I am helping my daughter get ready a couple mornings ago and when I give my her the clothes that she is supposed to wear, she says, “No, I want to wear my ballerina dress.” And here I figured that after playing my role moments earlier in her pretend story, exactly as my three year old directed, would have won me the privilege of a “Yes sir” when it came to outfit choice. I was wrong.
As frustrating as this is, I try and take heart in knowing that she is in the stage of her life when she is trying to assert control over her world. She is trying to take initiative and tell her own story. It’s all part of a widely-accepted theory about how children develop mentally and socially. It is as beautiful as it is simple.
For the first year and a half, all that we need to do as parents is pick our children up when they cry, feed them when they’re hungry, and give them clean diapers when they need them. During that time, all they are trying to figure out about the world is whether or not they can trust it, and it’s a good thing because the sleep deprivation most people experience zaps any amount of extra brain cycles available for higher level thinking!
During the second stage (up until about three) children are trying to develop a sense of autonomy. This is why my 2 year old says NO! even when he wants something because he is discovering that he is his own person. He doesn’t have to like the things I say he likes, and doesn’t have to eat a piece of cake when I give it to him. They are beginning to exercise control over themselves which is why most children potty train during this time.
My daughter is in the next stage (that goes through age five) that deals with developing initiative and asserting control over other things. This expresses itself in wanting to make decisions about clothing and making up stories (sometimes elaborate) that they may repeat over and over again as they begin to figure out the world through stories.
Why does this matter? When I can remember exactly what they are capable of and how they are developing it really helps me empathize with whatever odd behavior they are presenting and helps me figure out how to respond appropriately.
This all ties into spirituality. How can we help our children develop spiritually during these early stages? They key is matching spiritual practices with their moment of development. It is the heart of the four-week curriculum I developed called Baby Steps.
I am teaching a webinar for the General Board of Discipleship on May 22 on all of this information and giving away the Baby Steps curriculum. You should register here for the webinar.