Linda E. Homeyer Ph. D.
Professer of Counseling, travels and teaches internationally,
Author of books on “Play Therapy
An understanding of child development helps us raise children into the adults we hope them to be. Many parents refer to their children as a “gift from God” (Psalm 127). Indeed they are. These gifts have many needs, stages, and tasks to be experienced and mastered to achieve their full potential. This article will provide a review of these, with the prayer that those reading this, whatever their role in the lives of children, will provide what is needed for healthy development. God puts many people into the lives of children: parents, aunties, grandparents, pastors, youth pastors, and teachers, among others. None of us do it alone. Together, we all impact the children who live among us.
The movement from infancy to adulthood is a weaving together of many complex dynamics. It appears simple; children just grow up. However, it’s not only their physical growth. Other developmental areas require attention as well. Emotional, psychological and spiritual needs exist too. When working with parents and other adults we find that many of them missed some of their own developmental needs and tasks. These unmet developmental areas of their own impact how they function as adults as well as how they parent. I find most adults do the best that they can. But with God’s grace and a caring community of Believers, we can all come along side each other and fill-in those gaps.
Understanding Development: Weaving It All Together
Child development is organized by general age ranges: infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. Woven within and across each of these are eight developmental areas: (1). physical; (2). relational and social; (3). cognitive; (4). language and communication; (5). expressive development; (6). regulation of affect and behavior; (7). moral and spiritual; and, (8) sense of self, self-organization and relation to reality (Davies, 2011, p. 130). At every age, these eight areas continue to develop and mature.Development builds upon the child’s previous growth, from one age range into another. Difficulties occur when developmental tasks in one stage are not fully met, yet the child continues to chronologically age. Adults continue to expect children and adolescents to “act their age” when the child is unable to competently move forward because of an unsolid, or incomplete, foundation.
Cognitive development, the ability to think, grow in knowledge, and develop intellect, was articulated by Piaget (1971). Piaget’s cognitive development theory is based in his observation of children and how a child’s thinking changes over time. This is also tied to how the brain physically develops (Siegel 2011, 2013). Piaget identified the stages of: Sensorimotor Stage, birth to 2 years old; Preoperational Stage, 2 – 7 years of age; Concrete Operational Stage, 7-11 years of age; Formal Operational State, 11 years and older.
Psychosocial stages, the important interactions with others based on a person’s view of self, were identified by Erik Erikson (1950). These stages inform our view of development as we see an individual mature from infancy to old age. Erikson discovered that at each stage a child/person has an issue to resolve. Five psychosocial issues, which span child development, will be detailed in the following discussion of each stage: Basic Trust versus Mistrust; Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt; Initiative versus Guilt; Industry versus Inferiority; Identity versus Confusion; and Intimacy versus Isolation.
Importance of God’s Relational Needs
As children grow older, relationships are core to healthy development. The initial attachment to the primary caretaker will expand to other family members and then develop into social-relational needs with friends and classmates. God was the first to recognize the relational needs of his human creation, Adam. The first identified “not good” in creation was that Adam was alone. Although Adam was living in a perfect world without sin and had a perfect relationship with God, yet Adam was alone. So, God created another human, removing aloneness. Throughout scripture we find relational needs which God created in each of us. These needs begin in infancy, and although how the needs are met may change throughout our lifespan, the needs remain. It is one way God forms us into His body, through each of us needing each other. There are ten basic, foundational, relational needs:
1. Acceptance—receiving another person willingly, favorably, and unconditionally (Rom. 15:7)
2. Affection—expressing care and closeness through appropriate physical touch (Rom. 16:16; Mark 10:16)
3. Appreciation—communicating personal thanks and gratefulness for another with words and feelings (I Cor. 11:2)
4. Approval—expressing commendation; building up or affirming; thinking and speaking well of another (Mark 1:11; Eph. 4:29)
5. Attention—taking thought of another; conveying appropriate interest and consideration; entering another’s world (I Cor. 12:25)
6. Comfort—coming alongside and responding to a hurting person with words, feeling and touch; tender consolation (Rom. 12:15b; Matt. 5:4; II Cor. 1:3-4)
7. Encouragement—urging another to persist and persevere toward a goal (I Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:24)
8. Respect—valuing and regarding another highly; treating another as important; conveying great worth (Rom. 12:10b)
9. Security—confidence of harmony in relationships; freedom from fear or harm (Rom. 12:16a,18)
10. Support—coming alongside and gently helping with a problem or struggle; getting underneath a burden with them (Gal. 6:2)
As you read this list, it is likely you are seeing needs that were not met in your own childhood. Don’t worry; we all have them. What is critical is how we have those needs met.It’s important as parents, and other adults involved in the lives of children, to understand we are not perfect. Neither were our own parents. Identifying which needs are our unmet needs, and how this affects our ability to raise children, is the key. It is hard to give comfort, for example, if we have never been comforted. Second Corinthians 1: 3-7 uses the word ‘comfort’ seven times! We experience God’s comfort so we can comfort others and experience that comfort from others. Children learn to respect others, when they themselves are respected. Made in the image of God, everyone has inherent respect and value.
Take a look at the children in your life and identify their current top priority three needs. Of course, the behaviors will look different depending on the age of the child. Then work to meet those needs. This chart may help you identify the needs as your child is experiencing them (Ferguson, Warren, Walter, & Snead).