When you send your child off to nursery, or school, you can rest assured that your little one will be hitting their developmental milestones. Being able to recite nursery rhymes, copy the actions that go with the songs, recognising letters and numbers and then, to the absolute delight of their parents, being able to draw the specific shapes that make up the letters of their own name.
At your one-on-one with your child’s teacher, you will get feedback about how they are progressing, what they are doing well at, what you can help them with at home… In their own time, and in their own way, children (for the most part) develop in the same direction, learning the same skills at a relatively similar speed to their peers.
But what about the other changes and developments that might not be on a curriculum checklist? The things that your child’s teacher may not think to mention to you – things that, as a parent, you might be worried about, or keen to know. Such as whether your child shared something nicely today. Or, whether they were confident enough to join a group of children that were already playing.
Vera Wellman is an early years specialist, with a background in teaching early years education in schools. More recently, she became an instructional coach, training nursery staff and teachers who are studying to get a certification from the KHDA.
Since having her own daughter, now aged two, and moving to Dubai, Vera has set up her own company, Early Years Dubai, to support parents.
We met up with Vera to ask her for the social developmental milestones that parents can be looking out for in their child.
LET THEM BE YOUNG
“When children start going to nursery, parents can get hung up on academics,” says Vera. “Some nurseries will start introducing learning from as young as two years old. But at this age, learning should only be through play – through songs, rhymes, role play, creative activities… Rather than getting children to practice using a pencil on a worksheet, get them to pretend they are writing a prescription for a dog at a vet’s office, for example.
“Unfortunately, many nursery school teachers don’t have a background in pedagogy, so they may not know that, at this age, emotional and social development is the most important thing to focus on. Many schools and nurseries in the UAE seem to be overly competitive. They are pushing children to be bilingual and trilingual… The expectations are too high on these little people. At this age, they should only be playing.”
As children start to dip their toe into their community, whether that’s at nursery, the playground, on a playdate with a friend’s toddler, or at a soft play area, it’s normal for parents to be eagerly watching their child’s first forays into social interactions, looking for proof of a dazzling and kind personality and a charismatic, charming nature – attributes that will hold them in good stead in their future. But we need to have realisitic expectations, says Vera.
“Children under three can’t comprehend the concept of sharing,” she says. “They aren’t meant to. If you jump into their squabble over a toy, you are preventing them from learning about conflict and conflict resolution and reactions. They are testing their environment to see how other kids and adults react to conflict. Teachers might be trained on this and may see this unfolding at school, but may not think to share it, or explain it, to parents.”
Read more: How to help your child settle in at nursery
BABIES DO BATTLE
Conflict is a natural part of human interaction. Pretty much as soon as a baby starts to socialise with its peers, there will be some type of fall out. According to Vera, for babies under the age of one, it’s normal for them to grab toys off of each other and even to grab eachother’s bodies and faces. These interactions are necessary, she says. “Any parent would feel uncomfortable seeing a baby about to lash out or grab our own baby. But jumping in and rescuing your baby isn’t always the best course of actions. Unless of course there is potential for real harm.”
After the age of one, children will still want to take toys away from each other. Vera explains, “If they like it, they want it. It’s as simple as that. They may fight, or seem to have an argument. It’s OK for your child, or another, to cry without you jumping in. As long as there is not a threat to either child.”
Vera suggests gently explaining the other child’s feelings in an age appropriate way. If it starts getting out of hand, try redirecting their attention to something else. She says, “If someone takes your child’s toy off of them, it’s not the worst thing in the world for your child to have to work out what to do about that. Children figure out a lot from this situation, such as how much they are willing to negotiate, or fight for something, and how to entertain themselves with something else.”
By age four, they should be able to understand that it’s fair and important to take turns. By age three, they may be able to do this with assistance. But don’t expect your three-year-old to be able to do this on their own.
“If you see another child hurting your child, or vice versa, of course you need to intervene. But if you are in a setting where you feel comfortable letting those situations happen, let them. But you have to feel comfortable about your child being on either side of that street.
“Most importantly, don’t judge your child for not being able to share, or not wanting to share. At that age, they are the centre of their own universe. They aren’t selfish… they are just ego-centric. And that’s OK.”
CHECK YOUR EXPECTATIONS
It’s not easy when you feel like all the other children can play nicely, and your child is the brute of the sandpit. But this could be more down to a problem with your own unrealistic expectations of our child, rather than your child’s behaviour.
“We feel ashamed as parents and blame ourselves for their behaviour, or blame our partner, or the nanny for spoiling them. But we have to give our children credit… They are working out how to function in a social environment.
“We have so many expectations on them – to follow rules, to behave. What we really need to do as parents is observe and support their growth and discovery, rather than to try and control what their personality is. We have to work with our children so that they can feel successful in their environments, by putting them into situations they can be successful in.
“It’s not the child’s fault if they are hungry, or tired, or if they don’t have a routine, or it’s past their bedtime, or if there are too many children in one area. When we expect too much from our kids, they can become insecure and lose confidence in themselves. They need to be reassured that they are doing well through physical and verbal cues.
Another way we can unknowingly clip our children’s confidence wings is by giving them too much direction. If you are constantly correcting your child when they are in social situations, they will deduce that they are not good in those environments. “So what if the train is not on the track properly? They have to be able to take risks, to be creative. If they are constantly being told, ‘no’ or being told to be careful when they are around other children, how will they feel about going to a party or school?”
Realistically, we all know that childhood is about getting dirty and falling over, getting into trouble and breaking rules, so as parents we need to allow our children to do those things without worrying about being judged by other parents.
Vera advises, “When you are concerned about your child’s behaviour, rather than looking around to find something to blame, such as the nursery, the food, the toys, ask yourself, ‘Am I observing my child? Am I making an effort to understand him, or her, in terms of what makes them feel triggered, and what makes them feel calm?’ Parenting should be about observing more and controlling less. Your job is to create an environment that enables your child to feel comfortable with themselves.”
Vera Wellman is a certified early years specialist and is available for consultations and parenting coaching for parents of children aged zero to four. For more details, visit www.earlyyearsdubai.ae