Parenting: The First 5 Years
Just as you finally start to get the hang of your infant, she or he becomes a toddler and the ground shifts again. Once your child is on the move, it may feel like things are once again spiraling out of control. The toddler years could be also called the tantrum years. Take heart, as the terrible twos will transition into the preschool years, when children develop better ways of communicating, and hopefully improved levels of self-regulation. By the time your kiddo turns five, 90% of brain development is complete!
Infant development is deeply dependent upon the infant’s relationship with caregivers. The adults who interact with the baby provide them with the signals and stimulation that will determine the nature of brain growth and how brain functions are organized. In the early months of life, babies are learning to self-regulate and becoming aware of the external world. As the first year unfolds, huge changes take place - they begin to move, to manipulate objects, to babble, all while developing attachment to their primary caregiver/s. Because they have little ability to communicate through language, it’s dependent upon those caregivers to read babies’ cues and to create positive cycles of feedback that provide them with a feeling of security. This type of secure attachment greatly determines the quality of the child’s future relationships. Sleep deprivation challenge the responsiveness of even the most baby-infatuated parents - so try, try, try to sleep when they sleep.
It’s a good thing they’re cute! Let’s face it, ages one to three are tough! The kid is on the move, and has strong ideas about what they want and when they want it. According to John Bowlby who originated attachment theory, toddlers have a dual orientation: toward maintaining attachment and exploring the world and the self. While they are now more focused on their own goals such as climbing on a chair or playing with the toilet paper, their ability to self-regulate (e.g. calm down or distract themselves) still depends upon parental responsiveness and modeling of regulation. As toddlers ability to communicate improves with language development, their frustration levels will improve as well. Take heart, and know they aren’t trying to drive you to the brink, they are doing what their brains and bodies need to do in order to develop.
While preschoolers still rely on caregivers to feel secure, their growing ability to communicate with words, improved memories, and sense of time and daily routines means they can better comprehend that separations are only temporary. They also begin to use internal resources they have developed to cope with stressful situations, for example using dolls to act out saying goodbye when leaving for preschool, or playing “house” with peers. Having a secure attachment during the first three years has big implications for development at the preschool age. These effects show up in both their play, social development, and increased self-control. This is also a period when gender identity and sex-role learning may begin impacting their play. Racial and ethnic identity also become part of the child’s developing sense of self, and it’s important that socialization provides positive messages about culture; this should include dolls/action figures that reflect their racial identity.
Gender non-conforming children need additional support; knowing they are loved and accepted by their families is critical to both physical and emotional well-being. I am deeply passionate about nurturing this population and supporting their families.
Are your child’s meltdowns leading to your meltdowns? Do demands for the same book, or incessant why questions frustrate you? Are you worried about your preschooler’s behavior? If so, you may benefit from a supportive and nonjudgmental space to learn more about different developmental periods, and safely explore your feelings.