Comparing kids with others of the same age can sometimes be useful. It can tell you what kids are capable of or likely to do at certain developmental stages. But the danger of comparing is that it can stop you from seeing your child and seeing the child you think he should be (or wish he was) instead.
The more I work with kids, the less concerned I am with behavioural ‘norms’. Coletta Canale, a Cape Town-based psychotherapist, agrees. She says that instead of asking if your child’s on par, you should ask yourself if your child’s in the best place he can be.
Canale says it’s not useful to box children into age categories and expect them to behave accordingly. She adds what’s most important for children is that they’re able to express themselves. Parents should listen to their children and learn about who they are as people, rather than putting too much emphasis on making sure they’re on par with their peers.
However, broad parameters of what’s normal are helpful. For example, a newborn usually wakes up a few times during the night, a one-year-old usually sleeps much better but can have disruptive nights, while a six-year-old usually sleeps soundly.
Unless there’s something disturbing them or they’re emotionally insecure, most school-age children don’t wake their parents at night.
Teenagers usually sleep a lot unless they’re troubled.
Another useful example is temper tantrums. If your child throws himself on the floor, kicking and screaming past the age of about five years, it’s worth trying to figure out why. Tantrums during the toddler phase are a healthy part of establishing identity. Toddlers should be asserting themselves and they should be saying ‘No’ more than you want them to.
Certain mental health professionals (me included) use the Griffiths Mental Development Scales to assess the level of a child’s development. One of the six sub-scales, called the ‘personal-social’ sub-scale, measures social-emotional behaviour based on a basic comparison of children the same age. According to this scale, a child should know his own gender at age three, be able to do up buttons ate age four and fetch items while you’re shopping at age five.
He should have a special playmate at age six, and eat without help and shampoo his own hair at age seven.
There are clear problems with the above test, so I pay little attention to this sub-scale when I do this test.
Sleeping through the night can occur anywhere from six weeks to five years. Kids usually start sleeping through when they’re three, but some kids struggle with sleeping. This could indicate a psychological problem that should be checked out.
By age six, most kids sleep alone in their room. Night terrors and nightmares between two and six aren’t unusual. But if they happen every night, consult a child psychologist.
- Babies – usually toddlers too – don’t play co-operatively, but often show signs of enjoying being in each other’s company.
- Parallel play usually occurs from two to four years of age.
- Children often choose one special friend from about five years old.
- Playing in young children is often fraught with conflict.
- Sharing and turn-taking is difficult for young children, but playschool teachers play a vital role in helping kids with this.
- Behaviour, attitudes and moods vary according to temperament, physical and emotional health, as well as home, school and family circumstances.
- Temper tantrums and fights with parents are normal from 18 months to three years.
- Sibling rivalry is a part of development. It can be more prevalent when there are psychological problems within the family unit.
General guidelines for eating behaviour
The older your child gets, the more table manners matter. People are put off and annoyed by messy eaters. Toddlers can get away with throwing their food around. After that, eating politely should be encouraged.
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