Child Development

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What is Age Appropriate?

Often I am asked by well-meaning adults ask how they can stop a child from doing a particular behavior.  The behavior is annoying to the parents and they wish to control it but they don’t realize that they are asking a child to do things, which are not realistic for the child’s age. 

Damage Through Ignorance 

Many parents don’t have an understanding of normal developmental stages and what a child need to learn from each stage in order to progress. Most of us realize that no matter how sweetly we ask or what parenting tool we use, we are not likely to toilet train a tiny infant and it is not developmentally appropriate task for us to try.  We are wasting our time and patience.  But in some stages, parents obtusely require children to perform beyond their capacities. Misunderstanding of proper developmental goals leads to harm.

Examples Of Age Inappropriate Goals:

  • Trying to  stop a baby from crying when they are hungry. Crying is part of their developmental task, they must let their needs to be known, and they would die if they did not.
  • Requiring a two-five year-old to sit still for an absurdly long period.  Their developmental challenge is to explore the world and develop their muscles and coordination. We scold, we preach and we punish to almost no avail.  Sensitive children will begin to believe there is something wrong with them when they can’t accomplish what Mom expects them to.  They have no ability to reason or explain to you how impossible it is for them to do a task beyond their developmental capacity. Undue parental pressure eventually lowers their self-esteem and self-efficacy.
  • Doing too much for a child 6-12 years old.  Their developmental task is learn new skills and identify personal strengths.  Parents make mistakes when they do too much for a child or do too little.  Children get easily discouraged and they need to have tasks that are simple for them to complete but they must not be overly indulged and pampered.
  • Not allowing a teenager appropriate personal control. The 12-18 year old now has the developmental task to separate from Mom and Dad and develop their individuality.  Without a proper respect from the child’s need to be autonomous parents can become extremely stressed, anxious and over correct.  A power struggle/revenge cycle can inadvertently be set up that takes years to overcome.

I have included a chart of the Developmental Stages and the Developmental Challenge that each stage has.  If you have further questions, please feel free to contact me.

Ages and Stages 

Stage One (ages 0-1) Trust versus mistrust

If there is a predictable environment for the child that meets their needs trust will develop. The child must also learn to trust their own capacity to cope with urges. A successful resolution occurs when child learns an enduring belief that wishes can be fulfilled. Unsuccessful resolution will lead to a sense of mistrust in other people and the environment. This occurs when Caretaker meets child’s needs with consistency and kindness and trusts the child to occasionally self-soothe. (Note: if you have not resolved this stage yourself you may need help in deciding when it is appropriate to let the child resolve their need.)

Developmental task: let needs be known and gradually learn to self- sooth.

Stage Two (ages 2-3) Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

Child must learn when it is appropriate to hold on and let go. Example: toilet training, learning to walk and explore and leaving mom briefly. Parents must be firm but kind as child gradually learns self control without loss of self- esteem. Unsuccessful resolution will lead to lifelong feelings of shame and doubt.

Developmental task: learn to explore world and gain mastery of body functions.

Stage Three (ages 3-5) Initiative vs. Guilt

The child learns to walk, run, talk, play and imagine. Proper resolution leads to the courage to pursue goals. Unsuccessful resolution leads to life time feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Developmental task: Have a childhood

Stage Four (age 6-12) Industry vs. Inferiority

As child develops their abilities in new skills and tasks, they desire recognition from producing things. Through this, they develop a sense of industry and competence. Unsuccessful resolution leads to lifelong feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

Developmental task: learn new skills. Identify personal strengths.

Stage Five (age 12-18) Identity vs. Role Confusion

Hormone changes begin, physical growth is rapid and puberty starts—a very important stage. As child struggles to find place in the adult world an identity crisis may take place. Tolerance, understanding and guidance in the home can assist the child in achieving in integrated identity. Unsuccessful resolution leads to delinquency, defiance, or over-identification with others.

Developmental task: find out who they are

Stage Six (young adulthood to late 20’s) Intimacy versus Isolation

Interpersonal intimacy is the goal of this stage incorporating psychological and sexual intimacy. Failure to resolve this stage leads to isolation and self-absorption. Developmental task: Time for choosing a career, socializing with the opposite sex and eventually marrying and raising a family.


Camille Curtis Foster, LCSW

Contact Me / 801.472.7134/ 

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Source: Robbins, Susan P., Chatterjee, Pranab, and Canda, Edward R. 1998. Contemporary Human Behavior Theory. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn &Bacon.