In no time at all, it might seem, your dependent tiny baby progressed into a wobbly toddler and now here they are developing into a proper little person. Up until this point, their physical development is most noticeable as they learn to sit, crawl, walk, talk, sleep properly, feed, dress, wash and go to the loo themselves. But now the focus shifts more towards their mental, social and emotional developments as they form their own distinctive characters, speak more fluently, understand more, make judgements, and develop behaviours and friendships
They might start experimenting with more intricate games like setting up a doll’s house, building more complicated lego and meccano models, dressing toys, cutting with scissors, completing puzzles unassisted and taking an interest in computerised games such as Nintendo Wii or DS. It’s a good time to start teaching them simple card games and family board games such as Frustration or Sorry, which they can play with older siblings and adults.
Their drawing skills will be progressing significantly – by 5 they should be able to draw a person with a head (complete with eyes, nose, mouth and hair), body, arms and legs and a house with windows, doors and a roof. They can hold a pencil well and may enjoy copying and writing letters and numbers, and recognising colours.
At this age they need about 30-60 minutes of daily physical activity such as bike riding, swimming, ball games – throwing, catching, kicking and hitting with a bat; climbing – trees and frames, trampolining, dancing, running, jumping or walking.
The main thing children want – and need – from their parents is to have fun with them. Give your child time, take their lead and have a range of activities available that offer creative role play, drawing and colouring, counting and sorting, basic crafts and construction kits, physical activities, books with interesting stories or rhymes and board and computer games.
The key milestone during these years will be starting school. For five year olds, their family life is still the centre of their world and they are still attached to their parents, so this will be a very big step for them. Different children will respond in different ways – some will be excited and confident, others may be clingy and frightened – but all will be dependent on your encouragement and support.
Remember that they will have to fit in with new rules at school and will come into contact with different ideas and personalities, which can be confusing and tiring for your child. So don’t be surprised if your son or daughter is tearful, disruptive or abnormally quiet when they arrive home at the end of the school day.
Your child will start to notice what he or she can or can’t do in relation to others in their class, so help them out where you can if they mention that they can’t catch a ball/ride a bike/cut with scissors as well as their friends. But equally remind them of what they are good at, and explain that we all have our own special skills.
Make sure you ask them lots of questions about their day and give them some one-to-one time with you to compensate for their increasing time apart from you and Mum.
This is the age where children are really starting to connect with the bigger world. They’re developing an awareness of their own feelings and needs, and the outcomes of certain behaviours – and starting to make judgements and hold opinions of their own. It’s quite a mind-blowing time for them and Dads have a key role to play to help them build a strong foundation for later emotional development.
- Encourage them to share and express their feelings with you and others.
- Help them manage intense emotions by talking about it, kicking a football or drawing a picture rather than indulging in aggressive behaviour.
- Teach them to involve and play fairly with others, not to take over or be unkind, to be more confident or less rough.
- Allow them to play on their own and encourage them to develop their own ideas.
- With so many new things going on, this age group are very reliant on routines and boundaries to make them feel safe and secure, especially at home. Try to follow a similar pattern getting ready for school in the mornings and going to bed at night. They actually prefer consistent rules as so many new and different things are opening up to them, that they like to have certain things on which they know they can depend.
- As they are striding forward in their understanding, they’ll ask lots of questions about the world and why things happen. Try to deal simply and honestly with difficult questions about death or sex. Explain that these are the beliefs that your family holds, but other people may think differently. And don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a question. You can always search the internet together to find out.
- They are now old enough to be given responsibilities round the house, which will give them a feeling of achievement, such as making their bed, tidying up toys, laying and clearing the table and packing their school bag.
- At this age, kids still don’t understand the concepts of time constraints or the need to hurry, but what they do quickly learn is that dawdling gets a reaction. Now that they’ve mastered the art of putting on their coat or shoes, routinely doing that task becomes boring and it can be more exciting to see Dad’s reaction when they’re hiding behind the curtains or playing with their toys rather than obeying instructions to get ready for school. Remember to continually praise and encourage when they do things well, and withhold TV or playtime until they have finished washing, dressing, eating breakfast and cleaning teeth. Try not to start doing things for them that they should be doing themselves – like putting on their shoes, clearing away their breakfast bowl or picking up their packed lunch just because you’re running late.
During this key stage in your child’s mental and social development, they may struggle with all sorts of different, confusing emotions. Angry and difficult behaviour could simply be an outlet for their insecurity and frustrations but you need to deal with problem traits now before they get out of control.
It’s been said before, but we can all do with a reminder:
- Set the boundaries and keep to them – let your child know what’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Give one warning, and if your child doesn’t stop or start doing what you ask, issue the punishment.
- Explain clearly why the behaviour is wrong but always remind your child that they are loved and it is their behaviour that you are punishing.
- Ensure they get enough sleep, physical exercise and healthy food – tiredness, boredom and poor diet can all contribute to ratty behaviour.
- Look for advice from other Dads who’ve been there (or share advice with those who are going through it) on our forum.
This age is a lovely time in your child’s life, and I hope this gives you some ideas to make it even more special and fun. Next stop: 6-8 years!
Learn more about your baby by watching for developmental milestones here.