Developmental Stages – The Roller Coaster of Equilibrium and Disequilibrium

Do you ever feel as if parenting your children is like riding a roller coaster?  At one point you are enjoying your child and the next you are wondering what ever happened to your sweet little girl or your charming little boy.

rollercoasterResearch by the Gesell Institute of Human Development has shown that children’s growth is not always an even ride from less to more maturity. Instead, smooth, calm behavior alternates with unsettled, uneven behavior. Some experts in the field refer to this as going through periods of “equilibrium” when children are more a joy to be with versus “disequilibrium” when their behavior can be more challenging.

It is almost as if children need to take two steps back developmentally before taking a huge leap forward. They often gain new skills during these difficult phases.

So, if your child’s behavior seems to take a turn for the worse or if he seems to be more difficult to manage, it may be that a stage of equilibrium has given way to a stage of disequilibrium. You are experiencing the roller coaster of development first-hand.

 

EQUILIBRIUM DISEQUILIBRIUM
smooth, calm behavior unsettled, uneven behavior
practicing skills already mastered learning new skills and abilities
plateau in development quick time of growth and new development
at peace with self and the world uneasy with self and the world
more confident more anxious, more stressed, less confident
a period of stability and consolidated behavior a period of struggle and breaking down of behavior
easier to live with more difficult to manage

These phases of equilibrium and disequilibrium begin at birth and extend far into the teen years. Infants often cycle between these periods of calm and disorder weekly. As children reach the age of 18 months, the stages of development cycle less frequently and change about every six months. Typically, these six month segments occur until the child reaches the age of 6, when the cycles then begin to take place yearly. The following chart shows these stages:

Purple Stages of Development

 
Note to Parents

All children go through these developmental stages at their own unique rate and in their own unique way. It is more important to be aware of the cycles of growth and to recognize where your children fall than to know the exact age listed for each stage.

 

What Does This Mean?

Knowing about these developmental ages and stages helps you to understand and cope with those times when your children may seem more short-tempered and out-of-sorts.

  • While easier to parent children during periods of equilibrium, both phases are necessary for their growth and development. Some of their challenging behaviors are a normal part of their growth process.
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  • Try not to blame your child for being more sensitive or less flexible during periods of disequilibrium. They are not “acting that way on purpose” and are not “out to get you”.
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  • Each child has his own twist on how he will go through each stage.
    • Certain children are more low-key and even their periods of disequilibrium will be rather mild.
    • Other children are more intense and even the equilibrium stages may be a struggle.

     

  • In general, do not introduce major changes during a period of disequilibrium. If possible, wait until your child shifts more toward equilibrium before making new demands of him, such as learning to use the potty.

This information helps you to support your child’s growth and maturity – even when parenting them feels like a long and bumpy ride.

 

How These Cycles Work

18 Months to 4 ½ Years

Many times parents will comment that their eighteen-month old is going through the “terrible twos” early. What is really happening is that they have entered a stage of disequilibrium where their behavior is more broken up and out of sorts, and yes, characterized by tantrums.

As children reach two years of age, their behavior typically becomes smoother and calmer, only to take a turn again at age two-and-a-half when those tantrums return and children’s behavior is more rigid and demanding. This phase is the commonly-talked-about “terrible twos.”

Children’s development continues to cycle about every six months. Once again, they enter a phase of equilibrium around three years of age, when they tend to be more easygoing and cooperative as a result of their acquiring a little more maturity than they had at two.

When they reach three-and-a-half years, disequilibrium returns and their behavior tends to be more difficult. This stage can be quite challenging for parents as it seems they are backsliding and experiencing their children’s temper tantrums all over again.

These cycles continue as children enter equilibrium at the age of four and disequilibrium at the age of four-and-a-half when they become more physically, emotionally, and verbally out-of-bounds.

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To read more information about these ages, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Your One Year Old by Ilg at the Gessell Institute Your Two Year Old by Ilg and the Gessell Institute Your Three Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute Your Four Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute

<recommended books about child development

<all our recommended parenting books

<information about child development by age

 

5 Years to 8 Years

Most people believe that these middle years of children’s lives are the easy years, tucked in between the tantrum-laden years of toddlerhood and the so-called “difficult” years of adolescence. Children are supposed to be having fun, playing with friends, able to entertain themselves, and generally be less difficult during these years.

However, in reality five-to-eight-year-olds are still going through many developmental changes as they continue to mature and figure out how they fit into the world.

Five-year olds can be a joy to live with because they have once again entered a phase of equilibrium. They tend to be much more positive, optimistic and cheerful.

Unfortunately, disequilibrium starts up again around age five-and-a-half. Children at this age and all the way to about age six-and-a-half tend to be more tense, more negative and more likely to disobey. Parents once again may wonder what happened to their “sweet child.”

Children’s behavior begins to smooth out as they approach the age of six-and-a-half.

Disequilibrium sets in again around age seven. From here the cycles begin to last almost a full year. Seven year olds tend to be very moody, melancholy, fearful, and critical. They worry that others do not like them and they may cry easily. They tend to be self-critical of and dissatisfied with life in general.

The good news is that as children reach the age of eight their behavior once again evens out. They tend to be very energetic and outgoing, making them a joy to be around.

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To read more information about these ages, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Your Five Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute Your Six Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute Your Seven Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute Your Eight Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute

<recommended books about child development

<all our recommended parenting books

<information about child development by age

 

9 Years to 17 Years

Nine-year-olds seem to exhibit many worries and anxieties and become more demanding as they cycle once again into disequilibrium.

Behavior then becomes more predictable and comfortable as children approach age ten and, for the most part, really want to be “good” and do the right things.

From here on out, you can predictably expect your children to enter cycles of disequilibrium during the odd years and equilibrium during the even years.

  • Children age 11, 13, 15 and 17 are typically in a phase of disequilibrium when they can be more negative, more oppositional, less confident, more shy and less happy with themselves, their parents, their peers, and their life in general.
  • Children age 12, 14, and 16 tend to be in a phase of equilibrium, when they are more likeable, more energetic, more positive, more cooperative, more friendly, and more confident.

 

____________________________________________________________

To read more information about these ages, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Your Nine Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute Your Ten to Fourteen Year Old by Ilg and The Gessell Institute

<recommended books about child development

<all our recommended parenting books

<information about child development by age

 

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