Post: How Parents Can Help Their Child’s Development

How You Can Help your Child’s Early Years Development

Responsive Parenting

Children’s cognitive (thinking) and social skills required for later success, can be helped by a term called responsive parenting.

When you respond to your children’s cues and needs with positive affection and emotional warmth, and give rich verbal input and  attention to your child’s interests, it helps support their future learning and provides coping mechanisms for managing novelty situations and stress.

Your ‘positive’ interactions build your child’s sense of trust in you, which is internalised and enables your child to generalise their learning to new experiences.  It promotes your child’s engagement in learning with you.

Your child’s behaviours are supported by you through acceptance, curiosity and cooperation.  You also help foster self-regulation, that is, characteristics and abilities, that involve attention, control of emotions, and management of thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Cognitively responsive behaviours, such as extending your child’s play by maintaining their interest, can lead to higher-level learning.  Therefore, rather than involving your child in lots of different activities and interests, instead, give rich verbal input and encourage them to play for longer with one thing, as this will support higher levels of learning, as it helps sustain your child’s attention and cognitive skills, such as memory and thinking.

Cognitive skills help children to process sensory information in their environment, which later leads to higher order abilities such as evaluating, analysing, recalling, comparing, and understanding cause and effect.

As parents, responding in this way promotes joint engagement and reciprocity in the parent-child interaction and helps your child move on to more independent learning.

Promoting your child’s active engagement in problem solving is referred to as parental scaffolding and is a significant facilitator of children’s self-regulation and executive functioning skills, such as time management; organisation; understanding text; and solving multi-step problems.

Stages of Child Development

In order to understand your child’s development, we will outline one of the theories commonly referred to, that is, Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.

Piaget, a Swiss Psychologist (1896 – 1980), was highly influential in the areas of developmental and educational psychology.  He advised that children ‘move through’ four different stages of mental development.  His theory focused on how knowledge is acquired and the nature of intelligence.

Piaget’s four stages are:

Stage Age
Sensorimotor Birth to 2 Years
Preoperational Stage 2 to 7 Years
Concrete Operational 7 to 11 Years
Formal Operational 12 Years and up

Piaget believed that children are active in their own learning, making observations and performing experiments.  Through their actions with the world, they constantly add novel knowledge; build up their existing knowledge; and amend existing ideas to make sense of the new information they are exposed to.

According to Piaget, playing is not just about having fun, it is important to brain development.  The change that occurs in children’s intellectual development is not just one of adding more knowledge.  Rather, there is a change in how they think as they move through the four stages.  At age 7, a child does not simply have more information about his world than he did at age 2; there is a qualitative difference in how he thinks about his world.

The Sensorimotor Stage

Ages: Birth to 2 Years

Key Characteristics and Changes in Development:

  • The infant sees the world through their sensations and movements
  • The infant learns about the world through sucking, grasping, looking and listening
  • The infant learns that objects still exist even when out of sight (object permanence)
  • The infant knows they are separate entities from the people and objects around them
  • The infant knows that their actions can make things happen in the world around them

During this stage of a child’s development, they learn physical actions, including, crawling and walking; they learn about language from the people whom interact with them; and they learn representative language, that is, that objects have names/words.

In the 1st year

Babies focus their vision, reach out, explore, and learn about the things surrounding them.

How you as parents can help your baby’s development

  • Talk to your baby in a calm voice
  • When your baby makes sounds, repeat them and add words, as this will help him learn to use language
  • Read to your baby, as this will help him develop and understand language and sounds
  • Sing to your baby and play music, to aid brain development
  • Give your baby plenty of love and attention, and cuddle and hold him
  • Play with your baby when he’s alert and relaxed
  • When he starts moving around more and touching things he shouldn’t; distract him with toys and move him to a safe area
  • Remember to look after your own health, physical and mental, in order to be a great parent to your baby

Behaviours typical of a 2 year old

Your toddler is now showing greater independence, moving around his environment more.  He is aware of himself.  He wants to explore new objects and shows a greater interest in people.  He can show defiant behaviour.  He is able to recognise himself in a mirror or in photographs.  He is able to imitate others’ behaviours.  He is usually able to recognise the names of familiar people and objects, say simple sentences and follow basic instructions.

How you as Parents can help your Child’s Cognitive Skills at this stage

Apart from helping your child meet his physical developmental milestones, such as sitting up and walking:

  • Read to your child every day
  • Utilise real objects in play activities
  • Connect play to the five senses
  • Ensure routines are in place to promote predictability and aid communication
  • Help your child count their fingers and toes
  • Use questions such as “Who has more?” or “Are there enough?
  • Read books with your child that have numerical elements/counting (with pictures)
  • Ask him to find objects for you or name body parts and objects
  • Play matching games, like shape sorting
  • Prompt him to explore new things
  • Talk with him and let him hear the names of objects clearly
  • Encourage him to dress and feed, with your help
  • Give much more attention to the behaviours you want to see more of, than the ones you don’t
  • Only use Time Out as a last resort (1 minute for every year, so 2 minutes for a 2 year old)
  • Make your child aware of what it is you want him to do instead of the behaviour you want to deter
  • Go out to the park or other places to nurture his curiosity about the world; and build up his knowledge of every-day objects.

The Preoperational Stage

Ages: 2 to 7 Years

Key Characteristics and Changes in Development

  • Children start thinking in symbolic terms, using words and pictures to represent objects
  • As children are egocentric, they have difficulty taking other people’s perspectives
  • They think about things in very concrete terms

The emergence of language is key at this stage.  Children become more adept at pretend play.  They master the ability to picture in their mind, remember, and understand objects that are not physically in front of them, that is, they are able to create mental images of objects and retain them in their minds to recall later.

At this stage, they do not usually understand that what they do, can impact on others, for instance, banging a door, or beating a toy drum constantly can cause their parents to have headaches.  Nor can they do reverse operations, for instance, whilst some can understand that adding four to five makes 9; they will not be able to subtract four from 9.

Between the ages of 4 and 7, children are ‘sponges,’ soaking up novel information from their surroundings.

How you as Parents can help your Child’s Cognitive Skills at this stage

  • Allow your child to actively interact with a range of things in their environments, including books, people, games, and objects
  • Ask your child questions whilst he is engaged in a daily routine, allowing him to generate his own ideas
  • Draw attention to new things and encourage your child to question you about those things
  • Provide opportunities for problem-solving, using safe props, such as, blocks, sand and water
  • Question your child about characterising objects, for instance, when looking at geometric shapes, ask him to group the shapes according to similar characteristics, and ask, “How did you choose where each object belonged? Are there other ways to group these together?  (Look at number of sides, colour, points)

The Concrete Operational Stage

Ages: 7 to 11 Years

Key Characteristics and Changes in Development

  • Children begin to think logically about concrete events
  • They start understanding the concept of conservation, e.g. that the amount of liquid in a tall, slim vase, is the same as that in a short, wide vase.
  • Their thinking becomes more organised, although still very concrete
  • Reasoning from specific information to a general principle (inductive logic) commences

Your child’s previous stage involving ego centrism starts to disappear as he develops the skill of seeing things from other people’s point of view. 

At this stage,  your child starts to think about the thoughts and feelings of other people and realises that not everyone will share his.

How you as Parents can help your Child’s Cognitive Skills at this stage

  • By giving your child access to hands-on experiences, in order to make abstract ideas concrete
  • Create timelines, build 3D models, and do science experiments to explore abstract concepts
  • Provide brain teasers and puzzles to nurture analytical thinking
  • Rather than asking closed questions, requiring a Yes/No response, use open-ended questioning, requiring sentences

The Formal Operational Stage

Ages: 12 Years and above

Key Characteristics and Changes in Development

  • The adolescent starts to reason about hypothetical issues and think abstractly
  • Adolescent’s thoughts turn more to moral, ethical, social, philosophical and political issues
  • They begin to use deductive logic or reasoning from a general to specific information

At this stage, adolescents have the capacity to generate a range of potential solutions to problems; think more scientifically about the world in which they live; and plan for the future.

How you as Parents can help your Child’s Cognitive Skills at this stage

  • Provide explanations of concepts, using visual aids such as charts
  • Explore hypothetical situations and perhaps link them to current events
  • Help your child to broaden concepts wherever possible, for instance, if talking about a particular book, ask them to think of another book that has a similar story.