When you were expecting, did you ever wonder whether your baby would really have ten fingers and ten toes? Did you trust that your body would just know how to “grow” something as complex as a human being and did you worry that something might go wrong?
“How can I be sure that my child’s development is on track?” is on the mind of many parents who come to the Pacella Parent Child Center. There has been such a focus in the media on early brain development and so many “how to” books for parents, that parents often come to us overwhelmed and confused by all the information they have received.
Timelines for reaching developmental milestones are not so easy to use when gauging one’s child’s development because in reality there is a huge range of what is considered “normal” or “typical” development. There are conflicting “expert” opinions about whether one should be teaching children to help them attain physical and cognitive milestones more quickly or whether it is best to let them explore and develop on their own and at their own speed. Every parent we meet wishes to support her child’s development to the best of her ability and seeks advice as to how to go about it.
Development can be uneven. Although some babies’ development is steady and well-rounded, it is equally typical for children to grow in spurts or to focus more on one area—for example, motor development—and then on another, such as the social world. Some babies hate “tummy time”, but spend long periods of time gazing into the face of their caregivers, exchanging coos and smiles. Others are more fascinated by toys or other inanimate objects and are motivated to explore them by reaching, mouthing, shaking, banging, etc. Some babies are better developed muscularly and spend their time rolling over, trying to move about on their own, pulling to stand at an early age, practicing these motor skills all day long or even, to their parents’ dismay, during the night. The good news is that in almost all cases, development evens out at some point, although temperament and personality development will lead a child to favor certain activities over others (which is true for all of us throughout our lifespan).
Many parents initially gauge their child’s development according to when they start walking and talking. Some kids talk before they walk, others are running, jumping, and throwing a ball long before they utter their first word. Here again, there is a huge range of what is considered to be “normal” or “typical”, and our child development specialists offer useful information to parents to help them understand what is happening with their specific child. A host of other questions such as, “Is my child aggressive?”, “Why doesn’t my child share her toys?”, and “How do I discipline my child?” come up in every toddler group. Group members observe the children together, share their opinions, experiences, and concerns with one another and the group leader, and receive support, advice, and new perspectives from one another.
No child develops in a vacuum. Parent-child relationships and the overall environment contribute in powerful ways to every area of a child’s growth. Parents can wonder how their attitudes toward their child are impacting him or her. Does praise really foster self-confidence? Do punishments undermine my child's self-esteem? How strict or permissive should I be? Am I contributing to my child's becoming whiny, demanding, shy, or pushy? Am I supporting or hindering my child's development? Parents explore these questions in our groups, benefiting from each other's experiences and observations.
Major events, such as divorce, a child falling ill or having an accident, the birth of a sibling, the death of a grandparent, take a toll on the whole family, including its very youngest members. We help parents understand their child's experience and, based on the child's perspective, together we find ways of talking to children about difficult subjects, thereby promoting trust, coping strategies, and resilience.
Our parent-child groups are ideal for thinking about and observing children’s development. In one large room, we conduct a mothers' support group and a children’s play group, side by side, with a parent group leader, a child development specialist, and several student externs (for details, click on Mothers' Support Groups). At any time, the mothers can interrupt their discussion and focus their attention on the children as they interact with each other and the staff. Situations that arise in the room are handled in vivo and can then be immediately discussed. We try to keep the difference in ages between the children to no more than 6 months, so that parents are dealing with and learning about similar developmental stages.
Our child development specialists have the luxury of watching your child’s development very closely and carefully. We have a very large adult-child ratio (usuallly 4:6; in parent-infant groups, it can be 1:1) that allows us to get to know you and child intimately. Development can never be assessed on a single factor alone. The child must be looked at holistically, taking into account myriad factors.
Sometimes we do find that a child might benefit from some intervention in order to help her achieve mastery of age-related tasks and skills. In these cases, we offer emotional support, concrete practical suggestions, and, when necessary, make referrals to specialists.
For parents seeking brief consultation about a specific developmental issue, we offer individualized family consultations. These can address the needs of families with children from birth up to the age of 12. Parents and children meet in the same room (or separately if deemed appropriate) with two professionals, one focusing on talking to the parents, the other playing with or talking to the child. These dialogues take place over 4 to 6 sessions, at the end of which feedback is given and recommendations are made.