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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


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Last Updated 06/24/2014