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‘To be a parent – to care for a child – is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love.’

(Gopnik, A. 2017)

I came across this definition when I was reading about parenting. For me, to care for and to engage with, are very important words because the emphasis is on the nurturing aspect. Parenting is relational and like with every relationship, it depends on the interaction between two individuals. It is also important to be aware of what to expect from your child, according to the stages of development and the limitations that these may bring about. Remember that development varies between individuals, depending on genetics, the environment and the opportunities available for the child.

Thus, it is important to note that development is complex since it is affected not only internally, through the way that genetics are manifested, but also by the environment and the opportunities available for each individual to develop. Epigenetics explores exactly this: the way parts of a gene may be expressed or not. Research shows how features in the environment, even subtle ones, can make genes active or inactive and how genes vary depending on how children’s experiences may also vary.

This explains why siblings, even though very similar, will be also very different!

How do I interact with my child?

As a parent I may have certain expectations on myself and also on my child. These expectations may be based on a number of personal experiences, but also on the way that my child behaves. It is not only the adult who influences the child, but the child influences the adult too. Keep in mind that each child’s interpretation of the world depends on a complex interplay between nature; nurture; how the child is perceived / reacted to; and how the child integrates all of this information in order to interact with the adults present. I may behave in the same way towards my two children; however, their personality will affect the way they react back to me, and this will be different with each one.

What can I expect from my child?

At a young age, a child’s emotional development shifts between feelings of frustration, developing new ways of self-expression, seeking out reassurance, being impulsive and restless. This internal turmoil may lead to a number of tantrums and raises the question for a parent as to how to support a child. If one keeps in mind that frustration may start to emerge in children since they may have clear ideas of what they want, they understand more what is happening around them, however they find it difficult to express and control themselves. 

Many temper tantrums occur because the child is unable to express feelings and desires. Children may not have the verbal skills to express themselves and make sense of what is going on around them. As parents, we are important to play our part in providing the child with the language that they are missing. This is done by describing for the child what is happening not only in their external world but also internally. This helps with validation and understanding of what is happening and providing them with the skills for when it happens again. 

Following this, children will increase their repertoire of words, and they will eventually move on to saying phrases and simple sentences.

A parent as a role model.

Children observe what others are doing and how they are behaving, and they learn from them.

Initially babies are dependent on adults and the way adults react to them and respond to their needs will impact on how they will view the world and how they form other relationships. Children learn that the world can either be perceived as hostile or a safe place. 

As toddlers become more independent, they become more mobile and explore their environment. They start wanting to do things by themselves and stop using nappies. The way that the adults around them respond to this move towards independence impacts on their child’s ability to believe in him/herself, to be doubtful or guilty of their own drives. It is important to keep in mind that children will be praised or criticised according to what the adults around them value.

References:

https://raisingtoddlerscourageously.com/optin

Tassoni, P. Children’s Play, Learning and Development. Student Book 1. 

Gopnik, A. 2017. The Gardener and the Carpenter. Vintage: UK

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on abigail@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.