Every child is unique, and every family deals with different issues. There are some things, however, that many parents deal with around the same time. The way parents choose to deal with these issues has an important impact on how healthy and competent their children grow up to be.
The information provided on this page was prepared by the Search Institute, an organization which has pioneered the use of social science research to understand children and young adults and help parents be better parents.
Additional information about spiritual development is based James Fowler's research into the stages of faith development in children and adults.
- Children at this age learn by exploring with their hands and mouth. They bang, throw, drop, shake, and put items in their mouths.
- Hiding things will get more difficult when your child starts to look for hidden objects. By 24 months, he can find things hidden under two or three other items.
- Learning how to use everyday objects is an important development at this age. Kids learn how to use a spoon. They learn to drink from a cup.They learn to comb their hair.
- By age 2, a child typically will have a vocabulary of 50 words. As she learns to speak, she’ll use two- and three-word sentences, like “More juice,” “Me want cookie,” and “Up, up.”
- Children will first learn to hold their head up. Little by little, they begin to roll and to sit (usually by six months).
- Kids learn to creep, then crawl, pull themselves up, walk while holding onto furniture, stand, and then walk two or three steps without assistance (usually by 12 months).
- At 24 months, children can begin to run, kick a ball, and walk up and down stairs (while holding onto someone’s hand).
- You can expect your child to imitate facial expressions, and even develop a social smile by three months.
- Talking begins with babbling, which leads to gradually learning to say and respond to simple words and phrases.
- Toddlers will play in parallel—near another child, but not with that child.
- Crying is the primary means of communication when infants’ and toddlers’ needs are not being met.
- Similarly, they smile and giggle when they want more of something, and turn their head, shut their eyes, or cry when they want less of something.
- Communication. Your child will use many verbal and nonverbal methods of communication during these years while he or she is learning to speak. It can be a challenge to communicate effectively at this stage, but it can also be a lot of fun!
- Even very young children discover a spiritual perspective of the world. If parents and caregivers are warm and caring, they’ll find a wonderful world.
- A sense of spirit is developed through the five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. Spiritual practices that engage the senses (such as having certain foods on a holiday or lighting a candle) are helpful.
- Making spiritual practices (e.g., music, worship, service, meditation, prayer) a part of family life encourages your children to embrace spirituality.
- A very young child cannot be said to have any conscious faith at all, but is unconsciously developing a basic attitude about whether the world and the people in it are basically friendly or dangerous, pleasant or painful, trustworthy or capricious.
- This stage establishes a fundamental disposition which will eventually enable the child to believe that there is a God who loves and cares for them.
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- Imaginary play is a notable milestone of this stage.
- Children begin to name colors and begin to understand simple counting.
- It’s important to stimulate your child’s intellectual development by reading aloud to him every day.
- Kids gradually begin to understand the concept of time.
- By age 3, preschoolers know 300 words. That expands to 1,500 words by age 4, and to 2,500 words by age 5. Stimulate their language development through reading, talking, and asking them questions.
- Hopping, climbing, swinging, and doing somersaults begin at this stage.By age 5, many kids can stand on one foot for at least 10 seconds.
- Children can draw a person with up to four body parts by age 5. They draw circles and begin to learn how to copy a square and some capital letters. They learn how to use scissors.
- Kids often become frustrated with wanting to do something physically and not being able to do it yet. Thus, they have lots of falls and mishaps.
- Interaction with other children increases.
- A great deal of social development occurs through fantasy play and imagination.
- Children this age need to learn how to deal with conflict and how to solve problems without so much emotion.
- Kids move easily between fantasy and reality, and can become quite emotional about their imaginary play. They often do not know the difference between fantasy and reality, so imaginary monsters under the bed or in the dark are as frightening to them as a real threat.
- Take your child’s emotions seriously. Help her make sense of her emotions. Some preschoolers can throw wild, long tantrums. Calm her down and teach her how to deal with her strong emotions.
- See a pediatrician if your child is extremely aggressive or fearful at this age.
- Communication becomes more developed in this stage, and you’ll find that you can really begin having conversations with your child. Make sure to expose her or him to many forms of communication and expression.
- Children have an active imagination and are open to the supernatural.
- You might be surprised to hear your child say insightful or profound things about God, the world, and life.
- Kids respond to concrete spiritual stories, symbols, and experiences.
- Your child will tend to be a black-and-white thinker. Thus, he knows about good and evil.
- Children at this age begin to use the religious or spiritual language of the family.
- At this age faith has a magical or imaginary quality, marked by the child's ability to believe almost anything. It is essentially intuitive, based on what the child feels rather than on what the child thinks or "knows," and is, in a sense, "borrowed" from adults whom the child trusts to be knowing and truthful.
- This stage sets the foundation for the child's eventual ability to believe in nonmaterial realities and sacred mysteries which cannot be seen or "proven."
- A young child imagines God as something like a cosmic parent or grandparent. If parents are loving, kind and forgiving, the child assumes that God is also like that.
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What to Expect at this Age
As your child continues to grow, you’ll begin to notice new and exciting abilities. You’ll also notice a keener interest in the differences between boys and girls. It’s not uncommon for children of this age to want to play only with friends of the same sex.
And while children of this age enjoy many activities, they may also feel that their appearance or cultural background makes them “too different.” They may be reluctant to participate in activities outside of home, such as Cub Scouts or Girl Scouts. Reassure your child that you love and accept her just for who she is. Continue to encourage her to explore new activities.
Appreciate your child for the unique, lovable person he is. How you interact during an activity is what’s most important. Remember that helping your child develop good feelings about himself is also doing things with him, not just for him.
- Kids learn to read gradually. Children who are read to aloud and are encouraged to read tend to develop more quickly intellectually.
- Your child will become more sophisticated in understanding the concept of time. They enjoy hearing about times past.
- By age 6, most children can count to 100. By age 9, they are beginning to learn how to multiply.
- Engaging the bodies as well as the minds of children this age will help them learn.
- More physical abilities will develop. Many children can dribble a ball with one hand by age 6. Most learn how to ride a two-wheel bike. They become more skillful at skipping and catching and throwing a ball.
- Kids this age like to move. Many become restless and wiggle if they sit for too long, which is why school can be difficult for some children at this age.
- Your child may practice balancing a lot. They balance on curbs, chairs, and other high places. Monitor their balancing acts to make sure they’re safe.
- Children this age become more adept at relationships, but they also may have many conflicts with their peers.
- Many children are competitive, and can become argumentative and quarrelsome when they lose.
- Children in this age group can be hard on their younger siblings.
- At age 6 or 7, kids tend to do best with one friend, but by age 8 or 9 they can begin working well in small groups of three or four.
- Children still tend to be self-centered. Most want to be first, and most want all the attention. Squabbles can break out when your child feels slighted.
- You’ll notice periods when your child sulks, pouts, and worries. Help him deal with disappointments and worries.
- Children tend to have their feelings easily hurt. They also tend to assume that people who hurt them “did it on purpose.” Help your child not feel victimized or always jump to acting on revenge.
- Kids begin to wonder more about the world around them, and they are more likely to ask why things happen.
- Your child may ask cause-and-effect questions, such as “What happens after Grandpa dies?” or “What will happen if someone breaks a window?”
- Children at this age begin to notice that friends may have different spiritual practices.
- At this stage in their faith development, children develop an intense desire and need to know how things really are. They are fascinated by stories, rituals and traditions which show real people living out their faith in concrete ways. This level of "literal faith" is the first step toward a less naive and more critical attitude toward faith,
- Pre-adolescents depend on authority figures, rules and structure to assure them that reality is ordered and safe.
- A pre-adolescent child tends to imagine God as someone like a divine superhero who uses power and authority to create order and justice, rewarding good and punishing evil.
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What to Expect at This Age
Young teens are going through such dramatic changes, it’s normal for them to swing from being happy to being sad or from feeling smart to feeling dumb. They may worry about personal traits that are vital to them, but hardly noticeable to others. With a growing ability to see the consequences of different actions, tweens and young teens are increasingly considering who they are and who they may become. They are more able to think like adults, but they don’t have the experience and judgment needed to act like adults. It’s important to help them recognize that. Your reassurance and acceptance are especially important at this time, as is your tween or teen’s growth in school and community activities. Strong support will help them develop the confidence they need to make healthy choices.
- Most kids enjoy the social aspects of learning. This works well when teachers encourage learning in small groups.
- Around ages 11, 12, and 13, shifts occur in kids’ thinking. Keep them engaged in school and learning. • Encourage their curiosity. Many are strongly influenced by friends, so if they have friends who only want to socialize and not learn, emphasize the importance of having friends and working hard to learn.
- Many kids move from “concrete” thinking to “abstract” thinking. Concrete thinkers focus on the here and now, such as a particular house cat. Abstract thinkers focus on issues that are disassociated from a specific instance. Thus, an abstract thinker can talk about domestic and wild cats, how they’re similar and different, and which ones they believe have more skills than others.
- Because kids this age have strong emotions, they tend to either “love” school or “hate” it. If your child happens to “hate” school, help her identify parts that are more enjoyable—even if it’s recess, gym, and lunch.
- Most kids at this age think there is too much homework. Emphasize how homework helps kids learn. Do homework with them. Make it fun. Applaud their learning and new knowledge.
- This is the age when kids need to start using deodorant and learning more personal hygiene. Some go overboard and spend hours in the bathroom. Others resist, refusing to bathe.
- Puberty reigns at this age. Puberty, however, has five stages for both boys and girls, which is why you’ll see kids developing at different rates between the ages of 8 and 18.
- With growth spurts come clumsiness and a lack of coordination. It isn’t easy for a person to grow six inches within a few months without his sense of balance being disrupted.
- Typically, between ages 12 and 14, kids become very aware of their own sexuality and others’ sexuality. Some are nervous about developing too fast. Others are worried about developing too slowly.
- If your child is not athletic, help her find a sport or physical activity she enjoys. At this age, kids who don’t excel athletically are tempted to avoid all physical activity. Consider martial arts such as kung fu, judo, karate, or tae kwon do, which often appeal to this age group.
- This is the age when peer pressure has the most influence. Kids are more interested in “being the same” and “being accepted.” Thus, many will do things with others they would never do alone.
- Relationships can become quite complex. Some kids will not speak to others. Some enjoy fighting and making up. Some relationships become very intense.
- Some kids have large shifts in their social circles as they go through puberty. Others withdraw and avoid their peers. Some stick with their friends no matter what.
- Many kids would rather be social than tend to their school work or other responsibilities. Emphasize how all parts of life are important.
- Silliness can rule with some kids. Kids at this age can have a twisted sense of humor.
- Many kids push away from their parents and want to spend most of their time with friends. Some homes become tense with young teenagers who like to argue and test. Other homes are calmer with occasional skirmishes. It all depends on the child’s personality.
- Cliques and tight-knit groups can form. Kids become very aware of “who” is in “which group”—even if they’re not always sure where they fit.
- Moodiness and roller-coaster emotions emerge during puberty. Kids can be happy one moment and then violently angry or very depressed the next—and you often won’t be able to figure out why. Be patient and gentle with kids, as they experience strong emotions that can quickly change.
- Many talk in violent terms. “I’ll kill him.” “I want to beat her up.” “He’s so bad, he should die.” Some deal with anger and injustice verbally. Others slam doors or stomp their feet. If they act out in destructive ways, get them help with expressing strong emotion.
- Emotionally, young teenagers bristle at any physical affection from their parents. Some like a lot of physical affection from their friends while others like to keep their distance.
- Many kids can become very emotionally sensitive. They’re easily offended and easily hurt.
- Some kids will give you the silent treatment when they become angry—or if they don’t get their way. Give them time to simmer down. They’ll talk to you again (usually when they need something from you).
- Some kids begin dabbling in more serious risk behaviors (such as self-harm, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or having sex). Help kids steer clear of these behaviors. Talk with them about what they’re experiencing—and what they’re seeing going on with their peers. Some are struggling with difficult issues.
- The tween and early teen years can be difficult in terms of communication—you’ll have arguments, you’ll get the silent treatment, and then you’ll be your child’s best friend. Try to be patient and understanding; it’s not easy for your child, either!
- Your young teen may seem angry, moody, or uninterested in talking, but she still needs as much support from you as when she was younger. Look for chances to talk: at meals, driving in the car, waiting in a line.
- Show that you understand what she is feeling by sharing similar experiences you may have had at the same age. Tell her you’re always available to listen and help work through things. Introduce her to caring, responsible adults who can be there for her, too.
- Setting some time aside to talk is one of the most important things you can do to start building positive communication practices.
- Kids in this age range begin to see contradictions in the world and in religious and spiritual beliefs. Many will confront and question these contradictions.
- Some question or reject their childhood beliefs as they move beyond black-and-white thinking. As we mature, all humans spend time thinking about the meaning of life, why we are here, how we treat others and ourselves, and what we value. Our answers to these questions are always evolving, and they help shape our personal beliefs and personalities.
- Some develop strong, even contradictory beliefs as they “try on” different ideas and beliefs. It’s important to remember that spirituality can be expressed in a multitude of ways, regardless of the religious tradition that your family recognizes.
- Many begin to identify or develop interests or gifts about which they’re passionate.
- Many begin to rely more on friends and other adults to shape their spiritual beliefs and practices.
- In late childhood and early adolescence, children enter into a kind of communal faith which is rooted in the group and is shaped by the conventions, traditions, rules and habits of the group or faith community to which he or she belongs.
- The early adolescent child is developing an ability to evaluate the community's faith by more objective standards, but may suppress critical questions out of fear, or for the sake of security and acceptance provided by the group.
- In this stage the early adolescent child images God as an authority figure, like a judge, who holds the group together by enforcing order. God may be loving and merciful, but never at the expense of justice.
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What to Expect At This Age
So, your teen has entered high school, and soon, she will be off to college or entering the workforce. While you’ve been helping your child to prepare for adult independence and responsibility all along, it’s important to realize that your teen’s plans for herself may be different from what you want.
Listen to your teen’s thoughts about the future. Support and respect his decisions, and offer ideas about what you think he might be good at . Encourage your teen to get involved in the community, and help him connect with other caring adults who can positively influence his development.
- Abstract thinking becomes more common with older teenagers. They’ll gravitate more to the “gray” areas between the “black-and-white” issues of their early years. They’ll also change their mind about the “grays” to suit their goals and wishes.
- Older teenagers, such as those in this age range, expand their logic and reasoning abilities, although many still struggle to match their thinking abilities with their actions. Thus, a lot of kids will talk intelligently but then have trouble with planning.
- Their thinking now considers the future. They can think and have thoughtful discussions about war, college, the economy, and their visions of what would make the world better.
- Because older teenagers are more intellectually advanced than a child or younger teens, adults can have more back-and-forth conversations with them. They’re better able to understand other people’s points of views, and they’re more open to other perspectives and ideas.
- Many older teenagers will use their new intellectual capacities as “logical weapons” against their parents. This has more to do with them separating from you. They’ll punch holes in your logic, and they’ll challenge you with thought-out reason.
- • Older teenagers typically look physically older than they are. Fifteen-year-olds can be mistaken for 21-year-olds, which is why some teenagers find themselves in troubling situations.
- Since all kids go through five stages of puberty, you’ll continue to see older teenagers mature. Even during the high school years, you’ll notice teenagers maturing at different rates. This is normal, even if teenagers don’t feel like it is.
- Most teenagers have trouble waking up in the morning. Part of this is because they stay up later. But part of it is biological. Older teenagers tend to shortchange sleep, which can hinder their development. Don’t be afraid to let them sleep until noon—or even until the middle of the afternoon—on weekends.
- At this age, friendships and romance become more important while cliques become less so.
- Older teenagers are less influenced by peer pressure. They’re more likely to seek out experts when they want to know or do something.
- Teenagers are heavily influenced by their friends when it comes to clothing, styles, music, and fads.
- Your child is more likely to seek out advice and help from a friend than from you.
- A lot of teenagers pair off into couples. Dating becomes more pervasive, and some teens develop intense romantic relationships.
- Older teenagers enjoy going to parties. Many like being with large groups of friends. Make sure your older teenager knows what to do at parties where alcohol or drugs are prevalent. Some teenagers can attend these parties without participating in these activities, while other teenagers are more susceptible.
- Since many teenagers spend more time away than at home, make sure you know where your teenager is, who your teenager is with, and what your teenager plans to do. Encourage your teenager to update you if plans change.
- Help your teen learn how to recognize and deal with stress, anger, and sadness; to exercise regularly and eat healthy foods; and to express feelings honestly as well as respect others’ feelings in friendships and romantic relationships. Your teen will continue to benefit from continuing to do his part around home and at school, and in taking care of his own well-being.
- Emotionally, teenagers don’t typically like physical affection from their parents. Many do, however, like a lot of physical affection from their friends.
- Expect a lot of tension and conflict with your teenager, because your teenager is separating from you. The path to independence is rocky for both parents and older teenagers.
- Some older teenagers will go anywhere—except where their parents are. Be patient with this. Typically kids will draw closer to parents once they leave home. Once they’ve experienced “true independence,” they discover that their parents aren’t as idiotic as they thought when they were older teenagers.
- Monitor your teenager’s emotional states. Most have an emotional state that they’re most comfortable with. Some are easygoing. Some get angry easily. Others get depressed. Intervene if emotions are overwhelming your older teenager.
- Some teenagers will give you the silent treatment when they become angry—or if they don’t get their way. Give them time to simmer down. They’ll talk to you again (usually when they need something from you).
- Some kids begin dabbling in more serious risk behaviors (such as self-harm, drinking alcohol, trying drugs, and having sex). Help kids steer clear of these behaviors. Talk with them about what they’re experiencing—and what they’re seeing going on with their peers. Some are struggling with difficult issues.
- Communication can be difficult with older teens (especially if they get to be so busy that it seems like you barely see them). But you can also have conversations that are much more interesting and insightful than you expect!
- It’s important to continue to keep the communication lines open during the teenage years. By intentionally building good communication practices, you can ensure that your family remains strong, even when things get tough.
- Talk to your teen about whether what he or she wants to do contributes to a sense of purpose in life and builds a sense of self, or is “just something to do.” Encouraging your teen to get involved in causes that support other people or issues of equality also helps instill a positive identity.
- Older teenagers begin to make choices about where intentional spiritual practices fit (or don’t fit) in their lives. It’s important to remember that spirituality can be expressed in a multitude of ways, regardless of the religious tradition that your family recognizes.
- Many become clearer about the activities and things that bring joy and energy in life, including a sense of vocation.
- Children begin to internalize personal beliefs and practices, which may be similar to or different from those of their parents and their friends. As we mature, all humans spend time thinking about the meaning of life, why we are here, how we treat others and ourselves, and what we value. Our answers to these questions are always evolving, and they help shape our personal beliefs and personalities.
- Kids can develop strong convictions regarding social and political change. They may become deeply committed to service and social change. Some may even become activists for causes they believe in.
- Adolescents become more aware of different spiritual and religious traditions and may often be interested in exploring different forms of spirituality.
- This age is sometimes characterized as a period of rebellion or withdrawal, as individuals rethink the conventions and convictions of the group and search for a more personal faith independent of the individuals and groups they relied upon as children.
- This stage may be marked by a certain amount of ambivalence and confusion -- both a desire to belong somewhere and a need to be independent of where they have previously belonged. Some individuals in this stage express a desire to be "spiritual but not religious."
- This search for a personal faith represents a transition from a primarily pre-critical, communal faith to a post-critical, mature faith. It is a highly critical stage in which individuals evaluate faith-claims against personal experience, "common sense," rational and scientific criteria.
- In this stage an individual's relationship to God may be very personal and private, but nonetheless real and intense. Adolescents and early adults may develop a very personal, one-to-one relationship with Jesus, independent of the faith community and detached from a deeper, more mature sense of God's deeper mystical presence.
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