childhood.
PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT follows very dramatic patterns.
Because it’s the most visible form of development, it is the area
in which parents are most likely to compare one child with another. Yet,
as you’ve probably seen, children pass through a succession of stages
in their own sweet time. Sooner or later, most children sit, crawl, stand,
and finally walk. And a child who walked at ten months doesn’t become
a better school-age runner than the child who remained firmly seated until
eighteen months. Given time, kids learn to complete puzzles, stack blocks,
and even tie their own shoelaces (a skill with little practical value
since the advent of velcro).
EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT takes a lifetime. Babies cry to
let people know what they want. It takes time to learn the words necessary
to express feelings—like “That’s my toy” or “!f
you give me one more spoonful of cereal, I’ll get sick.’ It’s
natural for little children to act on their feelings instead of waiting
to find just the right words. And they try to exert some mastery over
situations by letting people know in no uncertain terms that they will
not go along with many things. Hence the popularity of the word “no”
(said with emphasis) among very young children.
twos” is a necessary stage, whether it takes place when a child
is 18 months or four years old. It is during this stage that kids learn
to feel they have some influence over their lives. And once kids feel
they have more control over their surroundings, as well as more command
of language, it’s a lot easier for them to be patient, to share,
and to take turns and be social.
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT follows a distinct pattern. As
a matter of survival, babies think they’re the center of the universe.
As they get older, and if their need for self-centeredness has been met,
they become more aware of the existence and then the needs of others.
But that takes a lot of time.
have a hard time understanding that Mommy has a headache or that baby
brother does not want to play soccer. In time, they have an easier time
conceiving of other people’s viewpoints. They understand more about
the jobs people have, how people are related to one another, and that
people have dif ferent personalities. They also have a better sense that
people can come from different places and that there were people who lived
in the past. Finding that they have a secure place in the larger world
can help them achieve in other areas.
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT involves kids moving from
very physical and concrete activities to more abstract ideas. Young children
learn from direct experience with tangible objects. They need to lift
and drop and shake things to find out not only about the objects themselves
but about what the world is like in general. Sturdy, large, non-breakable
items like plastic mixing bowls and empty paper- towel rolls prove very
interesting to very young children.
time for kids to learn some basic concepts that we take for granted. Playing
and experimenting informally with real objects is the best way for children
to learn such concepts as big and small, or that one item can be part
of two different groups depending on how you arrange things. It often
takes several years from when a kid first begins to understand an idea
to when he uses it consistently in lots of situations. Parents can best
help their children develop intellectually by providing the objects and
the enthusiasm to foster their child’s natural curiosity.
PATTERNS OF DEVELOPMENT
it’s reading, sharing, or tying shoelaces, much of what children
can and can’t do at a particular age is determined by neurological
and other maturational factors. The same way that babies learn to crawl
at different ages, kids mature at different rates throughout childhood
often become worried when they see a neighbor’s child excel in a
skill their own child has not yet attained. They wonder if they should
put a little pressure on their child so that she can “catch up.”
According to Dr. Gail Ross, a psychologist at Cornell Medical Center who
works with developmental issues concerning children born prematurely,
rushing a child can have a distinctly negative effect. Children who are
pushed into performing too early may end up with negative feelings about
a particular behavior. For instance, a child who has been prompted to
read before he or she is ready, may be turned off and balk later when
reading is taught.
Ross also points out that if parents feel frustrated at their children’s
lack of adeptness, they may convey their disappointment to the child,
injuring his or her self-esteem. By rushing kids into activities they’re
not ready for, parents may unintentionally make it more difficult for
their children to succeed in those activities later on, when the time
is right. And just as kids of the same age are often at very different
developmental levels, within the same child, there may be many levels
operating at the same time.
is often lopsided. That is, it occurs faster in some areas than in others.
That’s one of the reasons educators are now so reluctant to skip
children in school. The precocious musician may be the last to tie his
shoes. The agile athlete may have trouble telling time. And over time,
these discrepancies often shift.
important to give kids leeway in our expectations of them. When children
are tired or ill or experiencing stress, they often act in more babyish
ways than usual. When changes occur in a child’s regular routines,
it can be stressful, even if the changes are positive. For instance, a
move to a new house, the birth of a sibling, or starting a new school
are all likely to evoke behavior in your child reminiscent of an earlier
era in his life. Temporary lapses are quite normal. Even seemingly small
changes in your child’s life can sometimes wreak havoc. It’s
important to be patient and supportive. If you have any serious concern
about your child’s behavior, it may be a good idea to check with
the pediatrician to get her or his advice. And if your child is in school,
it would help to talk to the teacher about any changes in your child’s
environment and changes in behavior.
WHAT ABOUT EXPERIENCE?
experience plays a major part in the healthy development of children.
However, experience has the greatest impact when a child is ready for
the experience. Many parents give their child a toy that they later realize
is too advanced. Their child may play with the toy in some very original
and unintended way, which is okay. But if they put the toy away and take
it out again as little as three or four months later, they may find the
toy is just right.
the best ways you can encourage kids without pushing is to take the lead
from your child. See what new activities your child gravitates to in nursery
school or at a friend’s house. Give your child time to practice
the activities that he or she is working on mastering, whether it’s
doing puzzles or going down the slide. Keep a few materials around that
your child can grow into, as well as some things that your child has basically
grown out of. Having old, familiar toys around is comforting, and children
play with the same toys in different ways at various stages of development.
And having new, challenging toys around gives kids a chance to experiment
with new skills without necessarily having to play with the toys in the
to interesting experiences is one of the best ways to help enrich your
child’s life, no matter what her age. Trips to the zoo are great,
but don’t be surprised if the most exciting part of the trip for
your child is the animal feeder, the lost balloon, or the sparrow drinking
water from the hippo’s trough. Also keep in mind that experiences
don’t have to be exotic for children to find them wonderful. A walk
through the park with a jar of bubbles or an afternoon doing the laundry
with Dad may be the highlight of a child’s week.
in a society where children are often rushed into formal learning very
early. However, the world of memorization and work sheets disregards the
young child’s need for informal hands-on experience, encouraged
by supportive adults. As Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child
(Addison Wesley) stresses, “Kids don’t need —or benefit
from—formal early learning.”
are all different from one another. Each one develops at a unique pace.
There are certain experiences and activities that have an almost magical
quality at a certain stage. Finger painting just isn’t the same
in adolescence. And block building has a potent appeal among preschoolers
that can’t always be recaptured in later life. Try to relish each
stage of your child’s life. If he’s not a child now, when
will he be?
1987 Sesame Workshop (New York, New York) All rights
share your reactions or experiences .
Back to Top