Child DEVELOPMENT

If you're wondering whether your child is growing normally or when he should be talking or if his emotional outbursts are normal, then this is the section for you. Here you will be able to find answers to all your questions about a toddler's cognitive, physical, and emotional development. You can also check the growth charts to see if your child is keeping pace, a little behind or galloping ahead of others in his age group.

    • Daydreaming and Fantasy
    • Importance of Playing
    • Indecisiveness
    • Speech and Development
Why do children perpetually live in a world of their own making - a world that is both fantastic and unreal? Why do they constantly create imaginary universes with their own set of characters and societal rules?
  • For years, psychologists have been trying to understand this tendency but have failed to give one definite reason for it. There have been not one but many and varied explanations with the result that some say fantasy is bad and some say that it's good. There has been no consensus on the true reason or reasons. No research has proven that imagination and fantasy are therapeutic for children just as no research has shown that they are bad for them.
    Children begin dreaming sometime in the first year of their life. Young children have a limited ability to distinguish dreams from reality or fantasy until they approach school age. Through childhood and adolescence, children's dreams tend to reflect representations of typical developmental issues, wish fulfilment themes, and environmental stimuli.
    Unlike adults, children don't use fantasy and dreaming to escape from the realities and pressures of their lives. They lead more or less sheltered lives and thus have practically no reason to escape. Happy and secure children are just as likely to be immersed in a dream world, as children with an unhappy home or school life. So, what could the reasons for this habit be? One explanation could be that children by nature are designed to learn, and since they lead sheltered lives, they are desperate to understand the outside world. They construct their own theories to explain a particular situation or occurrence and like adults, they continue revising these theories as new parameters are added. It is all a part of the learning process. Without imagination and daydreaming, there wouldn't have been any scientific development and we would still be living in the Stone Age.
    Another explanation for daydreaming is boredom and loneliness. Imaginary friends and situations help them entertain themselves and others too.
    Imaginary worlds of children have far-fetched premises but are extremely logical and consistent. That's why books by Lewis Carroll and J.K.Rowling are so effective and popular. Children are different from adults because they have the freedom to imagine and learn freely. They are not constrained by practicality, as adults are most of the time
    While daydreaming should not be discouraged, it can often be distracting to the point that it is detrimental for the child. He may fail to concentrate on a given task because he is in his own world and if this habit continues, he may lose both physical and social contact with the real world. This may lead himtobecome withdrawn which in turn could lead to personality problems. A lack of concentration would also affect a child's studies and grades, which in turn would lead to its own set of problems.
    If you see that your child's imagination and day dreaming is getting in the way of his regular activities, try and reduce or stop this tendency at once. You can try • Reducing the amount of television that he watches. This medium helps your child to escape from the mundane realities of his everyday life. It also introduces new characters, graphics, and plots which he could reproduce in his daydreams. Sometimes, television could also over stimulate the imagination to the point of keeping a child awake at night and the lack of sleep in turn leads to a lack of concentration.
    Increasing the amount of physical exercise your child gets. Often, the lack of adequate physical exercise is compensated by a more than adequate mental exercise which in turn increases a child's daydreaming tendencies
Just like a job is an adult's work, play is a child's work. It is as important as walking, talking, and sleeping. Playing allows a child to freely explore, experiment and make sense of the world around him. It is not only fun but it also helps them learn new skills, solve problems, overcome challenges, be creative, and form relationships. Unfortunately these days, the concept of free play is dying out. Children (even toddlers) spend a vast majority of their free time in structured classes and the rest of their time watching television or playing with electronic gizmos.
  • Play stimulates Imagination and Cognitive Development
    Role-play and pretend play are very important for a child's creative and cognitive development. By dressing up as a superhero or a policeman and conjuring up scenarios, a child experiments with different identities and different situations. He not only uses his vivid imagination to come up with ideas but also uses his cognitive skills to negotiate with imaginary characters and solve problems when the 'pretend' situation requires him to. This kind of play often reflects issues that a child is trying to come to terms with (e.g. a new sibling) or is a mirror of an incident or a situation that he has been exposed to. Hence, it is very important for parents to be in tune with their children, as this will enable them to pick up clues as to what is happening with their young ones
    You may have noticed that your toddler has suddenly started talking to himself or to his toys. It may seem a little crazy to you - but this is one way that a child uses to spur his imagination. This is called imaginative play and is very important for children. Since by the age of 2 - a child knows what symbols are (and how objects represent things) - he uses this ability to use / say, a block of wood as a car or a ladle as a magician's wand. By doing this he learns that one thing can be used for another.
    So what can you as a parent do to make the most of your child's play time? Always follow your child's lead. Provide him with an object or a toy and see what he does with it. Even if he plays with it the wrong way, let him be. Let him show you a 'new way.' Even if your child is trying to stack blocks, show him how to do it and let him try on his own. Provide him with just enough help to keep frustration from settling in.
    Play promotes Social Skills and Cognitive Development
    During the pre-school years, when toddlers play side by side even without talking, they are actually learning something. They are learning to interact, negotiate, and share with one another i.e. they are learning to form healthy social relationships. A child's interpersonal negotiation strategies not only help him to become more social but they also help him with his cognitive skills.
    Encourage your child to be social. Allow him to make friends and take him to visit them or ask them to visit your child.
    Play helps Physical Development and Cognitive Development
    Physical play as everybody knows helps physical development i.e. development of gross and fine motor skills. Pedalling a tricycle or kicking a ball not only helps a child improve coordination but also helps him build leg muscles. These are important for the development of his gross motor skills.
    Fine motor skills improve through activities like stacking blocks and completing puzzles. Not only do they improve a child's finger dexterity and coordination but they also help his matching and shape recognition skills to develop.
    Set a good example. Try to take your child out to the park as much as possible. Climbing monkey bars and kicking the ball around will improve his larger muscles. When indoors, play games together. Build a house made of blocks or dance. Do something interesting to keep him active and moving.
    Play promotes Natural Curiosity
    All children are born curious since everything around them is new. Therefore, it is imperative to stimulate this natural curiosity and imagination and one way of doing this is through play. Going to the park could become and adventure for them. They observe things around them (e.g. trees, people, swings) and see how everything fits in together. They also learn by exploring and touching things and feeling the different textures. They learn that sand feels different from grass and both of these feel different from the iron the monkey bars are made of.
    Play is a simple activity but promotes imagination and development in a child.
The Contrary world of a child
Have you ever felt like tearing your hair out when your child vacillates between 'yes' and 'no?' Shivani,a mother of two, says, "All the time! My 3-year-old son can't make simple decisions, let alone slightly complex ones. He'll want toast for breakfast and when I get him the toast, he'll want cereal. When that is brought to him, he'll want a third item or sometimes even go back to the first one. It is really frustrating! At times, when I get really irritated, I just refuse to give him anything and he just dissolves into tears."
  • This is a phenomenon faced by nearly all parents. Is a child trying to drive his mother crazy by saying yes, no, or maybe or is he being indecisive? It's neither. This is normal for toddlers as they are still developing a sense of self and individuality. By the time a child reaches the age of two - he starts craving for control and sometimes this need comes out as contrariness. He will sense what his parent wants and then decide not to do it or do the opposite. He is also too young to be sure about what he wants and this leads to the 'yeses' and 'nos.' Adults with no understanding of this kind of behaviour often mislabel children as being fussy, indisciplined, attention seeking, or indecisive. What most parents see in their child as stubbornness can be understood as determination, if viewed from the child's perspective.
    Toddler hood is an age when the child's concept of self is emerging. The child is coming to terms with his or her own desires, wants, and thoughts. This is what we understand as "will". How to express this will, is learning how to make decisions. These may be small decisions about the business of everyday living for us, but big enough for our young children. Since the ability to make a decision is not always inherent, children have to learn how to assess situations and take control. Having many options to choose from may be overwhelming for them resulting in the shutdown of the decision making process. You, as a parent, can help your child to be confident. Start with small decisions such as what to wear to playschool or what toy to play with. Giving only two or three options will give him some control in making the decision without overwhelming him with too many choices. Don't give her options in things which are mandatory and unavoidable. For instance, when it comes to consuming the soup or the green vegetables.
    Parents always have the compelling urge to make the choice for their children at the first sign of indecisiveness. Resist. Don't lay out your child's playschool clothes in the morning. Let him choose from a couple of outfits. Tell him the positives and negatives of both. His choice will teach him the concept of decision-making and will also give him a sense of control.
    Unless your child makes a decision that is destructive, allow him the freedom to experience the consequences of his actions. For instance, if he decides not to eat his dinner, he suffers the consequence of not eating his dessert.
    Boost your child's confidence by praising his decisions. "You made a good choice by choosing the beige trousers" or "Your choice of eating cereal instead of chocolate is a good one" are good ways of doing this. Resist from criticizing. If you think he has made a wrong choice, don't scold him. Try to explain to him why the decision he has made won't work and steer him towards the right one.
    Being able to make one or two right choices will not make a child more confident or help him achieve a total sense of control. He has to practice this ability in all aspects of his life. Choosing who his friends are or what he eats for breakfast will provide him the groundwork for making more decisions in the future. Ultimately, a child has to learn to trust and rely on what he believes to be the right decision.
Speech and Language are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. There is a difference between the two. Speech is the ability of humans to produce specific sounds to communicate with other humans. Language is a set of well-accepted rules created by humans to express their thoughts and emotions to others so that they are understood. Language includes talking, writing, and using sign language. Speech allows a person to orally express language.
  • Infants start communicating in the early days of their lives. They learn how to make sounds like crying, cooing and gurgling. They realize that certain sounds will get them what they want. For example, they learn that crying will get them food and comfort. At this point they also start making sense of and recognizing certain specific sounds like their mother's voice. As they grow older, they are able to recognize speech sounds (phonemes) that make up words of their mother tongue.
    As the jaw, lips, tongue, and voice develop, a child is able to convert unintelligible babbling sounds into more controlled ones. By the age of six months, he is able to produce repetitive meaningless syllables like 'ba, ba' or 'da da' and by the end of the first year, he is able to say a few simple words.
    By twelve months, children start realizing that controlled sounds can be used to communicate meaningfully and therefore, start speaking a few 'real' words. By eighteen months, most of them are able to say between eight to ten words and by the age of two, they are able to put them in crude sentences like 'I go.' As they learn real words, they also learn the concept of symbolism. They learn that certain words represent certain things, emotions, or actions. From the age of three, children's vocabulary starts increasing rapidly and they start learning the rules of language.
    As with physical development, language development also varies from child to child. There is however, a timetable (developmental milestones) to master the skills of language. Doctors use these milestones as a guide to see if a child is developing normally.
    Given below is a timetable for different age groups (between the ages of 1 and 3 years), which will help you to assess if your toddler is developing his speech and language skills as per normal schedule.
    12 - 17 months
    Follows simple directions with gestures.
    Can wave goodbye and "ta ta".
    Understands 'no' and 'yes'.
    May use one-word sentences to communicate, for example dada, teddy, baby in the beginning. Then the toddler begins to utter simple two/three word sentences like baby teddy, baby milk, see moon etc. It seems that the child's speech is like a telegram i.e. uses telegram speech.
    Answers simple questions non-verbally or with a simple yes or no, or a word.
    Points to objects and family members.
    Has a total vocabulary of about ten words at 13-14 months, which may increase up to 20-25 words by 18 months.
    Warning signs: A child not talking at all and not being able to make useful social gestures like "Bye -Bye". Or he sometimes responds and sometimes does not as if he is "moody" or lost in his own world.
    18 - 24 months
    Follows simple directions without gestures e.g. "Go get your shoes."
    Can put together crude sentences like 'I potty'.
    Points to simple body parts like 'nose', 'ears', and 'eyes'.
    Understands and uses simple verbs like 'eat' and 'sleep'.
    Understands and uses nouns like 'spoon' and 'milk'.
    Correctly pronounces most vowels.
    Asks for common foods by name.
    Says 8 to 10 words (pronunciation may still be unclear).
    Makes animal sounds such as 'moo' and 'bow bow'.
    Warning signs: Child using more gestures than words.
    2 - 3 years
    • Uses about 40-50 words but understands more.
    • Knows some spatial concepts such as 'in,' and 'on'.
    Knows pronouns such as 'you,' 'me,' 'her'.
    Knows descriptive words such as 'big,' 'happy'
    Speech becomes more clear and accurate.
    Answers simple questions.
    Begins to use more pronouns such as 'you,' 'I'.
    Speaks in two to three word phrases.
    Uses question inflection to ask for something (e.g., "My ball?").
    Begins to use plurals such as 'shoes' or 'socks' and regular past tense verbs such as 'jumped.'
    By the age of three, he becomes a more sophisticated speaker and starts modulating his voice to fit the situation.
    Can tell his name and names of close family members.
    Warning signs: Child gets frustrated while trying to talk. Can't put two meaningful sentences together.
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!