Developmental Tasks

What are Developmental Tasks?

Developmental Tasks are the broad “jobs” of childhood that need to be accomplished in each stage in order for children to learn life skills at the appropriate times.

The tasks of one stage do not need to be completely mastered before a child begins the tasks of the next stage. However, the sooner he masters a task, the easier it will be to tackle the tasks of the next stage.

Children continue to work on most tasks throughout childhood, even though there is usually one stage at which any one task is most prominent.

 

Why is Knowing this Important?

When you know what tasks your children are working on:

  • You can model and teach the skills that will help them to successfully complete the “jobs” of their age.
  • You can be more patient
  • You will be less likely to blame yourself or your children when they behave in frustrating yet developmentally appropriate ways, such as:
    • all the “no’s” and not sharing of toddlerhood
    • the strict adherence to rules on one hand mixed with breaking rules at other times of school age children
    • the defiance, opposition and criticalness and peer focus of teens
  • You can affirm your children for practicing/mastering their developmental tasks.

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Click below for information about the developmental tasks associated with each age group:

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For more information about the tasks associated with a given age, 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.

Growing Up Again by Clarke Childhood and Society by Erikson

 
<recommended books about child development

<all our recommended parenting books
 

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The Tasks of Infants thru 18-Month-Olds

twins sleeping

  • learning to trust their environment
  • believing that their needs are important
  • feeling loved and worthy of being cared for
  • establishing a bond with their caretakers
  • exploring their world
  •  

    About Babies

    Babies and very young children depend on adults to meet all their needs. They do not see themselves as separate people from their parents. They form opinions (for good or bad) by taking in the caretakers’ feelings about them.
     

    Support your young children’s development by:

    • offering calm and consistent care.
    • meeting their needs whenever possible – know that it is important to hold and cuddle your babies when they cry.
    • maintaining schedules and rituals (for example, at bedtime, bathtime, mealtime) in order to help them feel secure.
    • talking to them even though they may not understand the words; they will understand the attention and the warm feelings which are communicated non-verbally.
    • providing a safe environment for them to explore.

     
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    Tasks of 18-Month-Olds thru 3-Year-Olds

    child playing with bubbles

    • becoming more independent
    • beginning to see themselves as separate from the parent
    • “owning things” – this age group does not like to share (even things that are not their own!)
    • continuing to explore their world
    • beginning to identify feelings and express them in appropriate ways

     

    About 18 months thru 3-year-olds

    Children this age are very active and move back and forth between wanting to be independent and wanting the security of their parents. One moment they will be negative and use their favorite word “no” (even for things they actually do want) as a way to express their power and show that they have their own opinions; and the next moment they will be clamoring for their parents’ love and attention.

    They become frustrated easily, and their frequent inability to communicate their thoughts, complete tasks on their own, and have things on their own terms. Their frequent tantrums are an expression of that frustration.
     

    Help your 18-months to 3-year-olds accomplish these tasks by:

    Setting Limits

    • baby-proofing your home so that they can explore and do things on their own with safety and without you having to oversee everything they do.
    • setting firm limits around safety issues.
    • recognizing that ‘no’ is the beginning of separation and self-assertion.
    • offering acceptable choices as a way to gain cooperation.
    • giving them two “yesses” for every time you have to say “no” to them.
    • choosing your battles, letting go of many issues that do not put them in danger to avoid unnecessary power struggles.

    Encouraging Emotional and Cognitive Development

    • allowing them to “own” their things and not expect them to share graciously – they need to fully experience “owning” before they can genuinely share their things.
    • accepting positive and negative feelings.
    • teaching the difference between their feelings and their behavior; helping them recognize and express their feelings in appropriate ways while setting limits on unacceptable behavior.
    • permitting and encouraging them to do whatever they are capable of as long as it is safe to do.
    • providing a variety of things for your children to experience.

     
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    The Tasks of the 4 and 5 Year Old

    youngsters lined up at school

    • learning how to plan out and engage in a task
    • continuing to explore their world and discover how it works
    • learning how to use power
    • learning that behaviors have consequences
    • acquiring socially appropriate behavior

     

    About 4 to 5 year-olds

    Children this age are active and on the move. They ask a lot of questions (how, why, when, how long) as they try to understand the world. They like to try on different identities by role playing and playing “make-believe.”

    They also like to be involved in many different activities and some are beginning to be quite social.
    They may resist listening to their parents’ instructions as they experiment with power in relationships.
     

    Help your children accomplish the tasks of this age by:

    Setting Limits

    • following through with appropriate consequences to teach about cause and effect and to teach children to be accountable for their choices.
    • allowing them to make decisions about things that impact them so they gain a sense of control over their lives.

    Encouraging Emotional and Cognitive Development

    • teaching them words to name and ways to express their feelings.
    • encouraging their “make-believe” play while helping them to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
    • supporting their involvement in activities that interest them.
    • providing information about the world.
    • correcting misinformation.
    • answering their many questions.
    • giving them freedom to explore and experiment as long as it is safe.

    Supporting Social Development

    • encouraging relationships with peers.

     
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    The Tasks OF 6 thru 11 Year-Olds

    soccer

    • mastering difficult tasks
    • accepting and following rules and internalizing them
    • developing responsibility
    • learning many new skills, including social skills (especially same-sex peer relationships)
    • selecting adult role models of the same sex
    • continuing to learn how the world works
    • increasing their independence
    • enhancing their ability to reason
    • becoming more cooperative

     

    About 6 thru 11 year-olds

    6 – 11-year-olds ask a lot of questions as they gather information about the world and how it works. They are also eager to learn new skills, including social skills.

    They are very interested in rules and why they exist. They want people to obey rules even though they do not necessarily abide by them. They may test rules, disagree with them, break them, or try to set them as they learn to make the rules their own.

    They use their more mature reasoning abilities to understand the reasons why the rules exist and to differentiate between wants and needs. Along with exploration of rules and the beginnings of a cooperative spirit, games become prominent in their play.
     

    Support your child in accomplishing the tasks of this age by:

    Setting Limits

    • allowing children to see the results of their behavior by imposing appropriate consequences and following through with the consequences you set.
    • letting them make decisions about things that effect them, to the degree that their judgment allows.
    • pointing out what is real versus fantasy and encouraging children to report events accurately.
      • Young children may lie or steal. Without thinking they are doomed to a life of crime and without blaming or humiliating them, you can confront children with the facts and help them to tell the truth and make amends.
    • assigning chores to encourage cooperation, responsibility, and feeling that they are part of and are needed in the family.

    Encouraging Emotional and Cognitive Development

    • helping them to understand their feelings and identify the feelings of others.
    • teaching them to solve problems so they can deal with conflict and life’s challenges.
    • encouraging activities that reflect their interests, build skills, and increase their confidence and sense of accomplishment.
    • allowing, encouraging, and helping them to finish tasks.
    • praising them for trying to do things.
    • being a reliable source of information.

    Supporting Social Development

    • providing time with friends.
    • introducing them to role models other than their parents.

     
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    The Tasks of 12 thru 18 year-olds

    Group of Friends Smiling

    • establishing their own identity
    • separating emotionally from parents
    • experimenting with different values and deciding their own values
    • learning about how to relate to the opposite sex
    • beginning to renegotiate relationships with family members

     

    About 12 thru 18 year-olds

    Although parents often approach their children’s adolescent years with concern, many teens weather the storms of the age with little stress, and with great enthusiasm for and healthy involvement in all aspects of a well-rounded life.

    Teens often use their new intellectual ability to think abstractly and can be very creative, energetic, idealistic, compassionate, altruistic, and engaging. This is the age when passionate involvement in ‘causes’ often becomes a prominent focus of a teen’s life.

    Some teenagers are moody and suffer from anxiety as they confront the many changes they are experiencing socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

    In efforts to separate from their parents and become their own person, many teens become very critical of everything their parents so and say and believe in. To help them with this separation, the peer group becomes their new “security blanket”. It allows them to partially cast off the family that has cared for them until now and to forge their own way in the world.

    Teens’ social relationships, which become very important in their lives now, also serve as a testing ground for relating to the opposite sex and for belonging to groups.

    They are able to re-connect fully with their parents in late adolescence/early adulthood, when they become less dependent on their peers and more sure of themselves and their identities.
     

    Support your teen in accomplishing the tasks of this age by:

    Setting Limits

    • gradually turning over decision-making to your teens: allowing them to make decisions about things that effect their lives to the extent that their judgment permits.
    • matching their increased judgment and responsibility with increased privileges.
    • continuing to set firm rules and limits about safety matter and important values – you are still the paent and have the ultimate authority in your home.
    • setting and following through with consequences.
    • choosing your battles – you might let issues about clothing or appearance go.
    • continuing to monitor friendships, academic performance, internet/technology use; step in if you feel your children need guidance or limits.

    Encouraging Emotional and cognitive Development

    • remembering that even if your teens are pushing you away, they really do still want your input; find new ways to stay connected.
    • continuing to let your teens know what your values are.
    • being a good role model.
    • celebrating their growing up and growing independence.

    Supporting Social Development

    • encouraging healthy peer involvement; make your home teen-friendly without compromising your values.
    • supporting involvement in activities that interest your teen.

     
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    For more information about the tasks associated with a given age, 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.

    Growing Up Again by Clarke Childhood and Society by Erikson

     
    <recommended books about child development

    <all our recommended parenting books
     

    If you found this article helpful, click here to make a donation to The Center for Parenting Education. Your support will enable us to continue to provide quality information free of charge.

     

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