Recently, on a cold winter’s day, we met with Child Psychologist Dr. Susan Wilson to talk about the stages of childhood and to learn some fresh tips along with any tried and true advice she had tucked away for parents.
Q: Dr. Wilson, you are a parent yourself and have professionally interacted with children of all ages. What would you say are a few basics that parents need to understand in order to successfully raise their child?
Dr. Susan Wilson: Children thrive in a stable environment, such as a well structured, organized home. If that is in place, they can relax while they learn and grow. If there is chaos or fear and no healthy direction, a child is not able to determine how things are supposed to be or for that matter, what “healthy” even looks like. He or she can become frustrated and confused.
It’s also important that a child has access to parental figures or other caring adults that will be there to offer guidance and support. These older helpful figures need to allow the child to make mistakes while letting him or her know that the adult will be there when and if there is a need. If a child feels loved and respected, chances are he or she will in turn treat others lovingly and with respect.
Q: When does a child’s personality actually begin to develop?
Dr. Susan Wilson: It’s hard to fathom, but actually from the day a child is born. Before a baby can speak he or she is processing and absorbing the world around. When living in a stable and emotionally secure environment, a child has stronger chances of growing up confident. This provides the freedom to find one’s own way through life while lessening the need to succumb to peer pressure or negative influences.
Q: How does a parent come to understand the difference between being firm–but not too firm?
Dr. Susan Wilson: Children need to understand that their life decisions have consequences and that they affect those around them. However, they definitely need clear guidance. We need to be strong enough to correct and assist, but loving enough to pick them up when they fall and point them in the right direction.
Q: What are some common frustrations for parents during the infancy stage?
Dr. Susan Wilson: When a baby cries for no apparent reason, a parent can become quite frustrated. An infant cannot tell parents what we want to know, and we are left to solve the mystery. You simply must remember, it is a fact of life; a baby is unable to communicate like an adult or an older child. Remain calm and ride it out.
Q: What are some challenges the parent of a toddler or preschooler faces?
Dr. Susan Wilson: When a child begins to walk, that is day he or she begins the journey to independence and is no longer fully under our control. A baby can wander around and even disappear quickly. It is good for a young child to explore and discover. But it’s essential to provide careful watch and a secure environment, one that is free of items or situations that could cause unexpected harm–like a crystal vase on the coffee table or unlocked cabinet doors that hold cleaning items.
Q: Adolescence is a scary stage for parents and teens alike. What are some tips for survival?
Dr. Susan Wilson: Remind yourself that your teenager’s body is going through dramatic changes, and these changes are happening rapidly. This may be frightening to both of you and both of you may be uncomfortable communicating about this to each other. At these times it is imperative to have a trusted friend, colleague or family member that your child fully trusts and is able to talk with. That person may be your saving grace.
Q: What are some final words you’d like to leave with parents as they travel the parenthood road?
Dr. Susan Wilson: Be sure your child knows that you love and respect him or her. Does she know you are truly emotionally, mentally and physically there for her? If those items are in place, your relationship will be stronger and you are more likely to survive the stormy seasons. You will make mistakes, and so will your child. Just be sure to acknowledge him or her, then move forward. Your love for each other will be the key to success.