Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Developmental Leaps

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Has your baby been driving you crazy the past couple of weeks? Have you noticed that no matter what you do, you can't seem to make her happy or comfort her? Or maybe he has suddenly begun not eating very well or waking up in the middle of the night? With all of this stress and based on your child's erratic behavior, you might be thinking, "Is there something wrong with my parenting skills?"

GOOD NEWS PARENTS!! We might not be doing anything wrong and there might not be anything wrong with our baby. Child development researchers have described these fussy phases as a signal of great and drastic changes in a baby’s mental development. "During these times, his brain is giving him new possibilities. So many possibilities, in fact, that the world around him seems totally different and new. No wonder he is fussy! He needs to get a grip on this ‘new world’ suddenly in front of him. As a result, he acts out and becomes more Clingy, Cranky and Cries more" (The Wonder Weeks).
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Many professionals call these changes in a baby's mental development "Developmental Leaps." Other professionals might call them "Touchpoints." Either way the definition for both is the same:
Predictable periods of time during a child’s development where a child will “leap” from one skill (e.g. motor, cognitive, or emotional skills) to a more difficult skill. During this “leap,” or period of rapid growth, a child’s behavior falls apart, they go into a state of neurological disorganization, and the previous skills they had achieved can be shelved for a while as they are focusing keenly on achieving the new and more difficult skill. “Every time a baby goes through a leap they perceive things they couldn't do before. It’s like the whole world around them changes” (Ask the experts: Baby leaps).

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One example of a Developmental Leap can be seen in a four month old baby as he or she goes through a burst in cognitive awareness of his or her environment. "The baby will be difficult to feed. He will stop eating to look around and to listen to every stimulus in the environment. To parents’ dismay, he will begin to awaken again at night. His awareness of his surroundings will be enhanced by a burst in visual development. Yet, [as parents], when [we] understand the disorganization of this period as a natural precursor to the rapid and exciting development that follows, [we] will not need to feel as if it represents failure" (Touchpoints, 2003). 

Understanding that Developmental Leaps could be a possible reason for our child's behavior or development can help us navigate through these predictable spurts and the issues that these spurts may raise in our families. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., the author of Touchpoints: The Essential Reference--Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development , pointed out in his book that "Each [leap] accomplished leads to a new sense of autonomy. When seen as normal and predictable, these periods of regressive behavior are opportunities to understand the child more deeply and to support his or her growth, rather than to become locked into a struggle. A child’s particular strengths and vulnerabilities, as well as temperament and coping style, all come to the surface at such a time. What a chance for understanding the child as an individual!” (p. xvii-xviii).

Some common signs that your child might be going through a Developmental Leap include:

  • eating less
  • sleeping less or waking up a lot of the time
  • digressing in his/her development instead of forward
  • crying more
  • being cranky
  • clinging to you all the time
  • being ill more often
  • not being satisfied no matter what you do
Recognizing Developmental Leap periods is a great resource of knowledge that can help us navigate through our child's development. Raising a child is hard, but equipping ourselves with the knowledge that will better help us understand our child's development may save us from many unneeded hardships.

Have you noticed any Developmental Leap periods your child has gone through or maybe is going through?

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