It’s no secret that there are certain things that all children need, regardless of how old they are. These things are love, respect, support, and understanding. However, during the course of their development and growth, some needs are stronger than others and, according to a well-renowned psychologist, Erik Erikson, unless these needs are met, they’ll have trouble reaching their full potential in the next stages of their life.
These needs are, in order:
There are three more phases for ages over 18 (Intimacy, Generativity, Integrity), but we will stick to the ones important before adulthood.
This stage lasts from birth until the child is (roughly) one and a half years old. During this time, the child is uncertain about – everything, really. Their entire world consists of an unintelligible mixture of colors, sounds, and touch. In this stage, their primary caregiver(s) are their only connection to the world they were thrown into and that’s when the feeling of trust develops. If they start noticing that their needs are consistently met (whether it be hunger or diapers), they can start trusting the world and people around them to help them when they need it. The trust they develop will also lead to hope and optimism.
This stage is a challenge for many parents. After the first stage and up until their third year, children will start exploring. If they’ve developed enough trust, they’ll have no problem walking away from their parents, playing alone, or asking to try new things by themselves, such as putting on their clothes or making something by themselves.
As much as parents want to be there for their child, allowing them to be autonomous in this period is very important, as it will later on lead to them developing the will to try and do something new and challenging.
Here’s a few ways you can help them along the way:
- If your child says they want to dress themselves, don’t jump in as soon as you see them struggling. Wait until they ask for assistance. If you don’t, they might start feeling powerless rather than autonomous.
- You may notice your child is starting to play on their own, maybe even break their toys in an attempt to create something new. This is nothing to worry about! They’re simply trying out their strength and skills and trying to see what will happen if they do this or that. By understanding their own abilities, they’ll be on their way to becoming confident and empathetic.
Once they’re trusting and autonomous enough, children will start exploring the world of initiative. During this period, they’ll be practicing their interpersonal skills by initiating games, conversations, and different activities. You can help them fulfill this need by doing the following:
- If you notice that your child is showing initiative which might be dangerous for them (maybe something that includes running across the street), don’t simply criticize them and tell them NO. Instead, try to help them think of something similar, yet less dangerous, like running around the swings in a park, or in their backyard. Make sure to do this in a positive way by explaining to them why you are changing their idea. For example, you can say: “The road can be dangerous, but running is a great idea! How about we do it in the backyard?”
- Spend more time with them, even if you don’t find their games interesting (or if they don’t make sense). If they’ve initiated some made-up game and they invited you to play with them, don’t explain to them that the rules don’t make sense etc. Be proud that your child is taking initiative.
- This is the period when they’ll be playing with other children as well. If you see them attempting to “sell” their idea and another child opposing them, don’t jump right in to defend them. They’ll struggle with initiative, but letting them do things themselves is very important during this period.
That being said, if things get loud and violent, it’s okay to calm the situation down by acting as a mediator – we don’t need any bruises over the choice of a game!
The challenge for parents during this time is trying to protect their children while, at the same time, allowing them to express themselves. If you manage to do this, your child will develop a sense of purpose.
Between the ages of 5 and 12, the child’s teachers and peer group start gaining more significance. This period will be similar to the stage of autonomy, as the child will also start exploring their skills and abilities, but this time they’ll have a clear goal: to impress others and gain confidence. You can help them with it in the following ways:
– Praise their strengths. If you notice your child is great at writing, don’t simply accept it as if it were expected. Praise their stories, their poems, their A’s. If you’re not sure where their strengths lie, talk to their teachers and ask for their opinions.
– Try to understand what things they are not particularly confident about. If they feel bad for being the smallest kid in class, don’t joke by saying something like, “Hey, then you can be the best miniature golfer in the world!” It’s okay to joke about short-term situations – them getting a C, for example – as that breaks the tension. But since this is something very important to them and they might be living through it for years, joking might make it worse.
Instead, focus on their strengths when talking about it. Tell them that it doesn’t matter how tall someone is if they are the greatest writer ever, or if they are an amazing soccer player. However, if that trait is something they can change, make a game-plan. For example, if they are not too confident about dancing, you can try watching some YouTube tutorials and practicing together.
If your child is aware of their strengths and weaknesses (and how to improve them), this period will result in competence.
Finally, during adolescence, your child will start to struggle with developing their own sense of identity. They’ll try to figure out where they fit in and what their role in society is. Furthermore, they’ll be looking for their calling and looking for people whose life philosophy matches their own.
The important things to do during this period are:
- Trust your child and speak to them without accusations and a lack of understanding. If your child is suddenly dressing in all black and listening to some strange music, try not to attack them over it. Since they’ve already developed a sense of trust, you can sit them down and ask them what they like about that music and style of clothes. Try to phrase your questions in such a way to demonstrate that you want to understand them, not pry into their life. Ask if you can get their playlist – who knows, maybe you’ll find something you’ll enjoy!
- If you notice they aren’t speaking to you as much as they used to, don’t take it personally – they’ll start turning to their friends much more during this period. The best thing you can do is remind them that you are always there if they need to talk to you and that you would love to be a part of their life. Don’t push or pressure them. During this period, your biggest challenge will be the virtue of patience.
Chances are, your child will go through many different changes in this period, which is perfectly normal, since everything else in their life is changing as well – their body, thoughts, expectations… For parents, this might be the most challenging period of all. But if you have patience and talk with them often, you’ll help them find themselves and develop a sense of fidelity.
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