When childrearing challenges arise, it’s helpful to know what to expect from kids at various ages. Consider these insights from the National Network of Child Care:
Infants generally don’t pose much of a discipline problem, but they can be a challenge because they are so dependent upon adults for their basic needs. The most troublesome behavior for parents is usually crying. Infants cry because they are wet, hungry, cold, or lonely. Crying is their only way of letting adults know that they need something. Sometimes infants have colic. They seem to cry for no apparent reason. Studies show that infants who have their needs met quickly, and who are held and comforted when they cry, develop a strong sense of security and well being and actually may cry much less later on.
Like babies, toddlers like to be held, talked to, and comforted. And they still express themselves a great deal by crying, shrieking, jabbering, grunting, and pointing. The few words they can say may mean many things. “Cup!” may mean “Hand me my cup!” or “I want more milk,” or “The cup just fell off the table,” or “The dog just stole my cup!” This limited communication makes it very hard to understand a toddler’s needs.
Toddler behavior can frustrate adults. They reach out and grab things (like eyeglasses). They are rather clumsy and awkward with gestures. A well-meant pat can feel like a whack. A spoonful of peas may wind up more on the floor than in the mouth.
Toddlers are also very possessive. “No” and “Mine” are favorite words, and they are quite willing to hit or bite to get (or keep) a favorite toy. In fact, toddlers may spend as much time carrying around and protecting toys as they do playing with them.
Toddlers are always “on the go” and often play until they “run out of gas.” They have very little skill at pacing themselves and can be happy one minute and cranky the next. Much of this behavior depends on the new skills that they are developing. Sometimes they will scream for a cookie that can’t be reached, but at other times they may lead (or drag) you to the jar and point. Learning how to do things in a socially acceptable way is a big step for a toddler.
Preschoolers are learning about the world around them. They ask lots of questions, and they love to imitate adults. They are learning to share and take turns (but don’t always want to). Sometimes they want to play with others, and sometimes they want to be alone. Preschoolers are also quite independent. They like to try new things and often take risks. They also may try to shock you by using forbidden words. Getting attention is fun; being ignored is not.
Preschoolers like to make decisions for themselves. Making decisions helps them feel important. Preschoolers get a little carried away and become rather bossy too. Preschoolers have lots of energy—sometimes more energy than adults! They play hard, fast, and furious. Sometimes they get tired rather suddenly and become cranky and irritable.
Preschoolers spend a lot of time learning how to get along with others. “Best friends” are very important, but such friendships are brief and may last only a few minutes. Hurt feelings (and sometimes swift kicks from friends) are part of the learning process.
Although school-age children seem so grown up, their social skills are not yet well developed. It is not uncommon for school-agers to argue and fight a great deal with friends. School-agers need considerable help learning social skills like how to make friends, trust others, work in a team, and resolve conflicts. Children also need to be taught how to use good manners, ask for help, and negotiate with others.
School-agers enjoy being “older” but may not like the responsibility that goes with getting older. Often they have to be reminded to carry out homework responsibilities or household chores. Learning self-discipline is an ongoing process that improves each year.
School-agers often set standards for themselves that are frustratingly high or unsatisfyingly low. Children this age have not had much experience in setting and achieving goals or in measuring their own strengths and weaknesses. They need parents and teachers to provide experiences that are challenging yet achievable.
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Oesterreich, L. (1995). Guidance and discipline. In L. Oesterreich, B. Holt, & S. Karas, Iowa family child care handbook [Pm 1541] (pp. 227-234). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension. References to "caregivers" in this article have been changed to identify parents and other relatives for the Nurture Blog context. To read the original article in full please visit this webpage on the NNCC website.