There is a wide range of behavior dubbed “age appropriate” that includes both positive and negative behaviors that kids exhibit at different stages of development as they grow, as they learn, as they tumble through emotional tumult.
We can see our children’s bodies grow and change as they pass from floppy newborn to toppling sitter, to crawling infant, to unsteady toddler, to that bittersweet stage where the baby fat melts away leaving a short opinionated human being that seems impossibly close to your own size.
We can see our children’s brains grow, too. But too often we battle age appropriate behaviors rather than understanding them as a stage of growth that is no more under the child’s control than their floppy newborn heads or the age at which they start to crawl.
Some “age appropriate” behaviors can be worked through more quickly, just as we can encourage certain physical developments such as crawling. Others are like teething and no matter what we do there is no healthy way to get those teeth to come out faster.
A big part of my “gentle parenting toolkit” is trying to recognize age appropriate behaviors or when a behavior is something that my child simply needs to pass through as their brain explosively develops and as they learn to apply logic and emotions to different situations.
When a behavior is age appropriate, it is deeply rooted in the child’s emotional needs. Think about how children react differently to food and other items as they get older. A six month old baby wants to put EVERYTHING in their mouth, and a five year old child may want to eat only certain things.
With a six month old the solution is to baby-proof. It is widely accepted that this is a standard behavior that you really can’t do much to teach around.
With a five year old the solutions that I see suggested run the gamut: Make them eat it by offering them the same food at every single meal/snack even if it’s cold. Stop only when the food is eaten or has grown mold. Punish them unless they eat it. Force feed it to them. Let them eat whatever it is they want even if it’s chicken nuggets and Laffy Taffy. Don’t let them manipulate you into cooking something else for them. Don’t starve them, feed them whatever they want.
My approach is to look at it as something developmentally appropriate.
I also try to think of how picky eating might be deeply rooted in children. How does a child go from “put everything in their mouth” to “try a lot of different foods” to “only try foods that I already know I like”?
My purely invented guess is that at a certain point when children need to eat more food, they become picky eaters. A child eating less food can survive accidentally nibbling on a mildly toxic item. A child that is eating more food would likely eat enough to kill themselves and remove themselves from the genetic pool. Unfamiliar tastes, an unfamiliar look, etc. encourages the child to not eat whatever it is on their plate.
While my guess is somewhat random and most likely lacking sound scientific merit, it allows me to do several things: 1- It adjusts my expectations to an age appropriate level. 2- It makes it so that rather than being frustrated by my child’s refusal to try new things I understand that they will try/spit out several times before they decide if they actually like it or not. This includes pancakes slathered in chocolate sauce with ice cream. 3- It helps me avoid labeling my child as a permanent picky eater, and allows me to continue offering new foods. 4- It allows me to come up with a different approach of helping set the child’s expectations before they try the new food. “This is barley it’s a little bit like rice but it has a pop to it like corn”. Or I’ll give them a plate full of familiar items with some unfamiliar items mixed in. I allow them to freely try new things and spit them out into a napkin if they don’t like them.
When we see age appropriate behaviors as negative character traits that need to be “broken” we run the risk of building a shaky foundation for our children. Most of the picky eaters that I know are picky as adults due to being forced to try foods or eat foods they simply hated as children. When we instead choose to view behaviors as age appropriate and work through them, it becomes a lot easier to help out kids build strong foundations and flexibility as they move through age appropriate behavior patterns and develop the understanding and skills that come with each stage of development.
With new “negative” behaviors I try to approach the problem as though it is age appropriate, biologically appropriate, and something that has to be worked through gradually rather than resolved with a quick fix. Taking this approach reduces my frustration and allows me to step back and contain/redirect undesirable behavior when it becomes apparent that I haven’t yet found a positive way to approach actual change or learning.
Stepping back gives me the space I need to think of new approaches and it gives my children the chance to work their way out of the developmental stage as well as let go of pent up resistance and frustration rather than locking down in stubbornness at being forced to do something that they are simply not yet ready to do.
I cannot teach in anger or frustration. So finding a way to let go of those feelings allows me to be a more effective teacher.
- Behavior Toolkit
- Breastfeeding Basics
- Breastfeeding Toolkit
- Empathy Toolkit
- Gentle Parenting Toolkits
- Get Geeky
- healthy eating
- Healthy Supply
- Language Toolkits
- Letters to a Daughter
- Letters to My Sons
- Letters to Myself
- Letters to the People In My Life
- News and Studies
- Nurshable News
- Playfulness Toolkit
- Sometimes Snarky
- The Experience
- The Mommy Wars
- Why Your Toddler isn’t Misbehaving (Understanding Age Appropriate Behavior)
- You are Getting Warmer… Nope! Cold! Freezing Cold! (The Game of “Finding What Helps Your Child Sleep Independently)
- Sleep Baby, Sleep. (Coping with Teething and Regression)
- Surrender Without Expectations
- A Blacksmith, An Electrician, and a Plumber. Parenting Toolkits and Why Your Tools Might Not Be Mine
- kiplingsqueenbee on Why I Abandoned Advocacy for Support (Peace in a Time of Mommy Wars)
- Mary on Old Enough to Ask, Not Old Enough to Wean
- Jasmin Escobedo on You are Getting Warmer… Nope! Cold! Freezing Cold! (The Game of “Finding What Helps Your Child Sleep Independently)
- shauna on I Am Not a Human Pacifier
- sarah on The Six Week Growth Spurt
Quotables“Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ~Thomas Edison