From the day your child is born through the teenage years, parenting is full of surprises. Just when you think you have a handle on one phase of your kid’s life, they’ve probably moved on to something new.
From diaper changes to first steps and potty training, the early years are a blur of sleepless nights and reaching boundless milestones. Even in grade school and beyond, there’s always something new to learn and discover as a parent.
So buckle up and try to enjoy the journey. It might be bumpy at times, but it’s true what they say: Kids really do grow up fast.
Year One: Infants
Congratulations on your new baby! For the first few months, your little one is going to have a tough time adjusting to life in the outside world. New parents should be prepared for sleepless nights. Days will be marked by endless cycles of feedings, diaper changes, and soothing. You’ll want to baby proof anything dangerous in your home during this time.
You’ll notice amazing growth and changes starting in the first weeks. Babies will develop more focused vision over the first three months, and quickly become interested in the world around them. Keep talking, reading, and singing to your baby. They’ll find your voice calming.
Every baby develops at their own pace. But by the end of month seven, they’ll likely be able to sit up, roll over both ways, and babble. By their first birthday, they’ll probably be saying “da-da” or “ma-ma,” pulling themselves up to stand, and much more.
As a new parent, it’s important to trust your instincts. You might feel pressured by what you hear about breast-feeding, pacifiers, or childcare. Try to do what’s best for your family. Always keep your child’s doctor in the loop. They’ll be an invaluable resource over the first year and beyond.
Make sure to stay on track with all of your child’s health checkups. That’s where you’ll find out how your baby is growing and developing, and get important information about necessary tests and vaccines.
“Sleep is important at every age! Infants may sleep up to 15 hours per day. Toddlers and preschoolers sleep 11 to 14 hours a day, including naps. 6 to 13-year-olds need at least 9 hours a night. Teenagers should sleep 8 to 10 hours per night, but some need even more than that to feel truly rested.”–– Karen Gill, San Francisco-based pediatrician
The Toddler Years
Life is about to get a little more hectic! From ages 1-3, you’ve got a toddler on your hands. Toddlers love to explore and get into everything.
Some of the highlights of the toddler years include:
- first hints of your child’s personality
- food preferences and dislikes
- potty training
- starting preschool
- being constantly on the move
You’ve probably been warned about the terrible twos. It’s a time of tantrums and regular meltdowns in public. As frustrating as these breakdowns are for parents, keep in mind that your toddler is experiencing growing pains. Even though your child is starting to speak more, toddlers have difficulty expressing their wants and needs. That can be frustrating, especially when they aren’t given what they want immediately.
Hang in there. This is a crucial period in your child’s emotional development, and it’s important to give plenty of love, warmth, and positive reinforcement. At the same time, you can start to make your child more aware of the consequences of their actions.
Try to keep rules to a minimum, as too many can be confusing for kids this age. Use simple language like “no” and “stop.” Be consistent and logical about discipline. For example, if your child doesn’t pick up their toys, the toys get taken away for a day.
By the time your child is 4 years old, they’ve probably made their likes and dislikes clear. But as they go through the elementary school years, their preferences will continue to evolve as they grow and develop. It’s important to remind them that it’s OK to be an individual and stand apart from the crowd. Peer pressure comes into play during this time.
Before starting kindergarten, your child should be able to follow basic rules, instructions, and manage their bathroom needs. Most children start reading by age 7. Remember, every child meets milestones at different times. Keep talking to your child’s teachers and doctors throughout grade school to make sure they’re on track for their age.
If your child is a picky eater, you’ll need to get creative to make sure they’re getting the nutrition they need to grow. Parents of grade school-age children should also try to make sure they’re interacting positively with their peers. Talk about any behavior or anger issues with your kid’s doctor.
Another challenge for grade school-age kids and parents is balancing screen time with playtime. Encourage your child to develop healthy habits like playing outside and participating in sports throughout elementary and middle school.
The Teenage Years
Your child is growing up and becoming more independent, yet the teenage years might be the most challenging of all for parents. Expect hormones to be flying as your young man or woman experiences the joys of puberty, has their first serious relationship, and deals with the stresses and pressures of high school.
You might find your child is pulling more and more away from you as a teenager. They’ll be spending more time at school and with friends. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t still an important part of these fundamental years.
Now more than ever, it’s important to model good behavior and establish (and enforce) household rules. Even if your teenager rolls their eyes at you or has their head buried in their smart phone most of the time, what you say and do does matter. It might be hard to believe, but teens still need guidance from their parents.