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Young Children: What Should Parents Expect

It is truly remarkable what babies and young children can do. Little ones are learning, growing, and changing at an astonishing rate. However, because of what has been learned about children’s development, we know there are many things they are not yet capable of doing. When parents see their children’s rapid development, oftentimes we expect too much, when in reality, they are a “work in progress.”

Following is a list of things that children under the age of three are not yet capable of doing.

They cannot share: We all want our children to learn to share. However, because small children are incapable of putting themselves into another’s place, everything is “mine!” Make sure there are enough toys to go around and then try teaching your toddler to “take turns.” When they do, praise them with smiles and a “Thank you!” Hand the toy back and say, “Good sharing!” Instruct your child to say, “I’m not done.” Most children will allow the other child to have the toy when they are finished with it.

They cannot say, “I’m sorry” and mean it: This too requires the ability to understand how the other person feels. Empathy begins to develop around the ages of four or five. Before this, children believe everyone shares their viewpoint. Model as you talk through the situation.

They don’t truly understand right and wrong: Before the age of two children don’t understand the concept of cause and effect. In these early years, your toddler’s sense of right and wrong boils down to “this action helps me get what I want” = right, and “this action could get a negative response” = wrong. Encourage your child with lots of support and coaching.

They cannot focus on more than one task at a time: Because of their limited brain development, giving your little ones a series of instructions just confuses them. They will usually remember the last thing you said, or the request that matters most to them. Help them succeed by asking them to do one thing at a time. This will enable them to build confidence and the desire to please.

They cannot understand negative commands: Tell them what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. Instead of “Don’t be so loud!” Try, “Use your inside voice, please.” And then model what an inside voice sounds like.

They can’t tell fantasy from reality: Bad dreams and monsters are as real as things that actually happen. Don’t make light of your child’s fears. They are very real to them. There is no certain age that all children know what’s real and what isn’t. It depends a great deal on their knowledge and experiences. Research suggests that active role-playing may lead children to acquire an earlier and more sophisticated understanding of fantasy and reality. So play away!

They can’t remember what you told them: Small children have short attention spans, and only remember what matters most to them. Therefore, your instructions are quickly forgotten. It can be very frustrating to repeat yourself continually. However, most children need to hear a rule or request 10-20 times before it is fully comprehended. So take a deep breath and remind them once again, balls are for throwing outside.

They cannot wait or sit still for very long: Young children have a nervous system and muscles that tell them to move. Add that to their short attention spans, and you have a child who may appear impatient. Work on this by delaying your responses just a bit. When they ask for a treat, say, “Just a moment please.” When they manage to wait without protest, say, “That was good waiting, thank you!”- then follow-through as you said thus building a trusting relationship.

Remember, all children grow and develop at different rates. With patience, practice, and consistency we can help our little ones develop the necessary skills they need to succeed!

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