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Cheat Sheet

Child Psychology & Development For Dummies

From Child Psychology and Development For Dummies by Laura L. Smith, Charles H. Elliott

Kids grow and develop in many ways. For the people who choose to care for children — from parents to teachers to childcare workers – keeping tabs on normal childhood development, spotting signs of trouble, giving encouragement, and keeping an eye on what’s important help to ensure a healthy and positive childhood experience.

Tips for Parents to Guide Child Development

Parents’ work never stops. Parents usually do the best job with their kids that they can. Here are a few tips to help them along:

  • Show kids love through hugs, kisses, and pats on the back.

  • Show kids love through words.

  • Keep kids busy — they’ll be less likely to misbehave.

  • Catch children doing good things and praise them for their efforts.

  • When kids misbehave, talk slowly and calmly — keep your own emotions in check.

  • Be clear about your limits, boundaries, and rules.

Teachers Shape Kids: Praising Kids in the Classroom

Teachers can improve the motivation of their students if they praise them often for doing the right things. Effective praise has four major elements, including

  • When you praise, be sure to point out specifically what the child did right.

  • Be enthusiastic with your praise.

  • Give praise promptly without delay.

  • Make sure the child is close by and paying attention when you praise.

For example, if Sadie sits quietly during the morning roll call, a teacher giving ineffective praise might say after some delay, “You’re a good girl, Sadie.” More effective would be a prompt statement such as, “Great job of sitting quietly, Sadie! I like it when you pay attention!”

Detecting Signs of Trouble in Kids for Early Intervention

Detecting problems early makes a world of difference. Kids who receive early intervention improve more rapidly and successfully than those whose problems lie unaddressed for years. The following signs don’t necessarily indicate huge problems, but should be checked out by a pediatrician and/or mental-health professional:

  • Significant delays in motor skills

  • Lack of eye contact

  • Lack of smile response

  • Significant delays in language

  • Disinterest or withdrawal from others

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Sustained changes in appetite or sleep

  • Emotions that are either extreme or don’t fit what’s going on

  • Excessive fears

  • Problems with focusing attention

  • Restlessness or hyperactivity

  • Lack of friendships

  • Excessive, prolonged tantrums

  • Aggressiveness

This list is not intended to be comprehensive. If a child you care about demonstrates behaviors that concern you, it’s always better to have the problem checked out than to overlook it. Pay particular attention to things that seem quite different than what you see in kids of a similar age.     

Pediatricians are a great place to start if you have concerns. Even if the problem isn’t physical, they usually know who to refer kids to if they show signs of emotional or behavioral problems.

Four Goals of Successful Childhood

Parents, teachers, grandparents, and child-care givers all want to help children thrive. They can do this job best if they keep in mind what the most important challenges of childhood are all about. Therefore, successful childhood is supported by emphasizing the following four goals:

  • Relationships: From early on, parents and caregivers need to be affectionate with the kids under their charge. Kids need to bond with adults and then venture out and make friends. Anything adults can do to foster this goal is a good idea!

  • Healthy self-views: The worst thing you could do is constantly pump kids up and give them the exclusive message that they are wonderful, special, and that they stand at the center of the universe. Nor do kids need to hear criticisms, put-downs, and harsh words.

    Children will develop healthy views of themselves when caregivers show them unconditional support and love, tempered with realistic disapproval for inappropriate behaviors. Children need to appreciate their positive qualities while accepting their weaknesses.

  • Control over impulses and emotions: When kids enter this world they have very little control over their emotions and demand immediate gratification. If they don’t get what they want, they scream and cry. That may be understandable if they’re under the age of 1 or so.

    As they grow, kids need to learn how to self-soothe and delay the immediate demand for all needs to be met. So, it’s important to teach kids to wait, have patience, and control the expression of their emotions.

  • Achieving their potential: The final goal of childhood is to acquire knowledge and skills necessary for independent living. This goal depends somewhat on the genetic and biological potential that kids inherit, but also can be fostered by those who teach and care about them. In order to get there, kids need incentives, motivation, and reasonable expectations set by the adults in their world.

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