Our Toddlers and Teens – similarities and stages of your child’s development

When having everyday conversations and you mention,“I have a toddler” I am wondering if you are noticing similar reactions?  Words such as “Oh no” – along with feelings of dread, accompanied by pity, an urgent need to brace oneself for a time of tantrums, melt downs and general mayhem in many parents’ lives. Indeed it seems that our general societal mindset to interacting with a toddler releases a combined negative outlook and expectation.

Fast forward a decade or so and refer to being a parent to a teenager it seems safe to say that you may also illicit similar feelings in your conversations and more!   I did and still do! Feelings of panic, fear, doom, hopelessness, pity are felt and transferred in such conversations along with a mindset that expects – mood swings, untidy bedrooms, door slamming, drinking, possible self – harm, device over-usage, school exams, food issues, disrespect, reckless behavior, lazy souls, rolling eyes, silent sullen powerful sighs and a sense of no way out for neither teen nor parent for years until magically the word teen is no longer in your teen’s chronological age! I beg to differ……

Experiencing both toddlers and teens professionally and in my home life I am grateful to be so very fascinated by all stages of a child’s development.   All stages of a child’s development are interconnected with earlier stages providing scaffolding for the next. (Erikson’s Psysho-Social Stages of Development) Visualize scaffolding you recently saw or a ladder here.

Good Girls Cloud Star Ladder Cloud Star La

Knowledge of our child’s stage of development allows us to better understand our child. Even if a child has a negative life experience in one stage thanks to our innate capacity as a species to feel and to achieve resilience we can re-visit an earlier stage and solidify and heal any experiences and issues from that particular stage. It is life changing, empowering to have such knowledge as you navigate your road journey thru all stages of your child’s development most especially including the stage of Adolescence.

We’re familiar with the time span of a toddler’s stage of development and one may mistakenly think teenage stage of development is when TEEN is in your teenager’s age.  Thankfully, we live in an age of research and the official span of a teenagers’ stage of development is 12 years – 24 years!  Rather than thinking of the p-word –  parent, I’m inviting you instead to think about being in a relationship with a teen and being in a relationship with a toddler. Let’s pull on the positives of technology!

In the company of our toddlers we work hard physically – keeping them safe, speaking with respect in our tone, touch and being mindful of responding rather than reacting.  We give toddlers opportunities to play, to have new experiences, choose books to read with them, we comfort them emotionally when they tumble. We recognise when they are tired and need a nap.  We know our toddlers’ likes and dislikes, their fears, what they love and how they are working so very hard on being independent. We set limits and boundaries and we limit the use of the word “No” to times of imminent danger.  We do use it. We need to say NO to our toddler. Feeling confident in handling the howls and fallout from setting limits and boundaries allows a toddler to feel safe, secure, soothed and seen by us as a parent/carer.  (Dan Siegel’s 4 S’s).  Those big negative feelings our toddler feels so very often are of anxiety when separated, feeling frustrated, feeling shy, feeling angry and many more.

When we name our toddler’s feelings, when we connect, empathize with them and trust in our ability to contain the chaos churning in their very big feelings – both negative and positive we guide their little bodies back to smoother sailing or in psychological language support our toddler in self regulating. Of course we need to be in a place to co-regulate in all of this…hence the importance of our self care.  Remember how in the plane we put on our oxygen masks first and then those of our children?

In our relationship with our teens we have the added dimension of intellectual development.   The first two years of life the human brain grows to 80% of its capacity. This growth spurt begins in the last trimester of pregnancy. (Allan Schore) The next big growth spurt occurs in teenage years – our first similarity. In fact a child’s brain is developing up to the age of twenty four years (24 years).   Research describes a teenager’s brain development not as growth but rather pruning.  It’s a little similar to pruning fruit trees.

All typically developing human beings go through this pruning process, it is to be expected and it is typical of growing and very much needed for a human to develop from an infant thru to adult-hood.

What an honor to observe and co-journey with our teens. Watching them prune off those interests that no longer satisfy them and seeking out what they feel passionate in their life journey

With teens we can see the physically changes that occur staring with their first baby tooth falling out.  With a teenager’s intellectual development becoming more robust we can often be on the receiving end of “Pester Power” with arguments that match the passion and skill of a UN Human Rights Lawyer. Indeed did this not have its beginning in your teen’s toddler stage of their development?

Let’s move (as the adult in this relationship) from the previous legal arena image to a place where for the majority of the time we are discussing, mediating with our teen where one party doesn’t have to win over the other.  With our Teens making negotiations and collaborating works best.  Yes, absolutely we still as parents of teens need to have areas that are non-negotiable and need to use the word NO and follow through with this.

A toddler and teenager both want to feel and be more independentOur second similarity  Tried and tested words of a toddler include “No” and “ Me do it myself”  letting us know that what a toddler is feeling in this moment is an inbuilt need to separate physically and emotionally from their parent/primary care giver.  With a teenager independence is evident in their need to pull away from parents and towards their peers.

Interestingly if I replace the word toddler with teen from my earlier paragraph it will read like this. In the company of our teens we work hard physically – keeping them safe, speaking with respect in our tone, touch and being mindful of responding rather than reacting.  We give teens  opportunities to play, to have new experiences, choose books to read with them, we comfort them emotionally when they tumble. We recognize when they are tired and need a nap.  We know our teen’s likes and dislikes, their fears, what they love and how they are working so very hard on being independent. We set limits and boundaries and we limit the use of the word “No” to times of imminent danger.  We do use it. We need to say NO to our teen. Feeling confident in handling the howls and fallout from setting limits and boundaries allows a teen to feel safe, secure, soothed and seen by us as a parent/carer.  (Dan Siegel’s 4 S’s).  Those big negative feelings our teen feels so very often are of anxiety when separated, feeling frustrated, feeling shy, feeling angry and many more.

The influence of peers begins around 11 years old and with that is the fear of missing out (FOMO).  Once we understand that being part of a new herd and leaving our family of origin is typical behavior and a very healthy need in our teens it allows us to (speak – scratch that Teen talk) communicate with a respectful tone and with an awareness of our non verbal communication.  To our teen it can feel life threatening not to have the latest game, new makeup, (That is either not tested on animals or some blogger has recommended same) new “gúna” (dress, frock) as this means differentiating from the new group.  Yet, we as adults in this relationship still set limits and boundaries and we still need to say NO with our teens.

With our teens we choose our battles just like with our toddlers.  We look for opportunities to re-connect – it may be as you prepare a meal, want to settle down to sit or even head to bed and your teen appears.  Go with this, it is their way of wanting to re-connect and re-ignite their relationship with you.

Finally, I’d like to invite you to have a think about if we spoke to a significant adult in our life with impatience, dogmatically, sarcastically and with a negative outlook how would that adult to adult relationship feel? It may wilt, be jostled around, fizzle out or in some case with lots of work ruptures are repaired and a relationship that was barely surviving begins to thrive.  So too it is for our relationship with our teens.

Re-igniting and connecting authentically and with empathy in our relationships is an innate part of human beings. Our toddlers and our teens require respect, empathy and an adult who can contain big (usually) negative emotions.   Add a dollop of child development to better understand your child and your child parent relationship is well on the road to flourishing!