- Describe typical child development and developmentally appropriate expectations for behavior.
- Observe and provide feedback on staff members’ expectations for children’s development and behavior.
You have already learned that understanding child development is a protective factor against child abuse and neglect. Why do you think this is true? What are the risks of staff members not understanding child development? If staff members don’t understand child development, they are likely to think a child should act older than he or she is. They might put children in situations that are too challenging for them. The staff member and the child might get frustrated. The child doesn’t understand what the staff member wants, and the staff member doesn’t understand why the child won’t “behave.” This can lead to situations in which child abuse or neglect may occur. Your role is to support staff members, so this does not occur.
Imagine you overhear the following comments from staff members:
- Infants and Toddlers: “Rachel needs to learn to sit still. She’s moving up to the preschool class next year, and she won’t get away with this kind of behavior there.”
- Preschool: “Javeon and Daniel, you two need to play nicely and be friends. Quit tattling.”
- School-Age: “Lila is so concerned with what her friends think. Yesterday, she completely ignored me and my directions. She is out of control and needs to learn to listen.”
What do these comments have in common? They are reflections of typical child development. Unfortunately, they also represent staff members who do not completely understand development and its influence on behavior. These adults are at risk for responding inappropriately to children’s behavior.
We all go through stages as we grow, and certain behaviors can be expected at certain stages. This does not mean that all behaviors are easy for adults to deal with. It does mean that we can help staff members be prepared to recognize behaviors as reflections of growth and help children develop and mature. You will learn more about this in the Cognitive course.
In their own courses on Child Abuse Prevention, staff members learned about typical development for the infants, toddlers, preschoolers, or school-age children they serve. Although you have a firm understanding of child development, it might be helpful for you to review the milestones that direct care staff members have learned. You can find developmental milestones for birth through age 12 in the Apply section.
Staff members also learned about temperament and the influence of individual characteristics on development. In your role, it can be helpful to think about how the temperaments of children interact with the temperaments of staff members. We are all born with certain temperament traits or styles, and temperament is thought to be consistent across the lifespan. Consider these three temperament types (Thomas, Chess, & Birch, 1968):
- Adaptable: These are “easy-going” individuals. They are open to new situations, have a moderate activity level, and are generally happy. These children and adults “go with the flow.”
- Feisty: These individuals have a high activity level and usually strong responses to new stimuli. They might be considered energetic, assertive, and full of emotion. These are the people who are always moving and talking. Others might perceive their behavior as challenging.
- Cautious: These individuals need time and support to feel comfortable in new situations. They might be considered timid or serious. You might see cautious individuals hanging back, watching, or waiting for an introduction or directions.
What do you think happens when there is a mismatch between a staff member’s temperament and a child’s temperament? For example, what do you think happens when a feisty staff member interacts with a cautious child? Consider these dynamics:
A staff member with a feisty temperament might have a difficult time understanding a child with a cautious temperament. The staff member might consider the child shy, or she might perceive the child as scared. The staff member might feel impatient with the child.
A staff member with a cautious temperament might feel overwhelmed by the energy of a feisty child. The staff member might consider the child’s behavior challenging.
You should be prepared to help staff members understand the interplay between development and temperament. The following sections will help you learn concrete strategies for doing so.
You are a role model for staff as they learn about development and temperament. Staff members consider you a resource. Encourage staff members to talk to you when they are concerned about a child.
Model self-reflection. Talk about your own development and your own personality traits, or temperament. Spend time in staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, or other venues helping staff think about the characteristics they bring to their work. Help staff identify the ways they approach their work: are they feisty, adaptable, cautious, or a combination of all three? Identify your own preferences, and talk with staff about how that influences your work.
Have problem-solving discussions. Help staff learn active problem-solving techniques. When a staff member is concerned about a child’s behavior or development, spend time observing the child and helping the staff member observe the child. Talk with the staff member about what you both observe. Think out loud about the child’s development and reflect on whether the behavior or concern reflects typical development. Brainstorm solutions together that promote positive development.
Take some time to think about scenarios you might encounter in your programs. As you read each scenario that follows, think about how you might respond. Then read suggested ways you might approach the situation with each staff member. Remember to consider child development and temperament.
Infants & Toddlers: Spoiled Rotten
Marchia cries all the time. She is spoiled rotten and thinks she needs to be held all the time.
Infants & Toddlers: Mean Spirited
Decklen bites other children because he is a mean-spirited kid.
Infants & Toddlers: Patience for literacy
These kids need to learn to sit cross-legged and listen to a story. They're going to preschool next year, so they've got to get this.
Infants & Toddlers: Caregiver Attachment
Caldwell is so clingy. He hides behind my legs and cries when I try to make him sit with another adult. He's got to get over his shyness.
Preschool: Following Directions
Toni never listens! I tell her to go inside, wash her hands, sit on the carpet, and pick a book. What does she do? She stops and plays with dolls.
Preschool: Burning Energy
Callum started running around the classroom today, so I made him stand by me for 10 minutes when we went on the playground.
Preschool: Developing Leaders
Camden is bossy. I need to put him in his place.
School-Age: Strong Friendship
Felisha and Cassidy talk and giggle nonstop. We need to separate those two.
Acklen lied to me about washing his hands. He is completely dishonest.
School-Age: Body Image
Brooks has a round belly, so I call him our little Buddha. He's too young to get it.
We can learn from one another about supporting staff members’ understanding of child development. Watch the Realistic Expectations for Behavior video. Then download, print, and complete the Reflecting on Expectations for Behavior activity. When you are finished, review the suggested responses.
Reflecting on Expectations for Behavior
It is important to find resources that can help your staff understand child development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed excellent guides for children ages birth through 12. These can be great resources to share with families, but they are also a nice tool for you to share with staff. Download and print the Milestone Checklists for the age group(s) of children with whom you work.
Milestone Checklist (Birth to Age 5)
Milestone Facts (Ages 6-8)
Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2018). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. Retrieved from https://cssp.org/our-work/projects/protective-factors-framework/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Violence Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Learn the Signs, Act Early: Developmental Milestones. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect Factsheet. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/preventingcan.pdf
Council on Accreditation (2013). Temperament. Available from http://coanet.org/trainings-resources/glossary/?tx_idglossary_pi1[letter]=T&cHash=e79524c68eac91434e364a043b1639a8
Military One Source. (n.d.). Military Family Advocacy Programs. Retrieved from http://www.militaryonesource.mil/abuse/service-providers
National Institutes of Health. (2013). Medline Plus: School-Age Development. Available from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002017.htm
REACH: Supporting Families through Research and Outreach. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Resources available from https://reachfamilies.umn.edu/
Thomas, Chess & Birch. (1968). Temperament and Behavior Disorders in Children. New York, New York University Press
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Child Maltreatment 2011.