Parenting falls somewhere between an art and a combat zone. Still, unless there is a real problem, most parents don’t look beyond their friends and family for parenting help. Although there is no one way to parent, there are aspects of child development that lead to best practices. Put simply, parents who know what to expect at different ages can feel more comfortable with their child’s behavior and focus on progress.
Babies need constant, responsive care. Almost all babies go through a difficult, crying stage; some cry a lot—some longer than others. The important developmental task during the first year is to bond with parents/caregiver(s) and gain a sense of trust that their basic needs will be met. No discipline or punishment is appropriate at this stage.
Never, ever, ever shake a baby. When the going gets tough, as it does for most, take a break.
Toddlers are ready to explore; they are like little scientists working out the limits and boundaries of their worlds. They are mobile and learning about their autonomy. Parents/caregivers must create safe environments and opportunities to explore.
While they may be emotional or aggressive, it is important that parents help young children learn about feelings and encourage them to try new behaviors that work. Discipline works best when it involves teaching toddlers what they can or should do. Prevention techniques should be the focus. Otherwise, discipline techniques that may work include limited choices and take-a-break.
Preschool-age children are ready to try out their newly acquired skills. They have been gathering information at an alarming rate for three whole years and now are armed and curious. Preschoolers are practicing social skills and benefit from being in small groups of children. They learn best through open-ended, play-based experiences and love to please adults.
Three to five year olds understand natural and logical consequences and are beginning to learn from positive discipline techniques. Limited choices still work well as does the opportunity to take a break and then re-enter a situation to solve problems. Punishment, however, may cause more harm than good because it interferes with relationships with caregivers.
School-age children are industrious—focusing their skills and interests. They are more and more interested in competition and mastery. They are also shifting attention to their peers; looking to each other for approval. As school-age children get older their schedules may get busier. Caregivers can help them find balance and stay involved.
School agers must do more and more things for themselves. Caregivers can help them by giving assistance that teaches—from how to pack a good lunch to conflict resolution skills. They are learning the balance between privilege and responsibility. When they have not been responsible, they may lose privileges—using natural and logical consequences is an effective form of discipline that continues to work into the teen years.
Adults have by now been replaced at the center of the universe by peers, but it’s important for adults to stay involved. Caregivers continue to influence teens by showing interest and modeling values and behavior.
Like toddlers, teens are reaching for a new level of independence and identity. They need the reassurance of love and support as well as consistent limits. Remind them of what they can do more often than you remind them of the limits. Respond to unwanted behavior with natural and logical consequences and follow up with discussion about resolving the issue in the future. Teens respond best when they know they are heard and respected, so try to listen more than you talk.