In Monday's "Kids Connection," Diane Debrovner, senior editor at "Parents" magazine, says that understanding a child's emotional development helps parents communicate with their children.
Emotional development has stages, much like physical developments, says Debrovner.
As children grow, they have an increasing desire for independence. For parents, this often means a push-pull emotional situation with the child showing clinging behavior one minute and independent behavior the next.
The following are Debrovner's tips on how to communicate with your child:
Ages 1 to 2:
- Toddlers can't talk. This can be difficult for both the child and the parent. These children are trying to figure out what they can do by themselves. Over time, alert parents can figure out their child's behavior patterns and cues.
Tip: Try to anticipate when your child is hungry, tired, or bored - this will help you be better prepared for meltdown.
- At this age, toddles have a real sense of separation anxiety.
Tip: Transitional objects such as blankets and stuffed animals are great because they help children comfort themselves when they're apart from you.
Often parents tell their children that they are getting too old for these items, but according to Debrovner, a transitional object can really help.
- Toddlers are very egocentric and emotionally, they are not ready to share. So don't expect your child to understand that concept.
Tip: Best way to introduce the concept of sharing is to "share" toys with your child and help him/her to understand that "sharing" does not mean giving the object away forever.
Ages 3 to 4:
- Preschoolers are very self-centered. The world revolves only around them, even though they are starting to talk and see the outside world through day care or various play groups. They have no emotional ability to have empathy for others.
Tip: Plant the seeds of empathy: in short, simple sentences try to get your child to think about other kids' feelings. For example: How do you feel that Tommy took your truck away? Now do you think Tommy felt bad when you took his teddy bear?
- Children at this age start to have very active imaginations, which lead to new fears.
Tip: Don't belittle your child's fear, but talk to him about it and help him to conquer it.
Ages 5 to 7:
- Kids can empathize with others' feelings
Tip: To encourage generous behavior, look for opportunities to talk about feelings and help put your child in other people's shoes.
- Separation anxiety emerges again. It arises at this age because it is the time when children are attending school for most of the day.
Tip: Look for small ways to provide comfort, whether it's a keychain with your photo or a stuffed animal the child can stick in his cubby.
- Children this age are emotionally impulsive but because they are in school, they learn to not talk out loud or run around during class. Sitting still, listening, and following rules does not come naturally.
Tip: Be patient.
Debrovner says reading can help a child understand the ideas of sharing, compassion, and being kind.
Debrovner has been a senior editor at "Parents" magazine for six years. She has edited features on a wide variety of subjects including stress management, single parenthood, divorce, childcare, depression, child development, education, toy trends, and nutrition. She lives in New York City with her daughter.