Milestones that Make You Say 'Ugh'!
It’s one of those stories we laugh about now, but I wasn’t laughing when it happened.
As I was picking up a sack of groceries on the porch one day, my 2-year-old son, Giulio, closed the door and locked it. Panic set in as I realized I had already set my keys inside on the dining room table. Peering through the window at him, likely with a look of terror on my face, I noticed my little angel stood there laughing at me.
That day, while squeezing myself through our small bathroom window, I wasn’t thinking, “Wow, this is an important step in my son’s growth and development,” but maybe I should have been.
Experts say that sometimes the humorous, although horrifying, incidents we share with parent friends may also be encouraging signs that our children are moving right along to become healthy, happy and intelligent adults. So the annoying behaviors of young children may also be a good sign that developmental milestones are in the works.
The Door Locker
“He (Giulio) sounds like a fun kid,” child and adolescent psychiatrist Winston Chung, M.D., says of my little guy. “He has a sense of playfulness and humor. He’s exploring. He’s seeing what is OK to do, what he can get away with.”
Pediatrician David Hill, M.D., author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012), says Giulio may have been trying to understand cause and effect. “We begin to see that quest for power and accomplishment at around 12 months,” Hill says. “They are figuring out, this controls this. It’s a quest for skills that have an impact in the world.”
For Kate Sherwood, it was her two sons’ love of art that made her take a few deep breaths.
“When my sons were 4 and 2, I left some crayons on the counter. I walked out of the room for 10 minutes, and when I came back I found them drawing all over the walls of the dining room,” she says.
When kids do things like draw on walls or furniture, they are expressing themselves, says Chung. “Art is a wonderful way to do this. The more you practice these things, the more it’s going to make your brain develop.”
The key is to find a way to encourage these activities without causing disruption – or damage – to your surroundings. Try taping a large piece of paper on the wall where your child likes to color and emphasizing that it’s the only “wall area” she can draw on.
The Drama Queen
Every little thing seems to set off Jo Ilfeld’s 4-year-old daughter.
“She’s so melodramatic. If someone taps her, she hollers and cries so loud, and it takes forever to calm her down,” Ilfeld says. “We were in Costco around Halloween and a shopping cart banged her. She was on the floor hollering!”
Despite the stress on her mother, the little girl’s drama could turn out to be a good thing, says Chung. It’s very important that children have the ability to express emotions and frustration, and children often do this through tantrums. “We would be concerned if a child didn’t express emotions,” Chung says.
The key is to respond to it in a very calm manner. You should reflect on the situation without judging the child and maybe do something to get his or her mind off being upset.
Since parents can often predict a tantrum, they should have a conversation with the child before it happens, says Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist. Buck created a parenting strategy known as Peaceful Parenting®, which teaches parents to understand child behavior through the choices that child makes (www.peacefulparenting.com).
“If a mom knows that her child may have a meltdown, maybe she can talk to her daughter and say, ‘Hey, let’s do something different this time,’” Buck suggests. For example, if your child always has a tantrum at the grocery store, give her a responsibility that distracts her from what otherwise might be a tantrum and focuses her energies on something productive, such as helping to put groceries into the cart.
Many parents admit with shame that their child learned his first four-letter word when someone cut them off in traffic and despite better judgment, they responded within earshot of their child with a few choice words.
But Kirstin Williams’ 2- and 4-year-old daughters want to do and say everything like mommy.
“Anything that is ‘mommy’ is so desirable. I can’t drink a glass of water without somebody wanting to drink it. Everything I eat, they want to eat,” she says. “Sometimes I’ve got to say, ‘No, this is mommy’s drink.’”
As frustrating as it may be, children copying parents is a very good sign that they’re on track in their development, Chung says. They are using their parents as role models to figure out how they should act. “There’s an attachment there. They want to be like you,” Chung explains. “That’s good for the parent and child relationship. We just have to always be on our toes and watch our mouths.”