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With so much information available on parenting, it is difficult to determine fact from fiction on any given topic. This is further complicated by parents not knowing which choice is best for their child’s unique situation.
Major areas of child development that are monitored in early childhood are motor, language, cognition, and emotional development. Each child has a different rate of developing in each area, but this does not necessarily point toward a problem.
An individualized approach to parenting is important since varied environmental, social, biological, and psychological factors relate to your child’s wellness. In this article, I’ll review 5 practices that are beneficial to encourage your child’s development in a supportive and healthy way.
1) Acknowledge playing
Many parents view playing as a reward that does not contribute to healthy habits or learning. Leisure is often limited during adolescence, yet playing during infancy and early childhood is very important for growth and learning. Playing should have a meaningful learning component to foster opportunities for new experiences and information. This often comes in the form of sensory stimulation, especially for infants. Toys that stimulate the senses have bright colors, different shapes, unique sounds, and various textures. Each of these aspects help shape a child’s brain and allows for meaningful learning through playing.
At times, infants and children avoid certain types of sensory stimulation. If your child does not like loud noises, is uncomfortable with certain fabrics and clothing tags, or is a very picky eater, consult your child’s doctor. These are just a few examples of what may be defensiveness to sensory input, also called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
If your child has SPD, you will need to regulate the types of sensory input he or she receives. After an official diagnosis, a doctor will send you to an occupational therapist who will provide recommendations and sensory treatments.
2) Allow the freedom of choice
As a parent, there are times when discipline is the best way to handle certain decisions your children make. This ensures the safety and well-being of your child. A healthy amount of discipline is needed to form boundaries and set limits. However, the ability to make choices is an important part of a child’s growth. Of course, this freedom is given within reason, which will prevent children from eating candy for every meal!
For young children, the opportunity to make choices is a fantastic learning experience and can easily blend into their day. Choices are all around us and letting children help will build the supportive relationship needed for healthy attachment.
Depending on age, children can assist with choosing their clothing, toys, and daily activities. These choices also help a child with sensory exploration, which serves as an introductory period to the development of preferences.
3) Ask for help with daily tasks
Many parents ask for their child’s assistance with household chores, which is a valuable way for adolescents to learn responsibility. There are ways for children to begin assisting their parents long before the teenage years. As early as possible, ask for your toddler’s help when getting undressed for bed and dressed for the day. This is often how a child begins helping with their morning routine, as toddlers often quickly excel at getting undressed.
Slowly ask what else your child is able to do. Start with, “can you help me zip this up?” or “are you able to pull your pants up?” It helps to phrase these as if you need help so your child knows the task is a group effort. Once your child is helping with simple tasks, explore their ability to do others. Slowly work your way to brushing their own hair and feeding themselves. This is also great preparation for helping to cook simple meals when the time comes!
4) Serve as a supportive figure
There are many times in your child’s life when your relationship will be strained. They will not always do what you want them to do and the same may be said of you. All aspects of childhood will bring their own hardships, identity crises, and disagreements.
Parenting your child will give you plenty of opportunities to be a supportive, encouraging figure in their life. There are times when teaching right from wrong is the best option. Yet sometimes lending a listening ear is what your child needs the most.
Acting as a source of support to your toddler is critical to your child’s social attachments. This helps to promote reciprocal interactions, emotional regulation, bonding with others, and the sharing of common interests. Appropriate social interactions also stimulate exploration and play, which starts a positive cycle between socialization, learning, and play. If your child views you as their cheerleader, this increases the chances of a balanced relationship as they mature.
5) Get up and move!
Physical movement is vital for the building of strong muscles, bones, joints, and other bodily structures. Moving only benefits a child and further encourages learning opportunities by allowing for environmental exploring. This applies to home, school, community, and any environment they are a part of.
Gross motor movements are those which require the work of large muscles. For example, many large muscles of the legs are used when walking, squatting, and standing. Fine motor movements are those which require the work of intricate smaller muscles. Many small muscles in the hand are used when writing, grasping and pinching. Smaller muscles of the upper body are also used during crawling, reaching, and pulling up. Toys and activities which encourage both gross and fine motor movements are best for children of any age.
There are also ways to encourage movement in infants who have not yet progressed to this milestone. Tummy time is important because it involves time spent on the stomach while on a mat or the floor. This allows infants to build core strength in the stomach and back which encourages head lifts to interact. Next is any activity which encourages upper body movement, as this is best for infants who are crawling. Toddlers who are now standing should engage in activities that increase their ability to explore another dimension of their environment.
There are many ways to encourage a child’s ability to learn, play, explore, and grow in healthy ways. It is important to consult a doctor with specific concerns about your child’s development and functioning.
If you believe your child has sensory, motor, language, or cognitive issues, this should be brought to the attention of your child’s doctor. An occupational, physical, or speech therapist can guide specific activities and practices according to your child’s needs. Recommendations and therapies tailored to your child will assist in building the skills needed for healthy development.