When children experience disruptions (adoption/foster care), trauma or neglect development is impacted. Often adults expect certain behaviors and abilities based on a child’s chronological age, however they may not be there, most of the time. If we view a child as their developmental age and respond/address behaviors the way we would respond to a child of that chronological age we will help them move forward. We can’t reach the top of the ladder without touching the rungs below. These children need to experience the world through the younger lens that they weren’t able to because their body was in survival mode and put development on hold. This series will give examples of what to look for in your child and respond to them based on their “inside age” not and not their “outside age”. The time frames are estimates as all children have an individual developmental path regardless of their history.
From birth to 12-months, thumb and hand sucking are a sensory and calming experience. If an older child is doing this they may have missed this sensory experience as an infant.
Infants are sensitive to loud noises also and may be easily startled or cry. Older children may avoid vacuums/hand dryers etc. or cover their ears.
Infants use demanding cries when hungry, wet, scared or sick. Older children may throw tantrums, get irritable or scream when they have a need but don’t know how to communicate it. Just like with babies, try food, a hug, a sweater - to figure out the need and meet it.
Around 6-9 months of age babies can distinguish tones of voice and emotions of others. Exposure to high conflict/domestic violence will make them very sensitive to changes in the adults around them. Don’t think because they are young they are unaware or not impacted by emotional events around them.
Separation and stranger anxiety develops around 9-12 months of age. This is normal for this age, if seen in older children they may have had a traumatic separation younger. (hospitalization of a parent or the child, foster care,death of a caregiver, etc.)
Tantrums like slapping, kicking, knocking things away develop at the end of the first year also, which is the beginning of expressing emotions. If an older child expresses anger this way they may not have gone through this step.
When we stress we regress, if an older child loses their ability to use words and uses sounds/gestures when highly upset/dysregulated they are likely regressing to this time period when communication was not with words.
Learning in the first year is through sensory experiences. If an older child is really seeking different sensory experiences, especially over organized play they are going back and getting what they need and what they missed.
If your older child is acting like a baby, it may be because they missed some opportunities when they were a baby and are trying to go back and get them - meet them where they are at and they will move forward.
References: “Developmental Milestones of Young Children” by Karen Petty, Phd and the Neurosequential Network - Child Trauma Academy, Dr. Bruce Perry