Hi! I’m Amber. I’ve been doing research on the developmental cycles that children go through where they regress at age-related times but then have a dramatic burst of new ability. My work has focused on children aged 18 months and older. I am making this three-part video series to show off my research: how I did it, many of the details, and how it can have an enormous impact on parenting. I hope you pull up a chair as I talk to you about what I think will be the next big thing in parenting.
I have been calling these developmental cycles that children go through “cognitive growth spurts.” So what is a cognitive growth spurt? Well, it is a time when the brain is growing. These are not “aha moments”; this is biologically driven brain growth. If you had the right diagnostic tools, you could look inside your child’s brain and see where the growth is happening. And when the growth first starts, it seems to be scary and disorienting to the child. The best way that I’ve been able to describe it to parents is to imagine the words “Under Construction” are written on your child’s forehead. This is because, for a period time when it happens, children tend to fall apart.
Per typical societal expectations, they tend to “misbehave.” The regression behaviors change based on the age of the child, but typical behaviors are that they become very jealous of others, very possessive, aggressive, angry, cranky, clingy, clumsy, they might lie, and the classic sign of new mental awareness is when they have a look of seeming disbelief as they look around at things they’ve seen hundreds of times before but it’s as if they are seeing something new. BUT … after this regression period not only do they become calm again but they have the potential for a new ability. They grow suddenly and dramatically. This is the general cycle: there is a period of regression followed by the potential for some new ability and it happens like this over and over in a predictable, cyclical way.
The best way I can explain my research is to show off some of it. I have work up to the age of 6 but I’m showing off the toddler years as this information is much more refined. Here is a chart of the cognitive growth spurts during the toddler years, ages 18 months to 3 years. Formally identify each cycle as a “milestone.”
On this chart, I have three columns: the first lists the number of the milestone, the age, and the name. For the number of the milestone, for each set, I start with a new number. So the first one listed here is “Toddler Milestone 1.” On the Preschool set, the first one listed is “Preschool Milestone 1.” The age listed here is when the regression period is at its worst: it’s when your child is at their most intense. I find that’s when parents start looking for answers. The name of each milestone is based on the dominant new mental skill to develop. For each milestone, I note when the irritable period starts, and then I take an inventory of the new abilities and I look for a pattern among them. When I find the pattern, I name the milestone.This is the heart and soul of what I do: I look for patterns in child development.
In the toddler years, over the course of 18 months, as you can see, there are 12 milestones. You might be doing the math of how often they came: yes this means they come about every month and a half and the regression period of each one lasts a few weeks. You might understand why these ages are sometimes called “The Terrible Twos.” Each one of these starts with a child who becomes difficult to deal with. [Use pen/paper to explain the following, possibly]: A typical milestone starts off with a child who is just a little snuggly at first, quickly crescendos to a child who is in meltdown city, stays there for however long, and then the irritable behavior begins to greatly break up. You then have a child who is calm and doing new things—the stuff that probably makes you love being a parent—and within a few weeks or a few days, the next one starts up. This is the TYPICAL pattern, there are some exceptions to this, such as Toddler Milestone 12 at 2 years, 11 months, which starts off with a bang—it’s typically one of the worst times for parents—but it then quickly breaks up. What I want to show with this research is the behaviors that children are already infamous for, whining and anger and such, has predictability in it. There is order in the chaos.
The way I got into this research was not intentional. It happened organically—not randomly but organically. I am a stay-at-home mother who homeschools my three children. As part of my parenting, I take a lot of notes about my children. When I see them take a new interest in something, I write it down and I then do research to try to develop their new skill. When they are difficult, I also write it down, so I can also research that, to know how to deal with it. And so I’ve also read a tremendous amount about parenting and teaching, the notes and summaries of which I also journal. So, with my first child, I was generating a tremendous amount of observational data, detailing both his new abilities and the difficulties we had with him, and I had everything recorded by date.
When my second child was approaching the toddler years, I looked through my notes for my first child. As I looked through my notes, I started to notice some things. Now had you asked me if I had a hard time with him, I would have said no. But when I looked closer I did notice some things. “Remember that time he became super bossy? I had to sit on a particular chair otherwise he screamed.” And what I noticed about this stubborn behavior is that although it was observed, it also dissipated. It didn’t last forever. I thought to myself: maybe these times were those developmental cycles which I was already familiar with.
I am also part of a community that discusses these cycles at older ages. It’s a Facebook forum called “Beyond the Final Leap.” On this forum, a parent might post something like, “29.5 months! I’m going nuts! Is anyone else seeing this?” And piles of parents would say, “Yes! I see the same exact thing. I could have written this myself!”
When I was looking through the notes, I had an epiphany one day. Between my notes and this forum, I had access to quite a bit of data. [credentials]. I could assemble it in an effort to pin down these milestones. And so, that’s what I did. I published the work I had done, asked if others would contributed to it, and if the administrator would be willing to pin the post. That was in December 2015.
Long story short, over the course of the two years since I did that, the data has grown tremendously. I want to sincerely thank the administrator of the forum, Zoe Brooks for supporting this research and managing that forum. And I want to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed because without you this wouldn’t have happened. And I want to thank people also for telling me that the work was valuable, because had I not heard that, I wouldn’t committed to it the way that I did.
Since then, the work has really grown, and a lot of people have been able to follow it and give me feedback about it. I’d like to give you some of the feedback I’ve got from people. This is but some:
This information […] has been a LIFESAVER at our house. My first son followed the [Milestones] like clockwork and my second is just heading into this territory now. Whenever we’d hit a stormy period it was so reassuring to know it was all an important part of his development. Lack of sleep seems so much more bearable when you know things will be back to normal in no time. — Beck Fredrickson
I love your work! I always check the pinned post when my son is fussy or not sleeping well and so far you have picked it every time! – Sarah Lewis, about her son Jack
Hi, we are just starting [Toddler Milestone 8], so far I can see challenges with falling asleep at nap time and night time, understanding and using today and tomorrow. She remembers things that happened a while back and started making up stories about characters. I wanted to sincerely thank you for documenting all of this, your notes have been so helpful in understanding the developments. – Alexandra LaFontaine
They are just great! So informative and very true to what’s going on with my kid to a T! — Katie Blogg, about Toddler Milestones 9 and 10 (2 years, 8 months and 2 years, 9 months)
Based on this research, I have three main messages about how this will affect parenting, which is also how I structured these videos.
The first, which was the point of this first video, is that childhood misbehavior is inevitable. The research is there that this happens. And I’m not saying this to scare you. People say I scare them sometimes with my work—I promise I’m here to help! But I bring up that it is inevitable, first of all because it’s true, but I bring it up as my first point because I want to move people away from blame. When children misbehave at these age-related times, it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent and it doesn’t mean they are a bad kid.
And that brings me to my second point: Misbehavior is Manageable. If you understand not just that these cycles happen in general, but the exact details of them, you can move away from blame and towards effective solutions. And of course some people do this wonderfully already, but with as detailed and nuanced as this work is, it will allow many people to develop highly sophisticated solutions at very exact ages. This will be the topic of my second video. It will be about surviving the difficult behaviors and situations.
And my third point, which will be the topic of my third video, is my most important and my most radical. It is that Misbehavior is Growth. So the first point is Misbehavior is Inevitable, the second point is Misbehavior is Manageable, and the third point is that Misbehavior is Growth. What I mean by this is that the irritating behavior that you see in your child is their brain growing. See it as the storm that it is and know that on the other side of it is going to be a child who has some new exciting ability. And so during the storm, I advocate that you don’t punish them for it or ignore them but bring them closer. Give them the connection that they are basically begging for—and you’ll see a reduction in the irritating behavior. I don’t see it as children who are “seeking attention”; I see it as young, growing children who are seeking connection in order to draw others to them at developmentally critical times. So let’s be prepared for it by having lessons, challenges, and activities for them to take advantage of this new growth as best as possible. And I always want to emphasize that it’s not just academic skills that you can help develop but all the parts that make up a human: skills related to empathy, character, emotional restraint. Each milestone is an investment opportunity. This is how you can not just survive but thrive using the milestones. Using this approach, instead of fighting or trying to control misbehavior, you are rolling with it and using it to your child’s and your family’s great advantage.
This is the reason behind the title of my book series about this, which is “Misbehavior is Growth.” I’d like to show you the book cover of the first book coming out, on toddlers, “Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years.” In this book, I provide robust documentation about each milestone as well as non-punitive discipline ideas and activity ideas for every single one.
So come connect with me! You can find me on Facebook as The Observant Mom. You can find the chart I showed earlier plus the summary of my research at my website, TheObservantMom.com, and of course look for my book “Misbehavior is Growth” which is will be available for preorder now and will be available at your favorite ebook retailer by the end of March, if not sooner. I am working on a paper copy; that’s next. Thanks for watching! I hope you come join me for my second video: Misbehavior is Manageable.