Developmental Appropriateness

Imagine a three-year-old boy named Teddy. He bounces out of bed every morning at six and dashes to the kitchen; he is proud of his ability to make his own breakfast (which means pouring cereal and milk into a bowl and onto the counter and leaving the mess for Mom to clean up). Teddy can operate the remote control, so he watches his favorite cartoons until Mom and Dad appear, blearyeyed and not nearly as energetic as Teddy is.

Teddy can dress himself, although his shoes aren't always on the right feet and his shorts are usually backward. Teddy is good at taking off his nighttime diaper (he isn't toilet-trained yet), but he sometimes forgets to put on a new one. Mom has taught him to comb his hair, but he hates it, so he usually skips that part of his morning. He forgets about brushing his teeth, too, and that usually begins an argument that ends with Teddy screaming, kicking, and crying while Mom waves a loaded toothbrush in front of his clenched lips.

Teddy's tantrums don't last long, though, and soon he is off to play outdoors. He carries his favorite toys into the backyard and leaves them out in the rain when he comes in for lunch. When Mom begins her usual “how many times do I have to tell you” lecture, Teddy concentrates on his juice and yogurt. Teddy plays furiously until Mom says the dreaded word “naptime”; the tantrum that follows exhausts Teddy, and he almost always falls asleep for a little while. “Thank goodness,” his mom murmurs quietly, as she carries her grimy, tear-stained boy to his bed.


What if my son lies?

Your son may lie for many reasons. He may be using his active imagination, or he may know that you will be angry about what happened. You can emphasize responsibility and honesty and still offer him empathy and respect. Focus on finding a solution to the problem rather than blaming him.

Teddy is a model of developmental appropriateness, which doesn't always mean his behavior pleases his parents. Teddy's tantrums, his high-energy activity level, his “forgetting,” and defiance are normal for boys his age. His mother knows this, and on days when Teddy tries her patience, it helps her to know that he is just doing his job as a small boy.

Learning about child development will help you take your son's behavior less personally and see it as simply a stage on his journey toward maturity. Parenting classes, child-development classes, or good parenting books, websites, and magazines can all be sources of information about why your son does what he does. Understanding developmental appropriateness will allow you to help your son learn the skills and values he needs.

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