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Part 2: The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence  >  Behaviour at Different Ages




Every newborn has a personality of her own. Hence, no two newborns are the same, although all of them like to be cuddled and have their need to feel loved satisfied. It is helpful to know that some of them fuss more than others. They seek more attention, sleep less and cry more.

Fathers also need to lend a helping hand in such situations. Some children find a male voice more soothing and comforting. As the ‘difficult’ baby demands a lot from the mother, she may get exhausted and be unable to give her husband the attention she would like to give him. A considerate husband understands his wife’s difficulties and shares the household chores, especially in the absence of any domestic help. And when the wife is able to notice and appreciate her husband’s caring attitude, the ‘difficult’ baby will have performed a good deed in having brought them closer to each other.


At about 3 months, the child recognises her mother well. She likes to have adults and children dote on her and obliges them with a real broad smile. In a joint family, she will respond amiably towards the other members. Between 3 and 6 months, she starts becoming aware of strangers. She may not respond to their overtures, or may even start crying as soon as she sees them. Consequently, she expects her parents, especially her mother, to be around. At times, the mother may feel that the baby is taking advantage of her goodness. Let it be so. The care that you give her at this age will stand her in good stead later in life. She will start trusting people, will cherish your care and in turn, learn to care lovingly for others. 

The loving bond
The loving bond

Nearing her first birthday, the ‘angel’ baby may start behaving like a ‘little devil’. She is now entering a phase of ‘negativism’, when she tends to do the opposite of what you want her to do. This is healthy, as it indicates that the child is beginning to develop her own personality. It is her way of telling you that you can’t ‘bully’ her all the time, although her seemingly rebellious behaviour can often be very annoying. 

Use the method of distraction when she insists on touching something that she should not be handling or touching, This is preferable to shouting at her. Give her something more interesting and divert her attention. When that does not work, start using the precious word ‘No’. Say ‘No’ in a firm, matter-of-fact way whenever needed and required. Let there be no harshness, bitterness or sarcasm in the tone of your voice. Do not keep saying ‘No’ all the time. Let there be a few practical and realistic rules that the child can understand. Be consistent. Make sure that the child observes the set rules. Parents and grandparents must not have differing viewpoints. Let the child understand that a ‘No’ means ‘No’. First, she won’t be sure of your command. When she does associate your consistent ‘No’ with the expected prohibition, she will gradually start accepting the limits to which she can go.

Show approval when she listens to your instructions. Ignore minor offences, but if she is putting herself into a dangerous situation, act fast to move her away with a firm ‘No’ and ensure her safety. 

Your one-year-old infant may not understand the concept of danger. As she crawls about or learns to walk, she may want to put her fingers into the electric socket, pull down the table lamp or the tablecloth. She may want to put everything that comes her way into her mouth. In the process of touching new objects, she is learning about different shapes, sizes and textures. She is learning to coordinate her hand and mouth activity. As long as she does not harm herself or harm others in the process, her natural instinct to explore must not be curbed or stifled. Keep breakable objects out of her reach. A few things that she is not supposed to touch may be kept, just so you can teach her the meaning of ‘No’. However, make sure she has a lot of things around the house that she can touch and play with. 

At this age, she may also throw things on the ground. This type of behaviour does not necessarily mean that she is being naughty or bad; she is learning the art of releasing objects and watching where they land. 

Do not be surprised when she is afraid of strangers; she is in the process of learning to distinguish her near and dear ones from others. Advise visitors not to pounce on her the moment they see her. Let the child observe the newcomers. She will watch them from the comer of her eye and assess them for a while. After some time, she may herself come close to them or respond to their friendly gestures. If she does not, let them wait for another opportunity to gain her hand in friendship. In case they have brought her a gift, let it be offered before they leave. If she still remains away from them, keep the gift on the table and draw her attention to it. The chances are that she will pick it up, look at it for a while and then come out of her shell.

At this age, children are normally afraid of sudden noises. My grandson was afraid of the whistle of the pressure cooker. This is normal. After a couple of months, they get over this fear, provided we do not become unduly anxious about these normal fears. Similarly, your child may start shrieking the moment you pour water on her head. Take it easy. Let her sit in the bathtub in your presence. Pour water on her head or let her pour it herself. If she is still afraid, let her watch you bathing. Don’t give her a head bath for a few days; just pour a little water on her body. You may soon be able to help her get over her fear. With such an approach, she is likely to come around faster, than when you try to force the issue. 

Before she completes one year, your child will indicate that she wants to eat by herself. She will make a serious effort to do so, and end up making quite a mess in the process. You may be tempted to come to her help. She may resist you, but after some time, she may give up and start depending on you to help her eat. You will probably not realise that by doing this, you are sowing the seeds of dependency in her.

If you do not set limits and allow her to act as she likes, your child may find it difficult to adjust later with people with whom she has to live or work. Fortunately, most such children manage to modify their behaviour as they grow older, when they come in contact with another positive, caring adult who guides them on the right path. However, it does make sense to avoid future problems as much as is possible within our limits and efforts by laying a stable foundation right from an early age.

Nearirg the first birthday, children love to eat by themselves. Encourage this, even if they make a mess
Nearirg the first birthday, children love to eat by themselves. 
Encourage this, even if they make a mess

First, the good news: At this age, your toddler wants to please you. She also wants to imitate you. The best approach is therefore to set a good example while she follows you and tries to win your approval. At times, she may be a bundle of joy who wants to help. For example, she may be very happy to bring the chapatis from the kitchen to the dining table or give a shopkeeper money on your behalf.

However, she will also test your patience at times. Remember she is passing through a phase of ‘negativism’. She may find it difficult to control herself and act in a rather impulsive manner. She may refuse to share her possessions with others. She may be fearful. She worries if she does not see you for long and clings to you when you come back. All this is normal. Read the chapter on MEETING THE EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF CHILDREN. It will help you accept your ‘angel-cum-devil’ as an individual with her own distinct personality and out of this acceptance will follow tender, loving care. You will learn to set limits. Firmness will come naturally to you. Of course, you will feel hopeless at times. However, faith in these basic guidelines will keep you going. Thereafter, you may be further comforted by the fact that the next 3 years are going to be comparatively easier for you and your child. 

(3 TO 6 YEARS)
Compared to a toddler, your preschool child is less selfcentred, more helpful, more outgoing and friendly. She may even start seeing her mistakes. 

At 4 years, however, she may appear rude and may even swear, but she will be better behaved by about 5 years.

A preschool child also wants to please her parents and tries to imitate them. This puts an extra responsibility on parents to live right and provide role models of healthy and happy living.

Your child lets her imagination run wild, often playing games about relationships and the places that you have visited as a family. She may keep asking you all sorts of questions on different subjects: ‘Why does this happen?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What?’ ‘How?’

Children at this age may now start taking more interest in their genitals and play with them - which is not abnormal. They may ask why boys and girls are different from each other, or about how babies come into this world. Your daughter may also seem attracted to her father, just as her brother is probably enchanted by his mother.

The parents must understand that their children’s interest in playing with the genitals or their attraction to someone of the opposite sex is normal. Questions related to sex must be answered in a matter-of-fact manner, without embarrassment and without giving unnecessary details. If you do not feel comfortable talking about sex, ask a friend or teacher to talk to the child.

Parents must not allow children to manipulate one parent against the other. When the parents retain their individual identities and continue to show love and respect for each other, children get the right signals from an early age. This helps them develop respect for human beings in general and the opposite sex in particular.

(6 TO 12 YEARS)
On joining regular school, your child is likely to become closer to his peers. They will probably influence his behaviour more than you or your husband do. It is a normal phase of development. Don’t worry if your son starts taking less interest in family activities. He wants to be more independent and socialise more with people of his own age. When he joins a group of boys of his own age, he learns to lead and to be led. He shares responsibility and the group’s workload. His group may be very creative, but there is always a possibility of getting into undesirable activities.

By and large, an association with peers is good. Do not spy on your son’s day-to-day activities. Do not read his personal diary. It may please you to know that at this age, the ‘inner policeman’ in him is more alert. It starts nagging him when he is tempted to cross the limits of values set by your living and your interaction with him. 

Instead of suspecting the ‘evil’ influence that other boys or girls may have on your child, make an earnest attempt to know his friends and their families. Invite them to your home. Do not be swayed by their outward appearance. Treat them with respect. Do not pass critical comments. 

Your job is to make sure that your child has enough time for his studies and at least some time for the family. Television watching may be rationed. Reach an agreement with him about the programmes that he can see. Regular sleeping hours must be maintained. Children need to have enough sleep at this age. They must therefore go to bed early. (See Sleep And Sleep Problems in THE A-Z OF CHILDHOOD ILLNESSES.)

Make sure that your child has occasion to spend time with the family in a casual manner. Invite your son’s favourite friend to a movie or a family picnic. Meet the mothers of your son’s friends during holidays. Organise a group activity where you can help them learn something that will really interest them. This can be done on a particular day of the week. Other mothers can take responsibility for some other days. But you must make sure that the group has time to themselves when they can do the things that they want to do together. 

It is important at this age to be in close contact with your son’s class teacher. Do discuss his progress with her and ask in what ways you can play your part in helping him do better in his studies. Some parents push their children too hard to ‘top’ the class. Others just don’t bother. Both extremes are not desirable. Teachers also have a major responsibility to help children become healthy and happy adults. Your visits to the school will be helpful. However, do not be over anxious and start visiting your child’s school every day. He will feel embarrassed and your interest is likely to prove counter-productive.

The question of pocket money comes up at this age. Give him an allowance, but not too large an amount. You can also set certain guidelines about what things your son should not buy with the allowance, say for example, junk food. Ultimately, however, he should be free to use it the way he likes.

Be careful not to criticise your child in front of others if you feel he is not coming up to your expectations. Discuss the problem with your husband and jointly explore the possible ways of handling the situation. 

Do not hesitate to talk to a psychologist or a family counsellor. I know of a young boy who refused to go to school. The parents took him to a psychologist who, on probing deeper, found that the child was afraid of a bully in the school bus, that he admired his father for his skills in karate, and that he liked his school teacher. The parents met the teacher, who then encouraged the boy to join karate classes. His father started spending more time with him. The bully was tackled. The boy became proficient in karate, improved in his studies and ultimately developed a more robust personality.

(12 TO 18 YEARS)
This is a tumultuous age, difficult both for your teenager as well as for those who have to interact with him. Rapid changes, both in physical and sexual growth, are taking place. By his behaviour, he is hinting to you that he is no longer a child and that he has become an adult. However, he often forgets that he is still passing through a phase of transition and that he has not yet become a fully mature adult. 

You may hear him say, ‘Leave me alone. I am no more a kid.’ And yet, deep within, he may be expecting your continued guidance and support. His actions may declare, ‘Get lost!’, yet he often wants his parents to be around and to be available when he feels confused and is undecided about certain issues. 

Girls who mature early are reported to be more prone to psychological difficulty during their teenage years. Teenagers fretting over how they look may have the so-called ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder’, a severe preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance. This can lead some children to drop out of school, shun social contact and even attempt suicide. The cause of this condition is not known, although biological, psychological and socio-cultural factors are suspected.

How To Handle A Teenager
Gone are the days when a father could tell his teenaged son or daughter, ‘In our days, we couldn’t utter a word in the presence of our elders. How dare you speak to me like that?’ It does not work. It perhaps did not work in those days either; parents probably just forced their children into submission. Such children either remained submissive throughout their lives or rebelled at the first available opportunity.

Does it mean that parents should not be firm with their growing children? Should they be given full freedom to do anything they like? No!

The teenager is simply reminding us to meet his emotional needs discussed earlier. Read those guidelines again.

The teenager says loud and clear:

  • Remember that I am a young adult and not a little child any more.
  • Treat me with love, respect, and firmness.
  • Help me assume responsibility for my own life.
  • Set a good example for me, instead of harping on moral values and good conduct.
  • When I want to talk to you, do spare the time to listen to me.

Understanding parents know that periods like the phase of negativism (which may begin at 15 months of age or sometimes earlier and end at 3 to 4 years) and the period of adolescence, when understood well and handled properly, may in fact, bring their children closer to them.

To begin with, a teenager starts questioning your views about living. You may be fighting corruption at all levels. Your son will argue that it is not practical to be absolutely honest in the present social set-up. Or he may try to defy you if you want him to come home early. Be patient. Continue to give him your love. This is part of growing up. The important thing for you is not to give up. If limits are required, remember the dictum, ‘Your teenager will be upset in the long run, if you do not set the required limits.’

Later on, our young friend may start ignoring you and start spending more time with his friends. Treat them with respect even if they are not dressed the way you expect boys from ‘decent families’ to be dressed. His interest in the opposite sex will now become more evident. You should be aware that it is not uncommon for adolescents to experiment with cigarettes, beer or sometimes even hard drugs in the company of their friends.

Fortunately, before your son enters the 20s, he has already established close bonds with you and the family. He may finally start appreciating your rather ‘conservative’ views. He may like to spend more time with Mom and Dad and discuss his future and career. If he has a younger teenaged sister, he may suddenly become very protective towards her and keep reminding you to set appropriate limits for her. He may now be ready to listen to the voice of his own conscience — his ‘inner policeman’ that you told him about when he was younger. However, help him not to develop any guilt feelings. Tell him about some of the mistakes that you have made in life, how you learnt from them, made amends where you could, and continued to move forward. 

7 March, 2016

Part 2
The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence
Normal Growth & Development
Behaviour at Different Ages
Meeting the Emotional Needs
Learning and Schooling
Ready To Read
Parenting Adolescents
Guide to Child Care
1 Pregnancy, Childbirth ...
2 The Growing Years
3 Feeding Infants, ...
4 Keeping Your Child Healthy
5 Keeping Your Child Happy
About Dr. R. K. Anand

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