Not all perfectly normal kids are walking at 15 months, not all toddlers can say 20 words by 18 months, and not all “normal” five-year-olds can write their names. While it is normal to feel anxious when your child has developmental delays, there is usually nothing to worry about. The thing to remember is that childhood is not a race, and that each child develops at his or her own pace.
“Developmental milestones” is a term we are all familiar with. It refers to the acquisition of certain developmental skills that kids are supposed to have mastered at more or less the same time. Having a rough idea of what your child should be able to do at a specific stage is important because early detection is key to the successful management of developmental delays. That said, it is important to remember that not all kids develop at the same pace, and some kids need more help than other to develop fundamental skills.
Below are five development-related issues that affect your child’s behavior and simple strategies you can use to help.
1. Working memory issues
Working memory refers to your child’s ability to hold information in the brain in the short-term before transferring it into long-term memory. If your child has working memory issues, he will:
– be unable to follow through with instructions because he will be unable to remember what he is expected to do with the information received.
– have difficulty completing tasks
– have difficulty following practical examples
– have difficulty undertaking tasks that require him to use previously acquired information
– have difficulty with problem-solving and exercises that require reasoning skills
A simple strategy you can use to change your child’s behavior
If your child is struggling with working memory issues, privileging few instructions at a time can make it easier for him to process information. You could also ask him to repeat what he thinks is expected of him. Visualizing thoughts can also help boost your child’s working memory. A simple way to achieve this is to ask him to visualize and state out loud the exact steps he will take to achieve a given task.
2. Cognitive flexibility issues
Cognitive flexibility is linked to your child’s creative thought capacities. It refers to her ability to look at the same situation/problem from different angles. A child who has developed cognitive flexibility skills knows that different contexts apply different rules and thus require different behavior.
Cognitive flexibility issues can have an impact on your child’s behavior and can even be interpreted as “problem behavior”. Her frustration with her inability to think of other solutions can lead to behavioral issues, just as her inability to correctly determine how she is expected to behave in specific situations/contexts can result in inappropriate behavior.
How to boost your child’s cognitive flexibility skills.
Pretend play is an easy and fun way to develop your child’s cognitive flexibility. Making up narratives, changing roles or pretending that a given object is a completely different object can help your child sharpen her cognitive flexibility skills.
3. Selective attention issues
Selective attention refers to your child’s ability to pay attention to relevant information and ignore irrelevant information in order to attain his objectives. It also refers to his ability to sort through a large amount of information and select only the information he needs.
If your child has selective attention issues:
- He will be easily distracted
- He will be slow in completing tasks because he will be unable to avoid distractions
- He will have issues with focus and concentration
How to improve your child’s attention issues
There are several ways you can help improve your child’s focus and attention. The first is by limiting distractions. The second is by using songs and games such as “Freeze” and “Simon says” which have been proven to increase attention. A third way is to try a different approach. A child who is distracted when learning how to count might love learning how to count using lego blocks. Specific concentration exercises can also help your child work on his capacity to contrate. The “Nurturing Constructive Boredom: Over 101 fun activities to boost your child’s concentration and autonomy” guide proposes more than 100 exercises to help your child work on his focus and concentration.
4. Emotional regulation issues
Emotional regulation is closely linked to your child’s self-control capacity. If your child has emotional regulation issues:
- She will struggle to manager anger and other difficult emotions. She will therefore tend to have more outbursts and other forms of behavior which will come across as inappropriate behavior
- She will struggle with rules and limits
- She will rarely take responsibility for her actions
- She will tend to do what she wants rather than what she is expected to do
The good news is that self-regulation skills can be easily taught at home. Teaching your child to identify her emotions and those of others is an important first step in reinforcing her emotional intelligence, and this is relatively easy to do given that emotions are all around us. She then needs to learn what triggers those emotions, and thus her behavior, and how she can react to that behavior in appropriate ways. Age-appropriate resources such as The Emotions Kit couple practical tips with tools and resources to help your child understand her emotions and manage them better.
5. Learning differences
A learning difference is a disorder that makes your child process information less effectively. If your child has this type of disorder, he can:
- Appear to lag behind other children in reading and writing skills. For instance, he could take much longer than his classmates/siblings to complete a given task
- Appear to have poorly developed social skills (verbal and non-verbal skills) which could affect his ability to make and keep friends
- Have difficulty with focus and concentration
- Have difficulty expressing himself
- Have difficulty carrying out tasks requiring creativity and problem-solving skills. This could lead to a resistance to undertake school-related tasks such as homework
- Appear disorganized
- Have problems remembering even simple instructions
The biggest problem with learning disorders is that late intervention can have disastrous consequences that span childhood and beyond. If your child fails to develop important skills in childhood, he will have a harder time catching up in adolescence, and this can lead to related issues such as lack of motivation or low self-esteem.
The good news is that treatment options exist, and these can often be adapted to your child’s specific context and situation. Do not hesitate to get an assessment if you are worried about your child’s development. The earlier the intervention, the easier it is to “catch things”.
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