help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age

written by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

Having a blog on WordPress is so nice in that I got a nice little report for the end of 2012 letting me know which of my posts has gotten the most attention, etc. By far the most popular post was this one! So, in the spirit of sharing and refreshing for the New Year, I thought I would update and repost this blog, since it was one of my earlier ones and may have been missed by some of the folks who are newer to my blog. I keep my comments open and would love to hear if people are getting what they are looking for from this post even if it has been a while since I originally posted. Enjoy!

Chronological age vs. Developmental Age

When figuring out how to best meet the needs of our children, it is important to understand their developmental age.  For many children this can be the same age as the chronological age, the age we typically think of when we talk about our children, however, if you have a child that, among other possibilities:

  • has a history of trauma or neglect,
  • was adopted at an older age (18 months or more),
  • has a developmental disability,
  • has experienced the death or loss of a primary caregiver,
  • has experienced a major change in family structure,
  • or has a parent with a serious illness or addiction,

you may have a child that has a “stuck” part of their development. If you have a child like this, typically you might notice that there are times when he or she acts much younger than you would expect for their chronological age.  What makes this confusing is that your child may be able to do things that are appropriate for their chronological age.  For example, you may have a child that works at or even above grade level in reading and/or math, but in some emotional areas they may be developmentally younger than their chronological age.

Let’s look at an example everyone can relate to, think for a moment about a time when you have been triggered into a younger developmental age, say, when you go to your parent’s house for the weekend.  Even as an adult, you may find that you act differently toward them or your siblings than you would in your day-to-day life.  You may feel younger, angrier, more docile or more or less confrontational.  What that signifies is that there is a part of you that has not left or resolved some of the struggles from your own childhood.  Most of us have something like this. Our children are no different.

Some important questions about an area where your child seems stuck in a younger developmental age are:

1. Is my child capable of meeting the demands of this developmental stage? Developmental delays, learning issues, issues related to physical abilities and early childhood exposure can all add to a child’s difficulty in meeting a developmental milestone.

2. Has my child ever been properly taught how to meet this developmental milestone? For example, if you have a daughter you adopted from foster care at age 5, she may not ever have been properly potty trained and taught to clean herself appropriately after using the bathroom. It may be that while we expect that to be a skill children learn between ages two and four, your daughter may require instruction now, as she has not received it before.

3. Did something prevent my child from being able to learn this skill at the appropriate time? Perhaps you had a child with medical issues, a traumatic situation or something else. At the time when other children were learning to make friends and play nicely with other children, your child was busy managing an internal or external stressor that demanded all of their attention they would otherwise have been able to focus on meeting a developmental milestone.

4. Does your child have a traumatic trigger that remains unresolved which prevents them from moving through a developmental stage? I see children who have experienced trauma. Many of them have memories associated with trauma that prevent them from focusing on a task. Children (and adults) with unresolved trauma have what we call triggers, which remind them of the traumatic incident. Depending on what happened, a trigger could be a bathroom, a car, candy, really anything that reminds them of the trauma. What this means for parents with children who have experienced trauma is that the simple act of making a snack for your child could result in a child acting much younger until the traumatic triggers have been identified and resolved so that the apple you cut is just an apple again, instead of a reminder of a difficult past.

Why is it important to know where your child might have a developmental lag or stuck place?  Knowing that there are areas where your child is developmentally behind their chronological age allows you to make decisions about how to handle their  behavior appropriately.

What to do about a child acting developmentally younger:

After considering the reasons behind the developmental delay, it is easier to figure out how to address the issue. Sometimes it may just be a matter of time, or finding appropriate school or therapeutic support to allow a child’s brain to develop. For children who are delayed due to an external factor, in addition to school and therapeutic support, consider attempting to change your response to match their emotional/developmental age for the issue you are addressing.  What would you do for a two-year old who needs to brush her teeth?  Would you tell her to go brush her teeth and expect that she was going to easily and happy get right over to the toothbrush and begin throughly cleaning her teeth after applying just the right amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush?  Of course not!  Ideally, you would go with them (even if they are grumbling), you might remind them of why tooth-brushing is so important (if you have a child adopted at an older age, please remember it may be that no one ever taught them the importance), you would make brushing fun by singing a silly song to say how long you need to brush your teeth.

I know many parents reading this might be saying that your 12-year-old, who acts like a 2-year-old at brushing time is not going to stand for you hovering over her while she is brushing her teeth, and you are not going to talk to her like you would talk to a two-year old.  You are right, I am not recommending that you use the tone you would for a two-year old because you might get the death stare or worse, escalate a tense situation.  No, I am saying to use what you would do with a two-year old as a guideline for figuring out something with your child that is developmentally two during tooth-brushing time but is residing in a 12-year-old body.  To me that would look something like, playfully having a contest to see who can get just the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush or offering to get your child started by putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush, then saying a silly poem or singing a silly 12-year-old song, or reading a page out of a joke book to your child while they brush their teeth so they can get an idea of how long to brush.  Only read or sing when they are brushing, stop if they stop and start when they start again, and stay playful. Yes, they may look at you like you are crazy, but are they brushing while they are doing it?

Spc. Elizabeth Jarry shows an Iraqi girl prope...

Yes, I can hear protesting parents, now saying that you do not want to put toothpaste on your 12 year old’s toothbrush because they are old enough to do it themselves!  I know they are chronologically old enough, however, we are talking about something that they experience at a developmentally younger age.  And, here’s the good news, if you speak to your child’s developmental age for a while, their needs for that developmental stage get met, and they move on to the next stage of development for that issue.

For more parenting tips that don’t take a ton of time but do improve the happiness level in your home please see my previous posts:

January 5, 2013 Posted by | attachment, child development, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

End the Hassle! Tell kids what they deserve.

Hey Dad..!

Hey Dad..! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s parenting tip that I have for you is so simple but it could change so many of the more frustrating conversations you have with your children.  Are you ready?  When your children are hounding you about doing something you don’t think is a good idea, instead of saying no and negotiating back and forth about when they can, how much, why not, etc. try framing the issue in terms of what they deserve.  You know how this usually goes. You tell your child they can’t do something or they have to do something and they start to argue and negotiate.  Why can’t I?  All the other kids do!  You’re mean! Until you wonder if it was really important in the first place, or their arguments become so darned sophisticated that they have convinced you to go against your better judgement in regard to their health and safety.  Telling your kids what they deserve can end some of that and help you to keep focused on the main goal, the health and safety of your children.  It looks like this:

Example 1:

Kid: Mom, the other kids in my class don’t have to sit in a booster car seat any more! (feel free to imagine this as a whine)

Mom: You deserve to be as safe as possible and the booster keeps you safe.

Example 2:

Kid: Why can’t I have another cookie?  I only had a few!

Mom: You deserve to be healthy, let’s give your body the food it deserves.

Example 3:

Kid: Hey Dad, can I go to Joe’s party this weekend?

Dad: Will there be adults present?

Kid: But Dad!  You don’t trust me?!  I never get to do anything!

Dad: You deserve to be safe.

Framing your decisions this way will not save you from eye-rolls, huffing and puffing, or pouting all together.  Nothing saves you from those things completely, but it may shorten some of the duration.  It also saves some of the mental gymnastics for you.  For every arguement they come up with about the same issue, you can stop and ponder for a moment, then repeat how much you feel as though they really deserve to be safe, healthy, free from hurtful relationship or friendships, etc.  After all, it is difficult to argue back with someone telling you how important you are over and over.  Also, remember that our internal self talk is shaped by the way we were spoken to by our parents. Wouldn’t you prefer that your child’s self talk as they grow be “I deserve to eat healthy foods” over “don’t eat that, it’s bad for you?”

April 30, 2012 Posted by | discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Parental Reframes When Things Don’t Look So Good

through the frame

through the frame (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

written by Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Alright, so you did something you are not so proud of.  Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about major screw ups- like anything that meets criteria for abuse or neglect- we’re talking the overly harsh words or failure to understand the depths of need of our child if they have been trying to tell us about a problem.  You know, the things we routinely beat ourselves up for as parents.  First of all, I want to say (I may have said this before and I will probably say it again because it is such a wonderful statistic) that being “good enough” to support a securely attached child means we meet their needs a mere 30-40% of the time.  This is not meant to give permission not to meet your child’s needs, but serves more to allow us to forgive ourselves when we miss something or respond differently than we would have liked and to see some of the positives in otherwise difficult situations such as divorce, death of a loved one, illness, trouble at school or with friends.  Parental reframes work in all kinds of situations.

What do I mean by parental reframe?  Well, you know how you can take the same picture and put it in different frames to make it look different?  Depending on the frame a picture is in, you may notice more of one thing or another.  Life can be the same way.  A large part of parenting, as I see it, is to help children (and ourselves) find the most appropriate, helpful frame to put our issues in.  Notice, I did not say it was to shield children from all difficult situations.  First of all, that is impossible and we would only be setting ourselves up for failure.  Secondly, you would not want to do that since childhood is precisely the time we need to learn to handle difficulties while we have our parents to protect and guide us.  We are there to help children frame the pain they will inevitably have- not to keep them from any pain.  So, what is a parental reframe?  It is taking a step back to look at the frame we have put around a situation, then asking ourselves if there may be another frame that we might like to use instead.  There really are so few absolutes in life and really our reality can be framed in many different ways.

Take a look at the picture below.

Do you see the baby?  If you are like me, it will take a minute for you to find it but once you do, you will see the baby was there all along.  The toes are in the branches on the right, the head is made where the trees come together on the left.  Once you see it, you can’t un-see it, even though it was there all along.  That’s how a reframe is.  We get stuck on a story: divorce ruins children for example, or maybe even a worry more universal to parents like the feeling that our child never helps around the house.  These times are precisely the times when we need a reframe.

How in the world are you supposed to reframe issues, especially beliefs or worries about your child that feel deeply entrenched?  Let’s start the easy way first.  When you have a few minutes, stop and take a few breaths while you pause to see if you can think about this issue in another way.  It can be easier to do this if you ask yourself what your most loving friend might say about this issue to you.  Ask yourself if it is possible that there may be alternative possibilities from what you have come up with so far.  If you think it would be helpful, take a moment to brainstorm other possibilities for the belief you are clinging to.  After all, this is only a belief and there are very few absolute truths out there.  Let’s take our example of kids that don’t help around the house.  Is it possible they try to help in some ways, just not the ways you wish they would?  Is it possible they need more instruction to help?  Is it possible you are asking (or demanding) for help in ways that are not effective for your children?  Do they have something going on that prevents them from focusing on helping you like their age, ability level, extra-curricular activities, schoolwork, etc?

Next, take a moment to consider what you would like to believe about your child.  Create an affirmation about what you would like to believe.  My child is helpful around the house in many ways.  Think of ways this affirmation is true.  Say the affirmation many times over the next few days.  Point out when you child does helpful things and begin stating ways they can help you as if you expect them to do those things.  Be surprised when they haven’t picked up their items off the dining room table!

Just changing our attitude about a situation can help our children to change theirs.  I have seen this work too many times to think otherwise.  I have many clients with attachment disorders.  Many times when they first come to see me their parents lament about how they are constantly in trouble.  Their parents, who usually adopted them at an older age, often adopted them with the desire to show them how wonderful life can be!  These parents want their children to have new and exciting life opportunities and they come in so frustrated that their children continue to get into trouble that requires the parents to keep them home more over and over.  We reframe the statement of “my child is constantly getting into trouble and can’t ever make good decisions” to “my child gets easily overwhelmed by new experiences and transitions.”  When we re-frame the child’s acting out behaviors from “bad” to “overwhelmed” the feeling as a parent changes significantly as well from a hopeless stance, to protective.  While the child may still not be allowed out to do much, the intent and feelings behind the parents decisions feel more loving and come across that way to the children.

I know this may all sound a bit Pollyannaish to people. Additionally, I do not want to say that a reframe on cleaning is the same as a reframe on divorce.  However, there are helpful aspects to all experiences in life.  If the technique of thinking it through is not working for you, please take a moment to read my previous blog “How to know if you or your child need a counselor” (link below).  Reframes are a lot of what we therapists help people to do.

Having trouble with a reframe?  Let me invite you to post the belief you need reframed, or a belief you have reframed and tell me how it worked.  While I can not diagnose or treat via a blog, I would love to have feedback on this topic (or any others).

April 10, 2012 Posted by | help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

4 Reminders to help the holidays go smoothly for everyone

9-7-4 Easter

9-7-4 Easter (Photo credit: cobalt123)

If you are a parent who is going to celebrate Easter or Passover this weekend please take a moment to remember a few things that will help the holiday’s go smoother.

1.  Remember that your children have not done this holiday very many times yet.  Even a ten-year old has only experienced this holiday 10 times and does not even remember the first two.  Reviewing the expectations and schedule changes so kids can be prepared is very helpful.  Will there be family gatherings that are different?  Will you be playing outside finding eggs in your Sunday clothes?  Is the church or synagogue service longer or done differently?

2.  Remember that while we might be tense and/or worried about things like being around family members we don’t often see, or whether we will be able to pull off surprises for the kids, our children- while excited- are also picking up on the feelings and tone we set.  If we overextend ourselves, our children will not have as good a time either.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about the yearly parental meltdown around a holiday!  This means, try to keep everyone on the same sleep schedule- including you.  Eat and drink as needed… you get the picture.

3.  Even though you already spoke with your child about what to expect for the holiday, if you are going anywhere else, gently remind them of the expectations again in the car on the way there.  Also talk about adult’s expectations of them.  You might be expecting them to act differently at grandma’s but they don’t know that unless you tell them, or after it’s already too late.   You may even want to rehearse with a small child about what to do if they receive something unwanted.  It is age appropriate for a child, even up to age six to ask if “that’s all” or to say they do not like something.  Offer alternatives, like asking a parent quietly in the next room about whether more is coming to them, or saying thank you for a gift or treat they do not like.

4.  Possibly most important.  Allow yourself to be in and experience the joy of the present moment.  Anything that goes wrong now are memories shared and as long as no one got permanently hurt- they are not disasters.

I hope everyone, whether you celebrate or not, has a wonderful weekend!

April 6, 2012 Posted by | help for parents | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Trash Your Behavior Charts!

Kids (film)

Kids (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a pet peeve as both a parent and as a clinician about behavior charts.  You know, those charts where kids get stickers for doing things they are supposed to be doing anyway, and then they get a treat or prize for doing it enough times?  I am aware this opinion may be upsetting to some clinicians and especially school professionals where behavior charts are relied upon so heavily.  As a parent, I just think they are annoying and hard to follow for me.  As a clinician, I believe they set up a tit for tat system in a family where everyone starts measuring who did what when.  For my parents with children with attachment disorder they are especially frustrating because by the time a child has earned the prize, you might feel as though you are so angry about all the work it took for you to get them to do the chore/ desired behavior that you don’t really feel like giving them anything.  Sometimes kids make you sorry you gave the prize after the fact by deciding now that they earned the prize they don’t need to do anything for a while.  What a pain.

I have a much better alternative to traditional behavior charts.  It’s the only one that works and it requires little effort from you!  This will take all of two minutes of your life.  Here’s how it works:

  1.  Take a piece of paper and write down one or two (I would only do a couple at a time because it’s easier to keep track of) things your child does that bug the heck out of you i.e. lying, “forgetting” to do their chores, sassing back.  Pick something that is realistic for their developmental level.
  2. Think of a few prizes you might like to earn that involve self-care: a massage, getting a cup of tea with a friend, take a long bath, etc.
  3. Let your child know that you are now giving yourself a behavior chart.  When you are able to successfully handle this behavior from your child in a manner you feel is appropriate (without you yelling, whining, engaging in a back and forth battle), you get a point!  Decide how many points you need to earn to get a prize.   Tell your child that when they engage in that behavior from now on you (not they) will earn a point.
  4. When they do engage in the behavior, calmly remark on what an opportunity this is for you to earn points so you can take care of yourself.  It’s important for parents to take care of themselves when kids are giving them a hard time.  You can wonder aloud how long it’s going to take to get your prize.
  5. This is the most important step.  Follow through!  When you earn your points, do the thing you said you would do to take care of yourself, even if you don’t feel like it.  Remember you picked things you like to do so perhaps they can help you now.

I have successfully used this “behavior chart” with many parents now and I have used it myself.  It works like a charm.  I used it with my own daughters who kept coming in at night to have me take them back to bed when they had their normal cycle of lighter sleep.  I modified it so that if one kid came in, she earned her sister a point!  Guess who sleeps without interruption for weeks at a time?  This lady, right here does! J  It’s really a win-win either way since even if you don’t get the desired behavior right away (and you will because kids get annoyed at the idea of earning you a prize) you at least get some self-care.

April 5, 2012 Posted by | attachment, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

   

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