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Know Where to Jump In - Child Development: Birth to 10 Years

As non-biological parents, we are constantly reminded that we are not the natural parents. When you find yourself in the role of “acting parent”, you realize a few things fairly fast. First, you likely haven’t had the time to plan for the child’s birth, let alone raising the child.

Immediately after Matthew moved in with me, I realized right away that I was unprepared in a lot of ways. For instance, I knew nothing about the phases of child development. I didn’t have 9 months to read all of the parenting books and magazines. The only thing I did was paint his room and get him bedroom furniture. I laugh just thinking about how little I knew about the new venture I was embarking on. But even in hindsight with all my new knowledge, I might have read a few more books in the beginning, but I never would have turned my back on Matthew. That’s not to say I didn’t read my fair share of books and magazines in the beginning, but looking back, I would have read a few more BEFORE he moved in with me.

Que sera sera!

No matter where you are in your experience of standing in place of the parent, I think you’ll find it helpful to refer to the child development spectrum to help you understand the kinds of developmental issues that your child is experiencing. I refer to this every so often to help me see where Matthew is at in these stages and how he compares to the standards. I think it’s important to know if something’s been missed that I can help him catch up on. I’d like to give proper credit here, because I did not write the list below. But I really don’t know who wrote it.

A baby’s first year is all growth and change. At this stage, a baby is very demanding and helpless. Parents cannot expect to control a young baby through any kind of punishment or discipline.

1 Month
Starts to sleep more regularly. Cries when hungry, wants to be held, or when physically uncomfortable. Totally unaware of self and others.

By 4 Months
May like to be propped up or held instead of left lying down. Watches everything with interest. Will begin to go to sleep more easily. May start to smile back when smiled at, and become more aware of surroundings.

6-7 Months
Very social age. Grabs objects. Like to bang things. Can amuse self, but will cry when mother leaves. Likes to be held standing up up to bounce.

No information about 8 months.

9-19 Months
Working at standing and may walk a step or more. Some begin to say “da da” or other short words. Can understand the meaning of “No” at some time around ten months. Loves to crawl and will grab at anything - into everything. Likes games like peek-a-boo.

By 1 Year (52 Weeks)
Becomes more social. Likes to stand. Crawls quickly, doesn’t keep still for long. May be walking and talking.

2 1/2 years
A difficult age. Stubborn. Demanding. Can’t make decisions and stick to them, so it’s best to make decisions for them. Lots of energy. Once started on something, it’s hard to get a 2 1/2 year old to stop.

3 Years
Begins to like to share, to say “Yes” as often as “No”. Likes to make friends. No longer so demanding. New words are fun for him/her. Enjoys learning. Can begin to dress self a little and try to “help” around the house. Motor development increases greatly to riding tricycles, jumping, nd throwing balls. The desire to please and conform is great, and preschool begins.

4 Years
“Out of bounds” behavior, mood changes quickly. Hitting, kicking, throwing, yelling, swearing, loud silly laughing. Tells lies because s/he doesn’t yet understand the difference between lying and pretending. Boasting and bragging are common. Parents have to control the most unreasonable behaviors, but the 4 year old needs to test her/his independence too. Needs some things s/he can mess up or destroy with all her/his extra energy (newspapers, clay, etc.)

4 1/2 Years
Begins to question what is real and what is pretend. Most like to talk about things more than before. they want to know all about all sorts of things. Begins to be less defiant of mom’s efforts to control her/him. Pictures, drawings, building with blocks can interest a 4 1/2 year old for long periods of time.

5 Years
A calmer, friendlier stage. Less out-of-bounds than 4. Accepts directions from parents. Plays quietly, likes to stick close to home. Going to school for the first time can be fairly easy for most 5 year olds because kindergartens are planned for this age. However, some children are less mature than others, and may be in the 4 year old phase of out-of-=bounds behavior even at 5.

6 Years
Very emotional stage. One minute seems to love, the next to hate. Demanding of mother. Needs lots of praise.  Reacts badly to blame or criticism. Will do what he is told, only slowly and with resistance. Some 6 year olds have problems adjusting to first grade; they may not yet be ready to concentrate on the work with all the other children there to distract them. Parents’ task is to support the child’s separation from them while not making the child feel rejected. This age child needs help with homework.

7 Years
Another calmer age. Likes to spend time alone, watching TV, reading, daydreaming. A 7 year old tries hard and tires easily. Sometimes less happy for awhile, pouting, saying nobody loves him/her. Lots of complaints about teachers, brothers, sisters and life in general. Feeling sorry for self. Needs a little sympathy, but a lot of encouragement and praise for things done well. Parents’ task is to encourage and praise this age child. Consider having the child joining Cub Scouts or Brownie Scouts. These children can do simple tasks with only one prompt.

8 Years
Begins to be aware of relationships with family and friends. Concern with what other people think of him/her. May try things much too hard for self, starting with a great deal of enthusiasm and ending in tears. Sensitive about failures and criticism. Friendships and school are a big part of his/her life. Parents’ task is to support the child’s out-of-family activities. Perhaps time for a child to go to day camp or an organized sport activity like little league.

9 Years
By 9, some children starting to have body changes of preteens - more aware of their bodies, more self-conscious. Aware of and interest in words or TV shows dealing with sex, even if in an immature or “silly” way. Independent, interested in friends more than family. Already showing signs of how the teenage years might be. Parent’s task is to be supportive of the child’s worries about new things. Maybe be the time in some early maturing children to talk about what they can expect from puberty. This is not necessary if the child isn’t asking for this information.

10 Years
Complains and worries a lot. Physical symptoms - stomach aches and other aches and pains are common along with general preoccupation with body - especially in girls who mature physically a little earlier than boys. Parents’ task is to continue to set firm limits so that this preteen feels security in the family. Child may begin some rebelling but this is normal. If parent’s anticipate this, it doesn’t seem like defiance.

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Standing in place of the parent, or acting parent, or "in loco parentis" is a big job that comes with a unique set challenges. I created this blog to share my story and my experiences with those who find themselves in a similiar situation. I look forward to hearing your comments!

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