Appreciating Children’s Tasks

Effective disciplining requires parents to be fair with regard to their expectations. They have the responsibility of learning about typical developmental tasks, as well as the unique qualities of each of their children, in order to be fair in what they expect of their children at each stage of development.

Understanding children’s developmental tasks helps you parent better

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and GrandmotherDevelopment

Over the years, many researchers have described what are called Developmental Tasks of children. These are the specific “jobs” the child might have as part of their developmental journeys.

Some of the more famous researchers include Jean Piaget and Eric Erickson. Others such as Jean Ilsley Clark and Dorothy Corkille Briggs have their own descriptions of childhood tasks.

Here’s an example of why understanding developmental tasks can be so helpful.

I remember being struck by the description Briggs offers in Your Child’s Self-Esteem, about the work of children between the ages of 0 to 6, and more specifically, between the ages of two and four. Because they are working on autonomy, she says “Possession is one device the young child uses to hammer out autonomy. Consequently, ownership takes on special meaning to the toddler set.… Just as babbling comes before talking, so owning comes before sharing. To fully share, a person must first fully possess.… The little child needs time to get the feel of ownership thoroughly worked into his experience before he can let go. Only 50% of three-year-olds can share and then only briefly; yet, unthinkingly, and our conscientious efforts to teach social graces, we push against the toddlers need to own.” [Pages 129, 130]

A child’s ownership needs

When my children were very young and because I understood this, I was accepting when they wanted to “own” every toy in a playroom. It was not because they wanted to play with toys, but because they were working on ownership. I was able to let them know when we were having friends over who had young children, that they had permission to take some of their toys they did not want to share and keep them away from the other children.

I knew that once they could fully embrace their right to own things that they would then be prepared to share and enjoy sharing. By having fair expectations, I realized that it was not a place to discipline when my young children were unable to share. Rather my job was to help my children move through this particular developmental task.

I feel sad when I see parents who insist that their toddlers share and then call them selfish when their children struggle, because I know these parents are unaware of this particular developmental task and therefore have unfair expectations of their children.

This is one example of many concerning the importance of recognizing developmental tasks and then being careful not to demand that children behave in ways they are not developmentally prepared for.

Respectful parenting involves understanding child development tasks

In Janet Lansbury’s compelling book, Elevating Childcare: A Guide To Respectful Parenting, she states that a key principle of respectful parenting involves parents recognizing…“that children need confident and empathetic leaders and clear boundaries-but not shaming, distractions, punishment or timeouts.” 

Invitation to reflect:

  1.  How aware are you of the developmental tasks of children in each stage of growth?
  2.  What have you observed in each of your children that probably reflects ways they are working on developmental tasks?
  3. Do you have resources to help you better understand what those developmental tasks are and how they manifest in the lives of your children? If not, please check out the work of Piaget, Erikson, Clarke and Briggs.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network


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