It can seem as though your child’s development is highly erratic. One day she may be optimistic, focused and right on track. The next thing you know, it seems that she has lost weeks or months of progress. This variability can be quite concerning, but, rest assured, each child has unique developmental patterns. Even siblings can vary dramatically within the developmental spectrum, with one child learning to walk at nine months and the other not hitting his stride until 18 months.
The developmental roller coaster
As adults, our lives typically progress in a linear fashion. We establish routines that help us organize our daily life.
Childhood development, however, doesn’t unfold on a predictable timetable. Childhood development experts refer to this state as equilibrium/disequilibrium developmental patterns.
“Equilibrium” refers to that portion of the roller coaster ride during which your child seems perfectly well adjusted. Your infant may be sleeping through the night. Your five-year-old may remember to say “please” and “thank you.” Your pre-teen may even do their homework without the need for you to prompt and plead.
“Disequilibrium” refers to the behaviors you begin to notice when the roller coaster is on a downward trajectory. Your infant may become fussier. Your five-year-old could throw temper tantrums when you inadvertently buy a different brand of cereal. Your pre-teen’s grades might decline due to a lack of attentiveness in class and a refusal to do homework.
Supporters of the equilibrium/disequilibrium developmental patterns find that infants can change patterns on a weekly basis. By the time a child reaches two years old, the highs and lows become less frequent – only about once every six months. By six years of age, many children settle into a roller coaster routine of annual highs and lows.
The most important takeaway is that this cyclical behavior is to be expected. Your child needs both developmental phases in order to grow. Try to recognize when your child is experiencing a disequilibrium phase and avoid introducing new expectations, concepts or other changes until your child has moved into a state of equilibrium.
Developmental patterns based on parental practices
Early positive reinforcement can play a large role in reaching childhood developmental milestones. The more secure your child feels interacting with you, the greater his self-confidence could be later in life.
Positive reinforcement doesn’t mean that parents need to wholeheartedly approve of their child’s behavior. Sleep-deprived parents of a newborn probably don’t always feel “positive” at the two in the morning feeding. Similarly, the mother of a small child throwing a temper tantrum in public might not feel “positive” about the shopping experience.
Rather, positive reinforcement means that parents consider the underlying cause for behavior and react accordingly.
Maybe your infant just needs to be fed. Your toddler probably would benefit from a nap before shopping. Your pre-teen may want some downtime after school before beginning homework. Taking into consideration the “why” behind the “what” (the cause behind the issue) may help you learn new and more effective ways to develop positive reinforcement practices.
Benchmarks are not set in stone…
As parents, it can be easy to be preoccupied with certain developmental benchmarks.
By nine months, children may still cling to their parents and exhibit a fear of strangers, but at the same time, they may enjoy games of peek-a-boo and copying the gestures of others. Many children can sit on their own and are trying to stand by pulling themselves up by this age.
By age three, many children have developed a sense of empathy, understand the concept of sharing, show a range of emotions and can conduct short-sentence conversations. By way of motor functions, they can often run, climb and manage some stairs.
By age five, your child could almost be considered a little adult. They may understand the concept of friendship and want to act more independently, maybe by dressing themselves. Language and cognitive skills might be strengthening, and at this age, your child may be learning to print, write and understand numbers.
Benchmarks are guidelines
Keep in mind that children develop at different stages. The benchmarks are simply a guideline based on an average of a large group – they don’t define your unique child. The key is determining when a unique development pattern turns into a potential benchmark concern.
If your child is not reaching certain milestones, consider consulting with your pediatrician. The delay may or may not be related to a developmental challenge, but assistance can help identify a solution nonetheless. If your child is not responding to auditory stimulation, they may require testing to determine the cause. Similarly, visual irregularities might be a matter of needing eyeglasses.
If the simple, most obvious interventions don’t help your child, consider having them evaluated for a learning challenge. Caught early, you and your child’s doctors can develop a learning plan that helps your child succeed rather than struggle. A learning disorder isn’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning of a whole new learning experience for you and your child.
At Therapeutic Options, we understand that every child is unique in their developmental processes, and we know that your child deserves individualized attention to find a solution tailored to their specific needs. To learn more about how we can help you and your family, contact us today.