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Fall 2013 - Ages & Stages

Remember the Basics

The types of skills you want to see children develop in the first few years include:

  • Being able to trust
  • Knowing their needs will be met
  • Handling their emotions & tolerating frustration

Parents play a role in helping children learn to do these things together. A responsive and understanding parent helps reassure their child that people are there for them.

Good parenting naturally provides what a child really needs in daily routines. For new parents, those things can be very basic.

Respond to a fussy baby with kind inquiry. Do they need a diaper change? Is it feeding time? Make sure they aren’t hungry and remember that an upset baby sometimes just needs some comforting snuggle time.

Ask for Extra Support

“Parents need to know when it’s time to ask for help,” said Melissa Johnson, PhD, pediatric psychologist at WakeMed. If your baby is colicky and upset a lot more than usual, talk to your pediatrician and ask friends and family for extra support.

If you or a parent you know is depressed, facing big challenges (deployment, layoff, sick family member, etc.), it’s very important to seek additional help.

Unplug A Little

Remember to find a balance with digital tools. If they help you connect to your support network, that may be a good thing. But you need to be careful to make sure you aren’t tuning your child out.

Electronic devices may have their place in your family’s life. Occasional use isn’t likely to be a big problem. For example, playing games or watching something may help ease a challenging situation (a long trip, waiting time before surgery, or other stressful activities). However, parents should exercise caution.

“Don’t make it your default,” said Dr. Johnson. “The digital world shouldn’t become a substitute for traditional play that uses the five senses.” Pull out the building blocks, explore outdoors, and create opportunities for your child to see, touch, taste, smell and hear.

Remember, childhood can be brief and fleeting. Make sure you tune in for the big and little moments by having the family turn the devices off more frequently.

Social-Emotional Development


Instead of worrying about labeling problems, Dr. Johnson encourages parents to focus on the tasks their child needs to accomplish. The most important thing in the first three years is building the emotional connection. If you don’t feel good about how things are going, reach out for help.

Dr. Johnson recommends watching for and encouraging the following behaviors and skills as children develop in the first three years.


  • Looking to parent for comfort
  • Calling to parent and sharing things of interest or excitement
  • Showing signs of happiness
  • Exploring their environment with eyes, hands and mouth

TIP: Share books as early as possible. Instead of simply reading, point at pictures and explain what you see. This is a great thing to do while cuddling with your children.

NOTE: Be sure to let your pediatrician know if your child is not sharing things of interest and excitement with you or others at this stage.


  • Pretend play increases (i.e., talking into objects as if they are a phone)
  • Words become a fun way of sharing what is going on
  • Parents should think about functional language use – not just names
  • Word use becomes a way to say what they want

TIP: Introduction of other languages, sign language, etc. is appropriate at this age.

NOTE: Speech pathologists look at word use to assess how a child is developing.


  • Defining their own world
  • Interacting with other adults
  • Figuring out how to be a separate, independent human being

NOTE: Part of your job is to stay calm while your child is figuring out their emotions. Sometimes it is really hard to remain in the grown-up mindset during this age, but you are the only one who is capable of doing that.

TIPS: There are ways to avoid power struggles with children at this age – pick your battles, give choices when you can and be firm when there isn’t a choice.

  • Start teaching a child about emotions. Acknowledge and articulate how they feel. (For example: ‘You are sad and mad you can’t have that toy. Let’s go home. Do you want to go with me or do you want me to carry you?’) Notice that this example provided empathy and a choice.
  • Stop and think of ways to be calm when emotions rise. Get on their level, relate to their emotions and give them choices. Tell them you are proud of them when they are able to work through their emotions with you. Be proud of yourself, too, for staying calm.

Stay tuned for more Ages & Stages highlights for ages 3 to 5 in an upcoming issue of Families First. Are you subscribed? Sign up online at or send us an email at

  FF fall 2013 ages & stages Reach Out for Help

SAFEchild, a local nonprofit that helps adults and children create nurturing environments free from abuse and neglect, offers programs specifically designed to help expectant and new parents.

Welcome Baby

Through this home-visiting program, SAFEchild pairs a new mom with an experienced mom who provides friendship, support and ideas to cope with the challenges of caring for a newborn. Mothers may request a Welcome Baby mentor before or after their baby is born.

PLUS (Parents Learning, Understanding, Sharing)

SAFEchild's 12-week PLUS program for parents teaches positive communication, discipline strategies, anger management, and the importance of literacy development in children. Volunteers share stories and play with the children while their parents are in class.

FF fall 2013 ages & stages 2 FF fall 2013 ages & stages 3



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