According to eminent psychologist Sigmund Freud, babies are initially driven by instinctive and selfish urges but gradually adapt to a more realistic approach by imbibing their parents’ values and rules. These play a role in the development of the child’s conscience.
One of the most important things that you, as a parent, should work on is understand your child’s psychology. No, you need not get a ‘degree’ in parenting. What you should do, though, is find out about the simple things that tell you what your kid likes or dislikes, what makes him laugh or cry, and what motivates him or causes him misery.
Here, MomJunction explains you about child psychology and gives tips to understand what’s going on in your child’s mind.
What is Child Psychology?
Child psychology, a key part of developmental psychology, is vast and one of the most commonly studied types of the subject. This specialized branch focuses on the psychological processes of children from birth to adolescence. It takes note of the psychological changes that occur from infancy.
The scope of the study includes motor skills, cognitive development, language skills, social change, emotional development, etc.
[ Read: Cognitive Development In Children ]
Need For Understanding Child Psychology
Parents have their way of interpreting their child’s abilities and skills, or lack of those. When you don’t understand your children, you may misinterpret or misjudge them. Sometimes these misinterpretations can be harmless, but most of the times they are not. Parents’ role is key in a child’s psychological development. Lack of awareness about child development can often lead to poor judgment of children, which in turn leads to poor parenting decisions.
A study by Dr. Brenda Volling, director and research professor, University of Michigan, revealed that children are directly affected by the amount of time a parent invests in their development. Hence, it is important for parents to educate themselves about the different aspects of child psychology and development so that they can contribute meaningfully towards the child’s emotional and mental growth.
Tips To Understand Your Child’s Psychology Better
Well-known child psychologist Jean Piaget says, “From the moral as from the intellectual point of view, the child is born neither good nor bad but master of his destiny.”
Parenting is more than just providing comforts for your children. It is being there for the child emotionally, and providing them a sense of security. Here are a few basic child psychology tips that will help you understand children better:
1. Observation Is Key
One of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to learn about child psychology is observation. Show interest in what your children are doing or saying. Observe their actions, expressions, and temperament when they eat, sleep, and play. Keep in mind that your child is unique and may have a personality that stands out, even as he grows. So avoid comparing your child with other children, as that not only adds stress to parenting, but also makes the child feel inferior.
Do ask yourself a few questions that can help you understand the kids’ psychology.
- What does the child like to do the most?
- How does he react when he has to do something he does not like, such as eating vegetables, sleeping early or doing homework?
- How social is he? Is he willing to share or try new things?
- How long is the child taking to familiarize himself with his surroundings? Is he able to adjust to the changes in the environment?
While you answer these questions, remember not to judge the child. Just observe to be aware.
2. Spend ‘Quality’ Time With Your Children
Parents today are busy juggling work and home. Multi-tasking, as they call it, allows them to take care of many things at a time, one of the ‘things’ being the child. If you have been spending time with your kid in this fashion, it is time for a change. If you want to understand your children, you need to make time for them.
- The time you spend with your kids at the dinner table or driving them to school and back is not enough. You may have to dedicate time to talk and play with them, and spend quality hours that allow you to understand their psychology.
- Conversations with your kids let you know what’s happening in their life at school and home, what their favorite music or TV show is, and what gets them excited and what doesn’t.
- Quality time needn’t always mean talking or doing something together. Sometimes you can just sit together and silently observe them to gather some insights about their personality.
[ Read: Important Life Lessons For Kids ]
3. Children Need Your Undivided Attention
When you plan to spend time with your children, plan to do only that and nothing else. Your children deserve your undivided attention. If you try to talk to your kid while you are cooking, driving or doing something else, chances are you’ll miss on the most important insights your kid might give you about himself.
Plan at least one activity that allows you to spend time exclusively with your kid. When you pay undivided attention to your kid, he or she feels safe and validated and is likely to open up to you more.
4. Pay Attention To Your Child’s Environment
Research has proven that a child’s behavior and attitudes are shaped largely by the environment that he is brought up in. To know the child better, you should pay attention to the environment he is in (3).
Research also proves that the environment can affect the child’s brain development, which in turn affects the development of his language and cognitive skills. The link specifically talks about home environment in comparison to any other (4).
Your child’s behavior is largely dependent on the kind of people that are around him and how they interact with him. Take time to gauge the kind of ambiance that has been created at home and his school. For example, if your child is being aggressive or is withdrawing from socialization, you may want to know what or who has influenced the child to behave in such a manner.
5. Understand How A Child’s Brain Functions
Parents may often know their child’s physiology, but they don’t know how the child’s brain works. The brain is shaped by the experiences that the child has, and this in turn impacts how he responds to different situations.
Understanding how a child’s brain functions can help you learn about the kid’s behavior, his decision-making, social, logical, and cognitive abilities.
The wrong experiences can result in imprinting negative responses into your child’s mind, having an adverse affect on his overall development.
Knowing how his brain works will help you transform negative experiences or meltdowns into positive experiences or opportunities.
According to Daniel J. Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, you can help your children build a solid foundation for a healthy social and emotional life, and enable them to handle difficult situations with ease, by understanding the brain’s functions.
6. Listen – Let Your Kids Tell You Their Stories
Talking is good, but listening is important when you have a conversation with your child. Initiate a conversation to get your child talking and then listen to what they are trying to say. Kids may not be able to express themselves clearly, which is why you should pay attention to the words that they use and their non-verbal cues as well.
- Tone: the way they stress a word or phrase.
- Expressions: which tell you how they feel. Try to gauge their emotions when they speak about something to understand if they like it, if they are afraid of it ,or if they are stressed about it.
- Body language: watch out for eye-contact, how they use their hands and the posture.
Not only should you listen, but also let your child know that they are being heard and taken seriously. Acknowledge what they say and respond to let them know that you understand what they say. If you don’t understand, ask questions for clarity. But be careful not to talk too much or ask too many questions, as that can shut your kid off completely.
7. Kids Express In Different Ways
Your children can express themselves in more than one way. Besides talking, kids express their feelings through activities.
- If your children love to draw, write, or act, encourage them to do that more often. Get them to attend art or painting classes and help them express themselves better. You can also give them different themes for drawing, without restricting their imagination.
- Likewise, you can ask your kid to maintain a journal in which they can write about what they did on a given day and how they felt about it. The more your child writes or draws, the better he gets at expressing himself.
- Take time to go through their art work to get an idea of what goes on in their minds. Don’t read too much into it, or you may end up displacing your emotions as theirs and misjudge their feelings.
- Let them explain what they are writing or drawing and how they feel about it.
8. Ask The Right Questions
If you want your child to speak, it is important to ask the right kind of questions. Initiate conversations by asking open-ended questions, which would encourage the child to share details.
- Instead of asking “Do you like this song?”, which warrants either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, ask “What do you think about this song?”, which will allow the kid to say more.
- Instead of asking who they played with, ask them what games they played. Let them explain it to you in details, and don’t cut them off.
- Also, never dodge the questions your child asks. If you do not have an answer to your child’s question, park it and come back to your child with a response later. Brushing away a kid’s question as silly can discourage them from asking any questions in future.
9. Educate Yourself About Child Development
Be proactive in understanding the different stages of child development to know how well your kid is faring. Take time to read books, online journals, and speak to a specialist who can give you some insight into child psychology and development. When you don’t know what to expect, anything and everything may seem alright or vice-versa. Don’t make wild guesses.
[ Read: Social And Emotional Development In Kids ]
10. Observe Other Kids
Sometimes, observing other kids who are of the same age as yours can also help you understand your child better. This can let you understand how your child behaves in a social setting and identify his strengths and weaknesses that determine his personality. This does not mean you compare your child with every kid his age and pass judgment on who is better.
Parents tend to ascertain their children’s performance abilities by comparing them to other children. However, this can have a negative impact on the child, in the long-term. While comparison is not always bad, it can be dangerous when you overdo it.
11. Empathize – Step Into Your Child’s Shoes
Sometimes you have to think like a kid, and even act like one to reach out to them. Empathy is an important quality that parents should develop if they want to understand their children better. You may be aware of what your children are going through when they tell you about it. But you may not even come close to understanding what they are experiencing if you cannot empathize. Below are some simple ways to empathize:
- Listen to their feelings; try to gauge what they are going through.
- Use their language to help them understand you better. Ask yourself this – if you were a child, would you understand adult-like talk, with complicated words and expressions?
- When you don’t understand your child’s behavior, ask yourself – how would you have behaved or reacted if you were in your child’s place?
12. What’s Your Kid’s Emotional Quotient?
“What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.” – Sigmund Freud
For a long time, kids were not considered as important as adults. Their feelings and emotions were taken for granted, for it was assumed that they’d forget all of it when they grow up.
Now, we know it is not true – what a child goes through in his childhood has a significant impact on the kind of person he grows up to be (5). As a parent, you should never underestimate your child’s emotions, or his capacity to manage them.
Emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) is a person’s ability to identify, express, and control their emotions. Children are born with a unique temperament. Some may be outspoken and proactive while others may be shy or slow-to-warm-up.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to understand your children’s EQ and do what is needed to help them grow into healthy, emotionally intelligent adults.
13. Don’t Assume
Do not assume that you know what your child wants or how she feels at any given point of time. If your child is not complaining, you may assume that she is happy. You assume that you are a great parent because your child behaves well in public and does not throw tantrums.
When you assume, you are closing yourself to understanding your children accurately, thereby making poor choices for your kids. Asking them should help clear any air of doubt and you will know for sure what the matter is.
Childhood Psychological Disorders
Children acquire certain behaviors, influenced by their parents, family members and the society. Most children have minor behavioral issues (6) such as being adamant and rude or lacking attention. If these issues get complicated they become disorders. Here are a few common psychological disorders in children:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD display three main characteristics: inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. They can also be fidgety, aggressive and excitable.
- Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Children with bipolar disorder tend to have abrupt mood swings, long periods of hyperactivity followed by lethargy, temper tantrums, frustration and defiant behavior.
- Anxiety Disorder: Children with general anxiety disorder tend to worry excessively about everything. Even the most trivial of issues tend to give them sleepless nights.
[ Read: Anxiety Disorder In Children ]
- Asperger’s Syndrome: This is a mild form of autism. Symptoms include lack of social skills, dislike in change of routine and the familiar environment, no eye contact, unusual gestures and facial expressions, lack of empathy and awkward motor skills.
- Learning Disability: This is psychological disorder that makes learning a challenge. Symptoms include inability to pay attention, poor memory, poor coordination, inability to follow instructions or directions, and lack of organization.
- Disruptive Behavior Disorder: Children with this disorder may tend to bully others, isolate themselves from social situations, destroy property or hurt animals deliberately, lie or even steal things.
- Eating Disorders: Children with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia tend to have abnormal eating habits. These disorders are usually the result of obsessive thinking about weight gain and physical appearance. Symptoms include inability to eat anything, vomiting and binge-eating.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is not as common among children as it is in adults. Symptoms of this psychological disorder include social withdrawal, sleeplessness, lack of motivation, drop in performance at school, depression, forgetfulness and strange behavior.
If you think that your child displays symptoms of any of the disorders mentioned above, consult a medical professional immediately.
Child psychologists work on two primary theories
- Development in children is internal, change is innate (nature)
- Development of children depends on their external environment (nurture)
Experts study development in children under different contexts including:
- Social context: how relationships with parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and significant others affect the development of a child.
- Cultural context: how cultural factors like traditions, preset values, and guidelines to life affect the child’s growth and development (1).
- Socioeconomic context: how the social status of the child, the class, lifestyle and availability (or lack of) of financial resources can affect the child’s development (2).
Take The Challenge
Understanding the psychology of kids can be challenging. If you have more than one kid, the first child’s psychology may be different from the middle child’s, which may be different from your youngest ones.
Believing that all children are the same and using a one-size-fits-all parenting style for your children could misfire. It might be tedious and time-consuming, but understanding the psychology of a child is the most important thing that you can do to nurture him into a healthy adult.