By: Patrick C. Heard MA LPC LMFT
I recently noticed an increase in very young children coming in for counseling. I thought seeing a three-year-old child and his or her parent was a good outside limit, but I never expected to see two-year olds and their parents in my counseling office.
I gave some thought as to why this might be the case. These are my thoughts about the matter:
Unfamiliarity with Developmental Stages: Even parents who have raised other children can be confused about what is normal for a young child. When is she supposed to talk, when will he start individual play? Many parents experience their children growing and developing, but without clarity about what things are supposed to happen, and at what ages and stages. I am often asked by the parent if the child acting out before me is displaying normal behavior? [See healthychildren.org a website of the American Academy of Pediatricians to find developmental milestones or Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics] Parents educating themselves regarding the ages and stages of growth will find renewed confidence.
Not Like Me or Like Me: A parent who finds it difficult to relate to their toddler may experience incongruent differences in personality between them, while a parent who says, “He is just like I was!” may tend to normalize the behavior or catastrophize the behavior if he was told he was difficult as young child. Accept that, despite any similar or dissimilar characteristics, your child is uniquely himself or herself.
No and Go: This is the age of exploring outside the body! Earlier in life the baby looked so cute with his toes in his mouth. The tumbles and turns were hilarious, but now, safety becomes an issue because where they want to go and how they get there can be harmful, and you may have to set limits. Don’t be afraid to say no and redirect them to something else that you can say yes to. Create more opportunities for safe expression and exploration that you will not have to correct or stop.
Your Lead: Children do not come prepackaged with directions. You must be in charge and guide your children. Without your direction they will be whiny, clingy or demanding, and even mean. Our culture today promotes individual freedom and choice, but your two-year-old needs for you to have a structure, a schedule, a belief system for the child to function well!
Your Love: Nothing can substitute for a parent’s unconditional time, attention, and touch. Though your child may seem independent, she still craves you. She can do without the latest brain booster gadget or organic food snack, but she cannot do without your time and attention. Stop and enjoy your child. Play with him. Talk and hold her daily!
Knowing and understanding the desires of your unique young child, along with regular focused attention and rules and structure, can create more enjoyable moments while you travel together through this stage of life.