Parenting Feature Articles
Understanding your child
Adapted by: Kim Leon, Ph.D., former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri & Leanne Spengler, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
A child is born with a unique set of personality traits that are consistent throughout life. Parents are responsible for understanding these traits. Understanding a child helps parents guide and nurture the child as he/she grows.
You can learn about your child by watching her sleep, eat and play.
Look for the traits that are consistent. Is he generally active and
then quieter when he is hungry or sleepy? Are there certain objects
and activities that hold her attention longer than other objects or
activities? Is he quick to adapt to changes or does he need some time
to get used to something new? Does she have a regular schedule for sleeping
and eating every day or does the cycle change from day to day? All of
these behaviors are quite normal for children and the ways in which
your child acts and responds are the characteristics that are normal
for your child.
Talking with your child is another important way to gain information
and understanding. With younger, less verbal children, you may need
to do some interpreting of facial expressions and body language to understand
what they are thinking and feeling. For example, if you notice your
toddler quietly holding his favorite stuffed animal and looking at the
floor following a visit with his grandmother, you might say, "You look
sad. Are you sad because Grandma went home?" Asking specific questions
makes it easier for children to communicate their feelings. Instead
of asking "What did you do today?" try asking "Did you build with blocks
today? Tell me about what you built." or "Did you play with James today?
What did you play?"
Consider your child's environment when you are trying to understand
a particular behavior or pattern of behaviors that you have observed.
Parents, other relatives, child care providers, teachers, friends, the
neighborhood, the home environment and other aspects of the environment
all have important influences on children's behavior. For example, if
your child has begun acting aggressively toward other children at her
daycare, think about all of the possible sources of this aggression.
Is the child being exposed to a lot of conflict at home? Has the child
been spending time with another child who behaves aggressively? Are
the childcare provider's expectations for the child unrealistic? Has
the child been exposed to a lot of violence on television lately? Has
there been a recent incident of violence in the neighborhood or elsewhere
that got a lot of public attention?
You can learn about children in general through watching groups of
children who are close to the same age. You can also read books, get
information online or take a class to learn about child development.
Human development is predictable because we all go through the same
stages of development; however, the rate at which we go through the
stage is different for each individual. Knowledge of child development
can help parents give the child opportunities and toys that can encourage
development as well as help parents prepare for the next stage of their
child's development. Understanding your child and child development
is important for setting expectations and limits that are realistic
for your child.
Adapted from "Understanding Your Child," Leanne Spengler, former Human Development Specialist, Pike County, University of Missouri Extension
Last Updated 06/24/2014