Understand Child Behavior

Children can be amazingly intelligent and astute, but this doesn’t mean they’re simply miniature adults. Children have distinctly different capabilities from adults and, when these capabilities are nurtured and understood, children can grow into happy, well-adjusted people. It’s important to know that every child is different and children in the same family may develop on dramatically different timetables. When trying to understand the behavior of your charges, it’s important to know a few basics of child psychology.

The Developing Brain

Early experiences dramatically shape future capabilities. Babies are born with a few reflexes and the capacity to learn, but most of what children master is a result of their environment. Thus it’s vitally important to provide children with a stimulating, nurturing environment and to provide them with lots of new experiences. Talk to babies frequently; though they can’t yet respond, they benefit from hearing adult voices. As children grow, teach them words by pointing to objects and saying the name, then encouraging your child to say it back.

Self Control

Self control is one of the most difficult things for children to master. This is not because children are manipulative or bad; instead, young children just don’t have the brain apparatus to be able to fully control their behavior. Consequently, children have a poor understanding of danger, of long-term consequences and of other people’s feelings until they are seven or eight. Time-outs and breaks from stressful situations can help children regain control when they’re having tantrums.

Crying and Attachment

For generations, doctors advised parents to let children “cry it out,” but we now know that this practice is damaging. Children cry because they have an unmet need. Even if caregivers can’t figure out the specific need, it’s important to comfort crying children. This teaches them that the people around them can be trusted to respond to their needs and helps them develop secure attachments. Secure attachments are one of the hallmarks of healthy psychology, and children who never develop secure attachments are more prone to psychological problems in adulthood. Never make fun of a child for crying, and don’t leave babies alone crying in their cribs.


Children of all ages typically must observe something several times before they truly master it. This is why children tend to forget rules or incorrectly report the day’s events. When children are exposed to a variety of stimuli, they learn more. Children’s brains are also primed for mastering language, and children are better-equipped to learn language before the age of seven. This makes talking and reading to young children vitally important. Children whose caregivers read and frequently speak to them do better in school.

Answering Questions

Many caregivers are shocked at the dizzying array of complex questions children ask. Answering children’s questions, however, helps them learn and encourages curiosity. Curiosity is strongly correlated with later intelligence. Strive to answer children’s questions about the world in an age appropriate way. For example, if a three year old asks, “Why do dogs bite?” you can say, “Because they feel scared.” When an eight year old asks the same question, try researching the many factors that cause dogs to bite together. If you don’t know the answer to a child’s question, tell her you’re not sure but that you’ll get an answer for her. With older children, you can research the answer together.

It’s also important to get advice from parents on how they want you to answer questions such as, “Where do babies come from?” Some parents have no problem with a sitter providing honest, clear answers to these questions, while other parents would prefer to field the questions themselves.

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