If you are a codependent and have children of your own, then there is a better than average chance that the codependent tendencies you have, will be passed down through a dysfunctional parenting style. One that has too many boundaries or not enough. Codependency is generational and many clients I work with have described one of their parents having the same codependent characteristics as they themselves do. I have often written about how childhood forms the basis for codependency. When children are made to “fix” their environment to feel secure, they will take this attitude into adulthood. They are made to “fix” due to a dysfunctional connection and attachment to caregivers due to neglect, addict parents, abuse in all its forms or parenting style. This is why “ok” parents can still stoke the flames of codependency.

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Before you connect with your child and understand what that means, it is vital to understand what your “little one” is going through. This means as a parent that you need to understand the developmental phases that they will naturally go through and adjust your parenting accordingly.

Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, developed a framework of phases that described how children move through four clear developmental stages, acquiring cognitive abilities as they go. While Piaget stated that some children would enter and exit each stage at different times and might even show signs of more than one stage, his theory is seen by many as the definitive framework showing the development of thought, judgment and knowledge in humans. It is essential that parents understand these stages and how they can coach their child through as best they can. At the same time, forgetting much of what they learnt from their own parents.

The four stages are as follows:

Sensorimotor Stage: Birth to 24 months. From being totally dependent at birth, children start to realise they are an individual at about nine months when a basic memory also starts to develop. They go from trial and error tasting, shaking and throwing to recognising objects and crawling with increased cognitive abilities.

Pre-operational Stage: Two to Seven. Children start to think symbolically but thinking is not yet logical. Language use is more mature and memory starts to increasingly develop. However, children do not generally have skills to regulate time, comparison and cause and effect.

Concrete Operational Stage: Seven to Eleven. Children will develop increasing skills to reason and think logically. They are less egocentric and more aware of external events. Peers become more interesting and much more of an influence. They often express views and opinions and can fathom differing opinions amongst a peer group. There are limited skills for abstract and hypothetical thinking.

Formal Operational Stage: Eleven Plus. Children inn this stage are able to understand abstract concepts such as fairness and justice and often use them amongst peers. They can formulate systemic thinking and hypotheses. They can ponder relationships and what this means to them. Peer groups and acceptance become important and a clear sense of identity is formed.

By the time children reach stages three and four, much damage could have been done by the parenting style adopted. In my opinion, the second stage is critical and contains the “terrible two’s”, a phase where children are often misunderstood.

Effective Strategies

Parents can make a huge difference to the way a child copes with the Terrible Twos. Parents are often frustrated and this causes a response that is either too hard or brings no response at all. Some parents even try to reason with their child. Some rush to the doctor and many children of this age are medicated to try to stop what is, in effect normal developmental behaviour. It is important to have a strategy for these difficult times based on consistency and understanding.

Try to understand and find out as much as you can about how children behave in this phase. Try to understand the difference between what is normal and not normal behaviour. Forewarned is forearmed. Be consistent around such things as biting, whining and aggression.

Plan your day around your child… don’t expect them to fit into yours. Don’t plan a trip close to sleep times or expect young children to cope with long days. In this case, crankiness means they are not coping well. Behavioural issues will escalate under these circumstances.

As a parent, it is essential to understand a child’s developmental phases and the new challenges and abilities each brings. Activities and boundaries have to be geared to this.

Have a strategy for tantrums. That means:

Understanding that tantrums often come from frustration not bad behaviour.

It helps to see things from the child’s perspective. Is the child hungry, tired, expected to do things that are beyond its capabilities?

When tantrums happen, understanding that physical connection in a calm, protective way helps. In times of increased emotion, do not smack, shout or walk away but stand calmly close by and on the same level.

Focus on child, not environment. In these moments, what other people think is not important.

Keep calm, compassionate and understanding. Avoid frustration. A hug for a 2 or 3 year old will often temper frustration and tantrums quickly. Get down to your child’s level. Towering above them with finger wagging or shouting will distress and scare them.

When To Seek Medical Advice

If you are doing all of the above effectively and it still doesn’t work, then medical and behavioural help may be needed. For example, many children who suffer from Disruptive Behavioural Disorder go without help. This is epitomised by long, frequent outbursts and the inability to do age appropriate tasks. There is a raised level of frustration and outbursts are stronger and much harder to cope with. Children with DBD often get “stuck” in an emotion and cannot calm down for over 20 minutes. In this case, medication might be required and behavioural and parental help needed. However, the ability to recognise such disorders will only come from an understanding of what is and is not normal behaviour.

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