Parenting through Turbulent Developmental Stages
When our children are happy, calm, quiet and compliant, it is an absolute delight to be a parent. We may even feel successful at parenting. However, when we experience our children in distress, when they are ‘acting out’ (more on how healthy this is in a later post), when they are having and sharing BIG emotions, or when they are having tantrums, we may find ourselves in discomfort. Okay. Maybe even DEEP discomfort. This discomfort can lead us to believe in a false binary: that we are unsuccessful as parents, or worse, that our children are the source of the problem. We may tell ourselves stories about how others are viewing us and our children (grandparents, society, other mothers at the mall) and these stories may fuel our discontent with our children, rather then inspire us to approach parenting holistically and through a growth mindset.
Let’s unpack this discomfort a bit, because I believe it is a gateway that we can pass through if we know and remember a few important things about the nature of child development. I would like to normalize this feeling for parents, this messy sense of discomfort, because I have felt and seen it consistently both personally and professionally.
A hallmark of early childhood development is that children develop through stages. This starts with the study of embryology. First one cell, then two, then four, and so on until the baby is born. Likewise, their social, psychological and physical development progresses through stages. These stages are not like pie slices with clean edges, but rather more like dipping our ladles into a soup pot. Children do not tend to fit neatly into these stages, but rather, over time, meet the stages in a predictable way, but within time frames that have fuzzy edges. My oldest son walked at thirteen months, while my youngest walked at eleven months. The important part, is that both walked around a year old.
Though, this is not a discussion about any particular developmental stage, rather, I want to address what I refer to as the developmental stage ‘bunch up’.
I am not sure why I always seemed to forget this, and perhaps it is because of the intensity of daily living with toddlers, but every single significant development that was achieved by my children was preceded by chaos. Every. Single. Time.
And the trick here is to remember that early childhood development happens across multiple domains, as mentioned earlier: physical, psychological, and social, as well as emotional, cognitive and spiritual. That is a lot of points of potential chaos! The ‘bunch up’ is how I refer to the carpet of child’s development bunching up and increasingly blocking the door way through. Then suddenly, almost magically, one day the carpet smooths out, and the child races through the open door to do an amazing new thing! It can happen right before speech, before walking, before moving from solitary play to social play, before understanding concepts, before learning to count or spell.
While each child is unique in their development, the one thing I believe you can count on is that your child will ‘bunch up’ at some stage of their development. And you will feel like you are living in chaos. You may despair. You may lose your own temper. Your internal carpet may also bunch up.
The reason I share this with you is to inspire you to be patient through the chaos, and know that something really wonderful is coming for your child. Just like they say the sky is darkest before dawn, your child will brighten after the bunch-up with a new skill, ability, thought or behaviour. Count on it!
Another part of this puzzle is addressing parent’s need to contain inappropriate behaviour. Absolutely! But the problem I experienced as a parent, and now see as a professional, is that parents try to contain the child even more than the behaviour and this is damaging for the child’s self esteem and may potentially strain your relationship and attachment with your child. Please, please, please do not use this as an excuse to beat yourself up for past parenting. Instead, use this information as a tool to help you understand that your child’s behaviour is trying to tell you something: They are currently under-skilled as they approach another developmental milestone, and need your help to achieve it.
My intention is to normalize inappropriate behaviour in the context of child development, but to also assure you that just because it is part of the developmental cycle, you can still address unresourceful behaviours (such as hitting, biting, tantruming, etc.) without believing that your child needs punishment. Rather, your child needs patient guidance and support to successfully develop. Here’s a meme that says this even more succinctly.
Parenting from a place of empathy, understanding and through a mindset of growth will help you to reframe your experience with your child, and then you can meet the parenting challenge with calm confidence. Your ability to remain grounded and strong through your child’s intensity will be a gift for both of you.
It can be uncomfortable to parent a child who is having big emotions and big behaviours, especially when they intensify right before a developmental stage is achieved. I wish for you to take comfort in this. You are not alone. If you are reading this, chances are your child is a student at Precious Seeds Montessori House (click link to school). The director Christine, and all of the staff are experts at guiding children through developmental stages. We as parents may not be, as unless we have studied child development we may not be aware of the stages, nor of the problematic ‘bunch up’. I encourage you to speak with myself and/or the staff in order to find comfort in the village helping you to raise your child. Raise is both literal and symbolic here.
Take heart. Here is another inspiring Meme:
Perhaps instead of saying “Take Heart”, it would be more fitting to say “Give Heart”. Give your grounded compassion to your child during their next melt down, and try to see them as a being that is working their way towards growth. They need help and guidance along the way. And “Share Heart”. Help each other, have coffee with another parent when you feel yourself losing heart. Normalize the ‘bunch up’s as they happen, perhaps even draw excitement in knowing that after several weeks of increasing chaos, the clouds part, the storm quiets and the sun shines again.
Yours in solidarity,