Behavioral Challenges Before Developmental Growth Spurts

July 20th, 2010 by Dionna | 14 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Consensual Living, Eclectic Learning, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

2010-01-23 03

I reached out to my local parenting group a few weeks ago, because I was at the end of my parenting rope with Kieran. He was demanding our attention every single second of the day, and when we had to do something else (cook, clean, pee), Kieran would get angry or melt down.

It was tiring.

The two suggestions that really resonated with me were:

1) Talk to Kieran: when I knew that I needed some concentrated time for a project, just sit down with Kieran and say “mama needs to do X, what do you think you could do while I am X’ing?” Toddlers are not too small or inexperienced to be part of a solution. We’ve been talking to Kieran about solutions for a long time, and it definitely helps.

2) Have some novel activities that Kieran can do while I am doing my own thing: that way his independent time is something for him to look forward to.

This morning, though, as I read through a new reply to my initial question, I saw that Kieran was in the living room contentedly playing with his trains. His trains were having a lively conversation, and he’d been playing by himself for about 20 minutes – without anyone asking him to!

I thought back to the past few days and realized that his creative play has simply exploded in the past week. He is making up intricate story lines for his trains, for his kitchen, for his puppets; he has been interested in the dress up box and the modeling clay; he has run around pretending to be Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Wendy (his imagination knows no gender bounds, thankfully).

And it dawned on me – just like babies, toddlers show physical, outward signs of growth and development spurts. For example:

  • A two week stretch of frequent night wakings can be linked to the emergence of a new physical skill like walking, or a developmental spurt like a big language leap;
  • Eighteen to twenty-one month old toddlers often exhibit a renewed bout of separation anxiety as they come to terms with the fact of their new mobility and independence;
  • More frequent (than normal) meltdowns or big bursts of emotion can accompany rapid development in social skills.

Babies and toddlers are going through monumental developments physically, mentally, and emotionally. They do not have the ability to “talk it out” or tell us what’s bothering them. It is only in retrospect that we can link a difficult time of behavior or sleep with a physical or developmental growth spurt.

In retrospect, it looks like Kieran was in the middle of a developmental spurt in his creative play. He is getting ready to enter a peak time of pretend play, and as with any type of play, it requires new mental connections.

Parenting our child’s abilities and development is one reason that we haven’t employed punitive disciplinary measures. It doesn’t do any good to withdraw our love from a child for acting out, when he is acting out because he is in the middle of a period of rapid brain development. Gentle discipline helps us connect with our child during these tumultuous years of growth and development.

Do you notice differences in sleep or behavior or other outward signs during growth or development spurts?

14 Responses to:
"Behavioral Challenges Before Developmental Growth Spurts"

  1. I find toddler advise so frustrating. My middle son (the Imp) will be two in September. He doesn’t talk yet. He communicates decently, but it’s still rough. Ball, bug, nipple, popsicle, bed – they all sound the same coming from him.

    We’re going through *something* right now. Part of it is the “new” baby (he’s two and a half months old), part of it may be a pre-developmental thing. I really don’t know. He is starting to articulate a bit more but aside from the obvious developments – rolling, crawling, walking – it’s so very hard for me to tell.

    I do know that my almost-eight-year-old son gets seriously cranky just before growth spurts.

  2. I found the book The Wonder Weeks by Plooij and Van de Rijt to be ENORMOUSLY helpful during my son’s first year and a half. Their timeline for the various developmental spurts was so spot on, it was like a manual made just for my child! I SO wish there was something similar for the toddler years, as it’s pretty clear the wonder weeks do not stop at the age of one.

  3. Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)   ALotofLoves

    This certainly has happened to us with our kids. They both have had instances of major clinginess in the case of my daughter, or naughtiness in the case of my son, that last for weeks. And just when you think you are going to crack, they back off and start doing something on their own. My son particularly has been spending a lot of time creating stories with his trucks. I love it.

  4. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    My son definitely gets fussy and “harder” to parent right before he grows or masters a new skill. Most recently it was a vocabulary explosion. He gets really clingy and wakes up in the night, then poof-new skill!

  5. Shane Shaps   520eastbrands

    I completely agree with you. My two kids have always “regressed” a bit right before doing something really big. In fact, my 4YO all of a sudden started having accidents in his pants all the time. We focused in on it, started offering some rewards for clean pants, giving him some attention on it, and voila! We are on 5 days of mommy not doing laundry 3 times in one day.

    It’s sort of like they’re hesitant to move forward until they return one step back first…

  6. Totally. My wonderful mother-in-law always reminds me of this when my kids are driving me bonkers and it is so so true.

  7. This has got to be why Everett has had a difficult month… we have worked through a lot of it, finding some significant ways to prevent the outbursts but never quite understood why it was happening.

    Thanks for reminding me about this!

  8. Thank you. This came at the right time :)

  9. Amanda   ugottafriendnme

    “his imagination knows no gender bounds, thankfully” I love this line! My daughter pretends to be Buzz Lightyear, it’s adorable.

  10. My friend and I were just talking about this. Our children are older (5 and 8) but it appears to hold true even at this age. My 5 year old son was working very hard that day at swimming with a pool noodle. He kept having little meltdowns throughout the day and I was wondering what was going on with him. My friend pointed out how hard he had been working with the pool noodle and we both were reminded of the toddler years and what you posted. My 8 year old daughter has taken huge leaps of independence over the last few months and her behaviour as often been challenging at the same time. It’s a good lesson to remember throughout a child’s life!

  11. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    This is such sensible advice and so needed. It seems like every time I feel at the end of my rope like that — and like nothing will ever change, oh, no! — then everything changes. Wham. You’d think I’d start recognizing the pattern!

  12. Rebekah C   RCThoughtfulMom

    I really appreciated this post. Thank you for reminding me that toddler behavioral roller-coasters are just part of the process of growing. Change is hard on adults, why wouldn’t it be more difficult outwardly for children?

    It seems to me that we expect a certain level of understanding and acceptance of our behavioral idiosyncrasies from our friends and spouses when we are dealing with personal growth. It makes sense to me to extend this same courtesy, tailored to age appropriate expectations, to our children.

    I know it’s difficult to do, I often find myself reacting rather than giving thought to the “whys” in my children’s behaviors. What you are saying makes a lot of sense and is quite timely for me. Thank you. :)

  13. Amber   AmberStrocel

    Yes! Yes, yes, yes. Invariably, when I am at the end of my rope and ready to run screaming from my house, my kid does something and it all makes sense. Walks, talks, grows 3 inches, whatever. It’s no fun while it lasts, but luckily it doesn’t really last that long. And then you’ve got a whole new fun skill to play with, which is cool.

  14. Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes   sheryljesin

    Thank you for this post! Dylan had been sleeping so nicely, and the last few nights have been awful…I’m feeling like a zombie and don’t have patience for him during the days…I am hoping this is either a developmental milestone…or maybe his last set of molars??

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