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Part I: Just When You Think You Understand Your Kids…They Change!

Tips for navigating the joys and challenges of parenthood from the executive director of the Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.

This article was written by Margaret Hannah, M.Ed, Executive Director, Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at . Check back tomorrow for Part II.

Parenthood can bring joy and sorrow, challenges and successes. It can make one feel proud, tired, delighted, bored, and overwhelmed - sometimes all at once.

It is not uncommon for a parent to neglect his/her own needs while focusing on those of the child. As it has often been said, parenting is the most important, most wonderful, and most difficult job ever.

Most parents are eager to do a good job. But it seems there is always something to learn: a new technique to try, a different struggle to overcome. Just when a parent feels competent and confident about an appropriate parenting style or technique, the child changes.

Confidence and competence may be replaced by feelings of bewilderment and betrayal, as the parent needs to re-think, re-learn, or re-invent his/her approach. How can mothers and fathers learn to enjoy this constantly-evolving parenting puzzle?

It is important to have a plan.

Each new stage of a child’s development is accompanied by changes that, though they may challenge parents, are actually positive proclamations: the child is growing! Each stage requires a particular parental approach. Armed with a little knowledge about those stages, parents can nurture the child appropriately, while anticipating and preparing for upcoming changes. 

Below are a few tips for each stage of development that have been tried by thousands of parents with success. Yet the most important thing to remember as a parent is this: Tune into the child you have, trust your gut, and respond accordingly. 

Today's column will discuss children from newborns to 10-years-old. Tomorrow's column will focus on children 10-years-old and older. 

Newborn to six-months

The time to build strong emotional bonds for baby…think connecting.

Feeding, diapering, cuddling, talking to, and playing with the baby — especially within a predictable pattern — promotes and reinforces growth and development, both social-emotionally and cognitively. Those simple, everyday, interactive routines provide babies with love, stimulation, and contentment.

Six-months to 1-year-old

The time of movement….think child-proofing!

Parents must look around their own homes and other places (such as a childcare center or grandparent's residence) that are frequented by the baby. What needs to be gated, locked away, removed, readjusted? Child safety is critical at this time as development is occurring rapidly and parents must be prepared. A safe environment allows the baby to explore freely, inspiring trust, confidence, and independence

One-year-old to 3-years-old

The time of testing... think limit setting.

Children experience a growth spurt of language and motor development. The baby-to-child is learning cause and effect and likes to see how adults will respond. It is important for parents/caregivers to be clear and firm about limits. But while the child's favorite word during this stage may be “no,” parents should remember to use positive reinforcement and make room for “yes” whenever appropriate and possible. 

Three-years-old to 6-years-old

The time to make friends….think opportunities and modeling.

Children can now begin to understand what a friend is and will be looking for role models of good friend behavior. All family members should continue to practice and reinforce turn-taking, waiting, and sharing. Parents can help children be successful friends by planning play dates that are likely to be successful. For instance, limit play date length (no more than two hours); schedule play dates for less-busy days; allow children to help plan the event. 

Six-years-old to 10-years-old

The time of structure and unstructured time….think balanced scheduling.

Children in this age group are in the middle childhood years. Their major developmental stressor is schooling. As formal education begins, many new demands are placed on children, both at home and at school: being responsible for paperwork and backpacks; having play or recess interrupted by homework or class time; learning new schedules and tasks. Children have to adapt to their teachers' styles and to school rules. They have to learn the social norms of school, organized sports, and other group activities. 

Parents must be sure their children understand their “family formula” for discipline, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Now more than ever, children look to their families to provide safety within structure.

Children benefit when parents and school personnel work together as partners. Parents should establish honest and respectful lines of communication with teachers and administrators early – before any difficult issues arise - and encourage the exchange of compliments, questions, ideas, and concerns. 

It takes a great deal of energy and self-discipline for children to successfully navigate a school day. Therefore, their schedules and structures must be offset by free play and down time. Self-guided play is critical at this stage of children's development; parents need to make room and time for it. And just as parents need to unwind at the end of each day, so too do young students need to relax and just be...kids.

About the Freedman Center at MSPP:

Families too often find it difficult to access mental health and wellness services for their children due to a critical shortage of providers and the absence of a community of support and sharing.

The Richard I. and Joan L. Freedman Center for Child and Family Development was established at The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) to help connect children and families with appropriate information, providers, resources, and one another to serve their mental health and wellness needs.

Creating a strong community of support to promote mental health and wellness involves a multi-faceted approach.  The Freedman Center offers services to meet these multiple needs:

  • Accessible and quality programming for children and families
  • Continuing education programs for professionals. 
  • Consultation to and collaboration with community partners, including schools, organizations, and physicians
  • Culturally and linguistically sensitive approach to the creation and delivery of all services
  • Training of future mental health providers
  • Participation in state and legislative initiatives and social advocacy

For more information visit the Freedman Center's website

For questions or comments, write to thepatch@mspp.edu

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