Why Is My Child Different?
By Michelle Lurie, Psy.D., ABPdN.
What an amazing experience preschool is! When our children enter at age 2, they are in diapers, barely talking, and clinging to mom and dad. Over the next two to three years, a remarkable transformation takes place, and our children leave preschool ready for the challenges and demands of kindergarten. But development does not happen in the same way, at the same time, for all children. Some children will develop certain skills faster or slower than others. These differences are mostly in the normal range. However, how do we as parents know when our child’s differences are not normal? What can we expect of our children at every age?
When a child is 3 years old we can expect her to:
• Speak in complete sentences of five to six words
• Speak clearly enough for strangers to understand
• Understand what is said to her and follow simple directions
• Begin to notice other people’s moods and feelings
• Enjoy pretend play and use her imagination
• Enjoy playing with peers
• Begin to develop self control
• Scribble with crayons; cut with kid scissors; assemble simple puzzles; catch large balls; climb ladders; use a slide independently
When a child is 4 years old we can expect her to:
• Use a 1,500-word vocabulary; speak in relatively complex sentences
• Understand, mostly, the difference between fantasy and reality
• Start to develop logical thinking
• Begin to grasp that pictures and symbols can represent real objects
• Grasp the concepts of past, present, and future
• Take turns, share, and cooperate
• Express anger verbally rather than physically
• Enjoy pretending and have a vivid imagination
• Copy basic shapes; print some letters; cut on a line
• Run in a more controlled manner; hop on one foot; attempt to catch, throw, and bounce a ball; brush teeth, comb hair, wash, and dress with little assistance
When a child is 5 years old we can expect her to:
• Speak fluently; correctly use plurals, pronouns and tenses
• Use complex language; seek knowledge
• Describe actions, events and enjoy telling stories, frequently remember details
• Have an increased attention span
• Play make-believe and dresses up
• Mimic adults and seek praise
• Start testing her independence
• Seek to play rather than be alone; friends are important
• Handle most bathroom needs on her own
• Hand preference is established; pencil grasp is established; cut and paste simple shapes; write and recognize written words.
• Run in an adult manner; walk on tiptoe; jump rope
It is important to remember that development is not a race. What is most important is tuning into your child’s individual path, building on her strengths, and providing support when needed. However, at times this support involves recognizing that your child is not reaching appropriate milestones. What a blessing it is for us to be in a school where we have a gifted director and staff who are able to help us recognize when our children might be struggling, and that interventions are needed. As a parent and clinician, I have experienced the profound impact of early intervention. Whether it be speech therapy, occupational therapy, or a comprehensive assessment – there is so much help out there for our children! You are your child’s advocate. Part of being an advocate for your child means developing an awareness of how to get your child’s needs met. We live in a city rich with resources for children with different needs. The first step is learning what those needs might be. Before this year is over, let’ us take the opportunity to really hear what our child’s teachers are saying – it just might make sense!