If You Fight With Your Co-parent will this Affect your Child’s Development?

If You Fight with Your Co-parent will this Affect your Child’s Development?

Stacy, the mother of 6-year-old Ashley, was in one of my high-conflict divorce groups. Stacy is a bright woman. She is an attorney with advanced degrees. After listening to a discussion about why conflict is detrimental to children, Stacy tentatively raised her hand.

“I’m not sure I understand this,” Stacy said. “I don’t get why the conflict between her dad and I would have anything to do with her development. She has to recognize that he and I are different and she’s going to know she is a girl, so why would our arguments and fights affect her role identity?”

This actually was an excellent question which gave us a chance to talk more about how children establish their identities and how gender role develops. In addition, of course, it provided a wonderful opportunity to talk about the effect parental conflict may have on children’s identity.

In early childhood, children look to their same-sex parents in order to figure out the appropriate roles for them as either a male or female. Although this seems simple enough, there are various theories about how boys learn to be boys and girls to be girls. The social learning theory in child development says that children learn how to be either a boy or a girl through observation. They see, according to this view, how boys act differently from girls.

Furthermore, social learning theory holds that children are rewarded differently by adults for different kinds of behavior. Thus, they choose to engage in sex-appropriate behaviors that lead to approval or rewards from their parents.

Yet, despite other theories (in addition to social learning theory) about how boys and girls learn to act like others of their gender, there is considerable evidence that from an early age there are innate differences that shape the ways boys and girls behave. By age three, most children develop an identity as a girl or a boy. And by age five or six, most children know whether they are members of the male sex or the female sex.

This does not mean that all observation and learning ceases from this point. Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, people are constantly developing and refining their identity.

It was the great psychologist Erik Erikson who in the mid-20th century recognized that identity was the major personality achievement of adolescence. Erikson said that a young’s person’s identity formation was a crucial step toward becoming a happy and productive adult. According to Erikson, identity involves children and teens defining who they are, what they value, and the directions they would like to pursue in life.

But there can be road blocks to the successful establishment of identity. When teens are having trouble figuring out who they are and what they value, that is called role confusion. What leads to role confusion?

Several things can cause role confusion, but one factor is low self-esteem. Although moving from middle school to high school can cause some temporary declines in self-esteem, most adolescents experience rising levels of self-esteem as they progress through high school.

But, self-esteem is often related to the home environment. When there is warmth, emotional support, approval, and positive problem solving going on, young people will like themselves. However, when the home environment is largely negative, inconsistent, or discouraging, teenagers will be uncertain of their abilities, and they may feel incompetent and unloved. As a result, they may be constantly in need of reassurance and their self-esteem may fluctuate dramatically.

On the other hand, parents who engage in and demonstrate positive problem-solving skills foster high-esteem in their children. In families in which there is discord and negative problem solving, children do not feel a sense of well-being. They may be very confused about whether they want to be like their same-sex parent, and they may be conflicted about the direction they want to go in life. That is, when there is on-going co-parent fighting and conflict, teens will lack clear directions. Furthermore, they will not feel committed to values and goals. And they may have failed to figure out who they are, may wonder about the importance of growing up and having intimate relationships, and may have a greater sense of hopeless about the future.

Although children who have grown up with parental conflict will be very well aware of their gender identity as a male or female, they may be confused about feeling good as a boy or a girl.

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When Should I Start Toilet Training my Child – and What Should I Expect?

When Should I Start Toilet Training my Child – and What Should I Expect?

Many parents appear to be confused about toilet training their child.

Amanda, the mother of two-and-a-half-year-old Jonathan, is representative of the kinds of concerns parents bring to me about toilet training. She recently emailed me stating that she had started toilet training Jonathan about three months ago and she was very encouraged by his progress at first.

“He seemed to enjoy sitting on the potty chair and was able to be successful both with his urination and bowel movements,” Amanda reported. “He was not having many accidents and I began to think we had turned a corner and that he would stay dry all day.”

However, she has more recently found that Jonathan seems to have little interest in using the potty or in staying dry.

“Even when I remind him and ask if he needs to go to potty,” Amanda said, “he just looks at me and then goes in his pants. It doesn’t seem to bother him and he keeps on playing.”

“I wonder if he’s too young to learn to control himself,” Amanda said. “On the other hand, I think I must be doing something wrong. Most of my friends say their two- and three-year-olds are completely toilet trained. What’s wrong with me? Or is something wrong with my son?”

The concerns raised by Amanda are relatively common among the mothers and fathers who voice questions about toilet training. It seems apparent to me that parents aren’t sure when to start toilet training, what methods to use, and when they should expect their children to stay dry. I will answer these concerns and I hope provide some relieve for you if you are frustrated or confused by the inability of your child to graduate from diapers to pull-ups to regular underwear.

There is no question that toilet training your child can – and likely will be – a real challenge. This will be particularly true if you have a boy, as they lag behind girls by a few months in developing their ability to use a potty chair or a toilet when they feel the urge.

When should you start toilet training your child? Conventional wisdom has changed in this area over the past few decades. These days parents are beginning the process of toilet training at a later age than previous parents did — and today’s children are usually older when they have accomplished the task.

The conventional wisdom in the past was that children are capable of being toilet trained between 18 and 24 months. However, both bladder and bowel control requires rather sophisticated coordination. It is not until somewhere between 12 and 24 months that children’s brains are developed to the extent that they can be aware of a full bladder and the need to urinate. And it’s not until they are between 24 and 36 months before they realize they are ready for a bowel movement and are able to communicate this need.

Given this, as more recent studies have pointed out, there is little likelihood of success with toilet training if you start before 27 months. Recent research suggests that most children take about 12 months to completely train. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that most children can stay dry in the daytime by about age 48 months and most will stay dry at night by about 60 months.

Given this, what is the best method to use?

As you might imagine, with the diversity of families and cultures in this country, there is no one method that is followed. Furthermore, there are no good studies that tell us which approach is best. However, based on my work with parents, I have some advice which has worked well with parents who have used my suggestions.

First, it’s perhaps best to start toilet training between 24 and 30 months, depending on your judgment of the readiness of your child. Second, it’s usually best to introduce a potty chair which is small enough for your child’s feet to touch the floor. Third, when you do start, make sure that your expectations are realistic and that you don’t apply pressure to your child to complete the process in a few days or weeks.

Finally, I find it works well if you know your child’s toileting schedule so you can remind him or her to use the potty chair at about the time they are likely feeling the urge. That way they can associate the urge with the use of the potty.

By following these suggestions and keeping in mind the realities of toilet training, your child should be toilet trained by the appropriate age given in this column.

If Your Young Child Lies, Will He Become a Pathological Liar?

If Your Young Child Lies, Will He Become a Pathological Liar?

 When three-year-old Kelsey’s mother asked her why there was juice on the floor, Kelsey said, “I don’t know.”

Four-year-old Murray was asked by his dad if he had been using the hammer and if he knew where it was. “I wasn’t using it,” Murray replied.

Jenny, age five, told her mother she didn’t know who broke the glass that was found in the trash container under the kitchen sink. “Did you break it?” her mother asked. “No,” Jenny said.

Each of these children told an untruth. But child psychologists who study the development of children say that all children are like Kelsey, Murray, and Jenny. That is, all children lie.

Does this mean that all children are liars or that they will turn into pathological liars?

Certainly not. In fact, developmental psychologists say that as children grow older their lying is often a cognitive signal that children understand what others are thinking.

However, kids first begin lying around age three. Their ability to deliberately tell a lie is a result of their increased language development and greater understanding of their parent’s rules, along with better understanding of the consequences for breaking those rules.

So, when Kelsey says she doesn’t know how the orange juice got spilled on the floor, she is lying in order to escape censure or punishment for spilling juice – an offense she knows will bring disapproval and possibly punishment. But at this age, Kelsey is not aware of the morality of the situation, except in a broad sense that she knows that both spilling juice and lying are both wrong. However, in her eyes, it might be better to avoid trouble and the lie is worth it.

It’s also during the later toddler stages that children enjoy exploring their newly discovered mental playground. That is, just as they get a kick out of exploring various spaces at home or the playground equipment at the park, they also enjoy using their mental abilities and the language that goes with those abilities.

For example, 30-month-old Nick when asked how old he is by his grandmother says he is three. Or, when this same grandmother asks him his dog’s name, he says “George” (even though he knows very well his dog is named Ike). It’s fun for children of this age to see what will happen when they change things or play around with words. These are lies, of course, but no one takes them seriously.

Parents and other caregivers are more likely to take a young child’s lies more seriously if they seem to be deliberate efforts to avoid accepting responsibility.

The lies and mistruths uttered by young children are complicated by their parents’ moral guidance. If you are a typical parent, you tell your child that lying is wrong and she should always tell the truth. However, when your child becomes four, they will catch you in lies.

For example, Murray heard his mother tell a friend that she loved the sweater the friend had given her as a gift. But moments before this, Murray heard his mother complain that the sweater was the wrong color for her and the sleeves didn’t hang right.

When Murray told his mother she lied, his mother said that she didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings. “It was a white lie,” his mother told him. “I told her I loved it because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

While this may be confusing to toddlers, by the time a child is four or four-and-a-half, he can see that there are “good lies,” the so-called little white lies, and bad lies, lies that are just meant to deceive and are not related to saving anyone else’s feelings.

If you can keep the developmental aspect of lying in perspective, you are less likely to be alarmed when your child lies. Few children will grow up to be pathological liars. However, if your child is lying too often after age four and their lies are to avoid punishment, then you should make sure that your expectations for their behavior are not too exacting or that your punishment for misbehaviors is not too punitive or harsh.