You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Melissa Rush. Today, we’re talking about the incredibly important topic of chronological age versus developmental age. With Jill Crewes, AGCI Director of U.S. Child Advocacy Services. This episode is a must listen for parents, caregivers and anyone who works with children from hard places. Let’s get into our conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today.
I’m so excited to learn more about developmental age and chronological age and just so thankful that you’re willing to share your wisdom with us today. I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me. Yeah. So can you start by just defining development? Age and chronological age? Yeah. So when we’re thinking about chronological age, you’re really thinking about how long has it been since you were born?
Right. How old are you? Are you 12? Are you 15? Are you 47? Are you 83? And that’s basically it. There are some developmental components that are connected to the chronology. Schickel Age that you are. In other words, there’s ages at which certain changes happen, happen in your brain, which are tied to your chronological age. But for the most part, where you are in your development is really a reflection of your capacity to meet different developmental milestones in different domains, and that’s reflected in concurrence with your chronological age.
So are you doing the same things your peers are doing? Do you have the capacity to do different things at different times based on your chronological age? But the two things really are different. Yeah, yeah. No, it sounds like it. So can you kind of just go into what are some reasons why a child’s developmental age might be different from their chronological age?
Yeah. So if we come into the world and we start having experiences immediately, in fact we have lots of experiences before we come into the world when we’re in utero. And those experiences, whether it’s in utero or post-birth and throughout our lives, impact the way our brains develop, the way our bodies develop. It impacts our belief systems, our capacity for self-regulation and just so many things that are part of our life experience.
So when we have histories of stressful experiences, either, again in utero and I highlighting that because I think sometimes people don’t realize that that’s a very important piece of our time frame in terms of all kinds of development. Yeah, but that history is going to impact what happens for us developmentally. So if we think about it as there’s something that we refer to in interest based relational intervention as the five B’s, so that starts with the brain.
So that’s our brain development, that’s our neurochemistry. And then we have the body. So what’s happening physiologically, how our body is developing physically, what is our capacity around sensory integration and things like that? And then we have biology, which is what components of our DNA are going to be manifested based on our experiences. And that’s a really interesting one.
And it’s such just what’s going to be manifested, but how is it going to be manifested? And that’s that’s I don’t want to get too complicated, but essentially our experiences and what we’re exposed to and whether we have trauma or stress or not, is going to impact what kind of comes out of our DNA as we grow. And then we have our beliefs, our experiences with in relationships and in different environments.
It creates a kind of a blueprint or a wiring in our brains for what do we believe about the world? How do we understand relationships work? Do we have the capacity to trust? And if so, what does that look like for us? What do we require in order to trust somebody or to trust the system or to trust an experience?
Right. That we’re going to be safe. It’s also what we believe about ourselves. Yeah. How are we worth it? Do we matter? And it’s also like, do we have a voice or do we have safe people in our lives who are going to listen to our voice? If we use our voice to communicate that we have our need and need, is somebody going to actually respond to that in a safe, healthy, emotionally responsive way or not?
And so our beliefs are going to be impacted also by our experience. And then the last one, which is the one that I think is easiest to recognize, especially if it’s not going well, is our behaviors. Behavior is like an external way to communicate about our experience and about our needs, particularly when we don’t have a different way to communicate that.
So a lot of times for our kids who have experienced histories of trauma and stressful experiences in their lives, they are driven by survival in a lot of ways, in a lot of different situations. So all of those five BS, the brain, the body, the biology, the beliefs and the behavior are impacted by our in our in utero experiences as well as our post-birth experiences.
And that can have a really, really big impact on what happens for us in terms of being able to meet different developmental milestones in different domains along the way. The other thing is attachment. What is our attachment? Experience look like or what? What has it been like for me in having my primary caregiver or caregivers meet my needs, especially in the first three years of life, but throughout our my whole life, like it kind of goes back to those beliefs about relationships, right?
How do I do that? Can I trust? Do I matter? Do I have a voice? And relationships and the way that we’re cared for by our primary caregivers is also the way that we learn the tools of self-regulation. We don’t come into the world knowing, like, if I get upset, this is what I do to calm down, right?
It’s we don’t know that in the way that we learn that hopefully from a from the very beginning is by a series of experiences that we have with our caregiver that teaches us teaches our brains and our bodies how to calm down. Right. We learn that like rocking, swaying back and forth is calming. If that was done for us right.
Or a deep hug is comforting, if that was done for us right, we learn it along the way through that attachment cycle and we learn. You know, does anyone have me? Like, we all need, like as humans. Yeah, I need. I need people in my life that have me no matter what. They have me. Right. And then we also learn those healthy relational skills.
Can I give care to somebody else? Can I receive care from somebody else without feeling guilty? Right. Can I negotiate my needs? Can I say what it is that I need? Can I use my voice? And am I. Am I okay being autonomous? Am I okay in different situations, whether I’m alone or I’m with other people? So all of those things are going to influence what happens developmentally, mentally for us and what skills we have, which then also will impact the behaviors that we have in response to expectations that other people have of us based on how old we are.
Yeah, chronologically. Yeah. So are those things. So say if you’re you’re a child and you don’t get some of that attachment and kind of the things you’re describing that we all need. Is there like a way is there like a going back and kind of recovering some of that or how does that work? Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the good news.
And I’m so glad you asked that question because I think, you know, when you were first learning about this, I remember, you know, when I was first learning about all of this, it felt really heavy and daunting and like, oh, my gosh, you know, I’m an adoptive mama. My son was head of a very stressful in utero experience and trauma connected to that.
And so when I learned about this, I was like, wow, like, is there any opportunity? Right? Because what we want to do is we want to help our kids heal. And so the good news is that we can absolutely have a healthy, positive healing impact on all of those five things through giving our kids, you know, nurturing and connected, healthy experiences.
And in a lot of ways going back and giving them what they may not have gotten before they came to us. And that looks different depending on the chronological age of the child. For example, you know, I at one point in my career, I use I did a lot of work in the in the field of child protection.
And one of the families, the foster families that I was working with, who was caring for a sibling set, and they were younger. But the older child was about four or five years old. And that child had no I really didn’t have a voice. I didn’t ask for anything like wouldn’t wouldn’t communicate. Hey, I’m hungry when I express any needs verbally.
And the thing that was even more challenging about it, believe it or not, was that there weren’t a lot of big behaviors. That child just kind of went internally and kind of withdrew. And so it was it’s easy to just assume, oh, this child’s just fine. They’re easy. They don’t have any need. But that wasn’t the case. Right?
And so we really worked on giving language and being really purposeful about going back into dissipating needs before they arise. And they arose for that child and then meeting that need on purpose and then verbalizing what we were doing and why. So the example was like, you know, they wake up in the morning, oh, good morning. So that, you know, hugs, however, that morning routine goes about like you must be hungry.
You’ve been sleeping all day, so I’m going to feed you breakfast and, you know, just giving the words and then, you know, 10 a.m. rolls around. So it’s been a couple of hours since you ate. You must be hungry. How about a snack and so on and so forth. And within a pretty short period of time, that child gained voice and confidence and the capacity to say, I’m hungry and thirsty.
And it seems like such a basic thing. But that’s just one example of like how you can go back and kind of redo or recreate the situation or the experience of that child, get to that. And with teenagers you can do something around that same thing. So with food, right, I have a good friend and colleague who she was fostering teenagers and they had a the oldest was very prince ified and was kind of put in charge of caring for her younger siblings and just didn’t really have a lot of this experience of being cared for herself.
And so one of the things that this mom did was said, you know, I know this is crazy. I know you’re totally capable of preparing your own snacks and getting what you need. Like you’ve been doing it for a really long time and you’ve been doing it for your siblings. But just humor me like, will you? Let me get you some stuff?
Let me make you your snack when you come home from school. And Emma, this teenage girl who is I think she’s probably 16 or 17, was like where she went, but she went when she went with it and it’s like, okay, right. And so this mom’s like, Great, where do you want to start? And she’s like, I don’t know, a piece of cheese, you know, she just something simple.
And she’s like, Great, why don’t you sit down and I’m going to go get it for you? Do you want me? Go ahead and open it. And this girl’s like that and she’s like, Don’t worry, just humor me. Just humor me. So, like, okay. So she’s like, Yeah, open it. So she brings her the string cheese already open and hands it to her.
And there is like probably a few days of awkwardness around that. But then, then I think there was, is this connected experience of it’s okay for me to be cared for and this is what I didn’t get. And you know what? I really mean it. So within a few days, this teenager started to come home from school, already knowing what she wanted, and she was asking for snack that like you would normally make for younger kids, like ants on a log and, you know, like sliced apples or like a hot dog, but slice up into pieces and stuff like that.
And so it was just really healing. So you can I mean, that’s just one example with different age ranges of what that might look like. Wow. That’s so encouraging. Thank you for sharing that. And I mean, it just kind of shows like you’re never we all need that to be cared for and to feel like you said like someone has you and it doesn’t matter how old you are.
Like, that’s just like a fundamental human experience that we need and that if you, you know, unfortunately miss out on that as a younger child, like, there’s still ways to to find healing in that, which is so cool. Yeah. Just one other thing to add about that, which I think, you know, it goes for adults too. You know, there is a woman who had didn’t feel like her needs were met, especially around food growing up.
And as an adult, her refrigerator broke and her parents like they had healed their relationship, but her parents bought her a new refrigerator. And that, again, doesn’t seem like a simple thing, but it was such a deep expression of repair, even in her adult life. Yeah, well, because I think, you know, it’s like and I know today, I mean, we’re focused, you know, on mostly talking about children, but it’s not like you turn 18 and it all is just stops and is, you know, okay, you’re this is who you are.
This is how it is. There’s you don’t need to, you know, work on yourself or heal or anything. It’s like it’s a lifelong thing. And we all have things we can, you know, continue to to find healing from. And I thank you for sharing that because it’s like it’s not done just because you’re older who’s never done. Yeah.
So kind of circling back to just the basics. Can you just share how is developmental age measured on just kind of a basic level? Yeah, for sure. So our developmental age is really based on what is our capacity to achieve or meet different developmental milestones based on what our chronological age is and what’s typical for that age. So it’s very have our capacity to meet those, you know, milestones, I guess is a good way to say it is really heavily influenced by our current situation, our level of self regulation, our attachment experiences in our history.
Like I talked about before, when we’re measuring developmental age, a lot of times the most experienced, most parents experiences with their children when they’re very young or when they first come to them and they go to the doctor for a wheelchair. And the doctor’s asking us, there is questionnaire sometimes that you fill out, and it’s based on their chronological age, like, are they working, are they talking, are they, you know, more in-depth than that?
And then when they’re older, the questions are a little different. But most most parents are exposed to that kind of evaluation. But oftentimes what ends up happening is that we start to realize that maybe there may be some delays or some differences in our kids development when they go into situations with close in age peers and their behavioral, emotional, social cognitive responses aren’t matching up with what their peers are reflecting in their in all of those areas as well.
And then we start to kind of ask questions about that. Yeah, thank you for explaining that because I think sometimes those things get conflated. You know, people just talk about your biological I’m sorry, your chronological age as if that is just all that it is. And it’s obviously that’s not true. There’s a there’s a lot it’s a lot more complicated than that.
So you you’ve talked about the BS and I would assume that this is related to that. But do children who have experienced trauma often have a developmental age that’s different from their chronological age? Yes, it’s very, very common. I would I would say and in the years that I’ve been in this field of working with kids and families who have experienced trauma, I, I would be hard pressed to find even more than a handful of situations where there’s not at least one developmental domain that’s impacted.
And that’s specifically because of what I was talking about before with those five BS and the attachment cycle and how our experiences impact that. And again, it’s not that we can’t help a child get back on track developmentally and that we can’t. I mean, we definitely can. And there’s lots of tools to do that. And TBI offer is a lot of those tools.
Yeah. The other thing that I was going to say is that research shows that kids who have a history of trauma are typically developed mentally less than half their chronological age in a lot of developmental areas. So if I have a 16 year old, then there’s probably there could be. Could be. I don’t want to say probably, but there could be.
And their, you know, areas where they’re functioning more like an eight year old. Right. Or, you know, there there might be areas where they’re maybe slightly delayed or even more delayed. One of the things that we see a lot of times is that our kids may be like, let me just give you an example. So let’s say you have a 12 year old, ten, 12 year old comes to you physically.
Maybe they’re a little small in stature or a little small for their age. If they were, you know, they didn’t get the right nutrition or medical care or maybe they had some premature birth. There are different things that happened from their birth and in utero experience. So they’re physically maybe about more like an 11 year old. Okay. And then their social skills and their emotional skills may be way younger, right?
If they didn’t if they had experienced trauma, especially relational based, relationally based trauma, like emotionally, they might be more like a three year old because they they don’t know how to manage their emotions in a developmentally, quote unquote, appropriate way socially. They may not have the social skills to engage with peers. So socially they might be four or five, right?
And then their brain development and their cognitive capacity, they could be like an eight or nine year old and then obviously that would impact what’s happening academically and educationally, but at the same time, they might have and a lot of our kids do the life experience that a lot of adults don’t ever have in their entire lifetime. So you have kids who are trying to manage these experi ences while at the same time not having the developmental capacity or skills emotionally, socially, cognitive self-regulation wise to be able to navigate those things successfully.
Yeah, I’m so glad. It’s very common. I’m so glad you went into that because I think it’s so important for caregivers, anyone interacting with children to have an understanding of that, because otherwise you’re kind of just setting everyone up to to be frustrated, right? Like if you have these expectations that there’s no way they’re completely unrealistic. Right? And that it’s going to have the child be frustrated.
The adult be frustrated, yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. And I think it’s what ends up a lot of times resulting from that is just a lot of shame for the child and, you know, like kind of beating themselves up for like, well, I should be able to do this. Why can’t I do this? Even if that’s not coming from this?
The caregiver. But as kids get older, they’re going to be picking up on, like, why do I you know, why is why when something goes wrong or I get upset or frustrated, I get frustrated. It’s so hard for me to calm myself down. None of my other friends experience that. And then I look like, you know, I look bad in front of my peers and then shame, you know.
So it’s so important for caregivers to dig in and try to recognize when they’re seeing differences in their child’s development, to kind of chase that lie and figure out, okay, what’s going on here and then work on meeting the child where they are in that moment developmentally and give them what they need. Because what ends up happening is if I look at my 16 year old son, who happens to be six foot two and he’s in a man sized body.
Right. And I look at him and I’m like, dude, why can’t you do that? Right? Or I look at him and I just say, well, you know, he he might need me to engage with him as if he was much younger. But I’m not going to do that because technically he’s older and he should be able to do this.
Then he’s not going to get what he didn’t get from me and he’s not going to be able to grow. And it’s going to increase the shame and it’s going to just perpetuate a challenge that exists. So I’m scared going into another kind of question I think we’re going to tackle, but I think I’ll talk a little bit more about that later with flexibility.
Flexibility as caregivers is really important. And if we find ourselves digging ourselves in with our heels and saying, Well, no, there are 12 or there five or there’s 17, this shouldn’t be an issue. Then I would challenge caregivers to question themselves on that and just take a deep breath and say, Well, wait a minute, let me remind myself about what this child’s history is, and then maybe ask myself, is this happening because of a lagging skill or something that my child didn’t get that they desperately needed?
And I need to go back and give that to them and open my mind and be flexible about I may need my 12 year old to lay in my arms and rock them and it might be playful and silly, but that may be what they need. Yeah. So why not give it to them? Absolutely. And I think also just in general, when we’re saying should be doing this, should be like that doesn’t help anyone.
Like that’s not what the reality is. And you know, introducing even more shame and guilt are like it doesn’t it’s not helpful. And I know we just as people if you if you have felt that way like no judgment, that’s a normal human reaction. But you can try to remove the shoulds. I think that could be helpful. It feels good to remove the should.
Yes, yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s like, yeah, it’s we just put so much pressure on ourselves, I think in like all aspects of life when it’s like, I should be doing this, I should be at this point, it’s like, well, it’s not what’s happening. So does I know we’re talking about this. This isn’t necessarily or not necessarily it’s 100% not specific to adopting adopted kids.
But when thinking about adoption, when a family is kind of considering, you know, what age range to be open to, like what is something that you wish that they knew about the difference in developmental and chronological age and and how that can impact a child’s attachment and bonding? Yeah. I mean, I think, I think it’s kind of a lot of what I’ve started to talk about of like being flexible and you know, if we get stuck in this rut of just expecting that the child’s going to fit in a box of the chronological age that they are, then we’re not going to be able to or where.
We’re not going to naturally go to the place of meeting them where they are development utterly in that moment. And then we miss the opportunity to help them heal and to promote growth because we’re too fixated on no. They’re supposed to be in this space right now because they’re this age. And then, you know, again, reiterating that being flexible in our expectations, not just around development, but expectations around that bonding piece and attachment piece.
Because and not only, you know, things that I think a lot of families that have kids come to them either through adoption or foster care or different situations. A lot of them understand, oh, they’re not going to just like give me a hug right away or they’re not going to they’re not going to want to like lean in to me on the couch and they’re not going to say, I love you or they’re not.
I mean, a lot of people understand that. Yeah, but I think what sometimes we forget about is that our prior experience in relationship tells us what we know so far about how to engage in relationship. So if that child is coming from a situation where the only way they ever got their needs met was to have really big acting out behaviors.
That will likely be the initial approach that that child takes to try to build a relationship, because that’s what they know. And that can be really frustrating and hard for caregivers. And so I think having pace, patience and just recognizing that oftentimes kids are responding the way they are in relationships and with attachment and bonding, not because they won’t or because they’re not capable of doing it at some point, but because they don’t have the tools like they don’t know how.
And it’s not that they don’t want to. They desperately want to. We all desperately want to connect. Yeah, it’s we’re human, right? But if we don’t have the tools and we don’t know how to do it appropriately, then it’s going to be really hard to be successful and add on, you know? So that’s why it’s so important for the caregiver to be flexible and ask questions and remember a child’s history and give the child tools and give the child a lot of grace.
Because if you can imagine, right, I desperately want to connect with you, but I don’t know how to do it. And so I do what I know to do. And then your response is to shut me down or shame me or distance yourself. Then it’s it’s like, well, not only do I not know how to do it and I desperately want to do it, but now you don’t want to do that with me.
Yeah. Is the message because I don’t I don’t do it right. But what I need from you is to teach me how to do it. Yeah. That’s like a kind of heartbreaking to think, like, when you most need the connection and love and you have no idea how to ask for it to be pushed away like that. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And I don’t think I don’t think caregivers intend to do that. I think it’s it’s just it’s a it’s kind of like a side effect of like, you know, we do the best we can with what we know and the tools we have. And when we know better, we do better. Right. So I think the best thing that we can do, again, flexibility, dig in to that child’s history, think about how it’s impacted their development and then meet their developmental needs at the age they are in that moment, which could be different, like what they needed in the morning, as is different from what they needed in the afternoon to be successful.
Because what happened in between? Well, they went to school and there was a lot of sensory stuff going on and they had to focus and they had to learn and they’re exhausted. And so they can’t do what they could do this morning. So instead of looking at them and being like, You could do that this morning, what’s wrong?
Why can’t you do that yourself now? Or because there’s stuff that happened in between and instead just saying, Hey, I’m going to help you and we’re going to really make this happen and you can do it and I’m going to come alongside you. Yeah, no, I love that. Like, just flexibility and kind of constantly checking in and recognizing that they’re different than they were before.
And it’s their content that’s constantly going to be happening that changes just it doesn’t end. How can families begin to recognize the differences between a child’s developmental age and chronological age? Like maybe if they are an adoptive family or foster family and this child has recently come into their their home. Yeah, I mean, I think this is kind of it’s a little bit being a detective.
So I would say that just entering that relationship from a place of curiosity, from the get go, you know, don’t enter the relationship from a place of like, I know, I know what you’ve been, you know, even if you’ve got, like, tons of history, like you don’t know everything and you you aren’t you don’t know yet. How have those experiences impacted where they are developmentally, educationally, you know, all of those things.
So I would say enter from a place of curiosity. Again, I think, you know, naturally there’s going to be questions and things that come up through the course of like medical appointments and things like that to kind of figure out, you know, what’s going on developmentally for the child. But then also like just paying attention to, you know, times when you see your child with same age peers listening to what they’re telling you when they tell you, because kids aren’t always going to share.
But like, if they’re coming home and they’re frustrated or they’re upset, opening the door for conversation and saying, Hey, what’s going on, buddy? You know what happened? Why are you upset? You know, I’m not from a place of judgment, but from a place of help me understand how to help you and support you, because a lot of times kids will say things that are cues to us about the challenges that they’re having.
And it’s a reflection of like a tool that they don’t have or a skill that they don’t have or their developmental stage is different from their peers. So we can learn a lot from them. I think when you see the screen you can also see discrepancies in your child’s behaviors or their capacity to cope with stressful situations where they might have what we might call like an over-the-top reaction or an immature reaction.
Then I think that’s a cue to us as caregivers to say, Well, why is that happening? It could be and likely is because their capacity for behavioral and emotional self-regulation is not maybe where it could be because they didn’t get the support they needed to develop that skill right sometimes. Now, I’m not saying like it happens once and then, oh well, therefore, yeah, you’re really free emotionally because I have times when I behave like a three year old, right?
I’m saying like, if this is a pattern, right, and you’re seeing it a lot, you know, then that time when you might say, you know, what’s going on here and you can always reach out to like occupational therapists, that’s a really great place to find an O.T. that can do an evaluation here in the US if your child is between.
And it may be different in different states, but if your child is, you know, between zero and five and may go beyond that, you can go to the school district and request a child find evaluation, and they will evaluate that. Your for developmental stages across all the domains of development. So that can also be really helpful. And the purpose of that is to understand what that child needs to be successful in school.
But it’s also really helpful to understand what the child needs to be successful in life. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So we kind of touched on this a little bit just in that, you know, your needs and what you’re able to, you know, kind of take on or handle like changes throughout the day and changes throughout the experience that you have.
So kind of in that same vein, like just develop, I’m guessing the answer is no, but does developmental age remain the same? You know, like in different settings, you know, at school, you know, if it’s a child maybe adopted internationally in an institution within family, kind of what does that look like? Sorry. Yeah. I mean, I think generally the developmental stage that they’re at, whether it’s cognitively, physically, emotionally, socially or their life experience, that’s not necessarily going to shift in different settings.
But it may not be recognized or manifested in that particular setting, depending on what the setting is and what’s going on and what the expectations are. Our, our, our kids can be all over the map. Yeah, right. In terms of like, you know, with just developmental situations that are very disjointed that I mentioned earlier, you know, they might be three emotionally and they might be eight cognitively.
They might, you know, so there’s some disjointed ness. But what we often find with kids, even kids who really struggle with sensory, regular sensory processing and regulation skills, that when they go to school, they find ways to just hold it together. Right. And then they because they don’t have a seat, you know, they may feel that they have a safety net.
They may not feel that there’s somebody there that, like, they can just let her rip. Like this is what’s really happening inside me and feel like their needs are going to be met. And especially if they’re going, you know, if they’re a kiddo that’s in like a middle school or high school setting where they have multiple teachers. And it’s not just the one teacher all day, every day.
And then they come home and they let it rip, right? Because they come home and they’re with their caregiver. It’s like, oh, it’s like this big exhale of like, oh, like behavioral exhales, like, man, I just held it together all day and had all this sensory stuff happening and so irritating. It’s stressful, but I had to sit still and I had to pay attention.
I had to try to learn. And as you do all these things, and I probably wasn’t super successful with that because I was so disregulated or I was struggling because I wasn’t I didn’t have the skills I needed, but I get home and now I can just really it right. And that’s very frustrating for families to see. Like how come they can do just fine all day at school and then they come home and it blows up.
And I hate to say this, but that’s a good thing that they can blow up at home because that means they feel safe enough to show you that like they’re struggling. And the challenge at that is getting their lid down and helping them to regulate and calm down and then exploring what it is that cause them to get to that place of like blowing up, like where they holding it in all day, what happened at school, that kind of thing.
So it does remain in all settings. But you know, I know I see it in all settings. Yeah. I mean, like you said, I’m sure that is a frustrating experience. But also like a privilege that someone feels safe enough with you to, like, let it out, you know, because you can’t you can’t hold that, you know what I mean?
Like, you can’t hold that in. Like, it has to come out somewhere. And if they feel safe with you to do that, like, even though that’s difficult, it’s a good thing. So how can families support a child who may have a developmental age that’s different from their chronological age? Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of the times, you know, if we go back and we think about those five is right.
If you think about brain body biology and beliefs, those are things that are obviously visible to us most of the time. Right? There are things that are kind of under the surface, but it’s of they’re often expressed through the behaviors. Yeah. So this is why it’s so important, again, to remind ourselves, what’s this child’s history? You know, I may be looking at a six foot 216 year old and a man sized body, but his history in utero and in his early years has impacted his development differently in this moment.
And it’s he’s showing me through his behavior, is really tempted to look at him in that man size body and expect him to behave and have skills that are like a grown man. Yeah, but the reality is that he actually isn’t grown and he has differences in his development based on his history. So giving them what they need in that moment, adjusting our expectations, being flexible.
I think one thing that’s really helpful for me to think about when I have these struggles in those with either my kids is really remembering typical brain development and just knowing that like there’s a really key part of our prefrontal cortex in the front of our brains, which is one of the last parts to develop completely that is responsible, has a big responsibility for helping us to regulate our behaviors and our emotions and what research tells us.
And a lot of this one of my favorite people in this field is Dr. Daniel SIEGEL. So I have some books that I’ll recommend later. And but what we know the research is that we don’t even have access to that part of our brain until we’re about three or four years old. Wow. Because the brain develops from the bottom up, from the back to the front and from the inside out.
And so we can’t even access it. So this idea about self-soothing and the baby will cry it out. Wow, that’s that doesn’t exist. They have any capacity for that. They actually what they learn is I should stop crying because nobody’s going to come when it’s dark or nobody’s going to come when I’m in my crib. So I’m going to stop crying.
But they are not regulated. They have not have their needs, that they don’t have the capacity to do that. And that’s learning that you know, the neurobiology field has has, you know, discovered fairly recently. Right. So if anybody’s listening to this, they’re like, oh my God, I don’t want to worry about it because you do the best you can with what you know, right?
And we can always help to heal things from the past. The other piece of that is that assuming that we’ve had a healthy, consistent, warm, nurturing caregiver going around that attachment cycle in the first three years of life and continuing on saying, Yes, I’ll meet your needs. Yes, you matter. Yes, I’ll teach you how to calm down. Yes, I’ll support you.
Yes, I’ll feed you. Yes, yes, yes, yes. That’s right. You’re you’re teaching through all through that process. You’re teaching that child the skills of the tools of how to regulate and how to manage their emotions. And and through that relationship that’s happening through the years for that part of our brain to fully develop in a healthy situation where you don’t have trauma and you don’t have stressful experiences, especially early on for women in that part of the brain is not fully developed until our late twenties.
And for men it’s not until the early thirties. So put that into perspective. Okay, so and that’s in a healthy situation with no child, right? So with that into my my brain, about my six foot 216 year old son and my five foot daughter who’s 15 and looking at them and their bodies that look mature and look a doll and expecting them to be able to behaviorally and emotionally self regulate in any given moment the way an adult would.
It just is wrong, you know, it just doesn’t exist. They don’t have the full capacity to do that because they’re only halfway there. And that’s assuming that they didn’t have trauma. Now, you think about our kids who have had trauma and situations that have impacted their capacity for those things, they’re even more delayed. So I think it’s just really helpful to remember that.
Yeah, because it’s, it’s, if we remember that even just that small piece, even if we forget everything that they’ve been through in their history as far as trauma and stressful experiences, if we just remember, okay, they’re only halfway there because they’re not going to be fully there until their late twenties or early thirties. It helps us reframe what we’re seeing in front of us.
And I said earlier, I sometimes I act like a three year old. Yeah. The reality is that as humans, we don’t ever come to a place in our lives where we no longer need other people to help calm down. It’s just not a thing. So it helps us to give grace to ourselves and to our kids when we see these things happening that are rooted in development or delays or things, skills that they just don’t have, it helps us to remember it’s not that they won’t.
It’s that maybe right now they can’t. Yeah. And they need help and we have to be able to offer it. And we all have those moments where it’s not that we won’t, it’s that right now I can’t. And what I really need from you is to support me and to help me. So I think that that is that’s a key thing.
Yeah. Wow. Well, I have to say, my mind is kind of exploding right now. Thinking about thinking about that explains a lot. That is. Yeah. Wow. Thank you. I want to thank you for enlightening me there. So, you know, we’ve kind of been talking about like the fact, you know, caregivers are the family unit and kind of how to think, you know, maybe change your mindset about some of these things because thing that can be difficult is I mean, there’s not there’s not a ton of awareness about this.
And for how can parents, you know, explain to families and friends and teachers, you know, that their child, you know, might not meet the milestones that they, you know, in the at the same chronological age as other children. So, for example, at school, right. Not everybody at the school needs to have all the information. Right? The front office person doesn’t need to know all the details he or she might need to know a little bit, but not everything.
Right. And the teacher or the other professionals at the school who maybe are working with your kiddo on a regular basis are going to need to understand a little bit more deeply what your child needs in order to be successful. Now, the reason I say it that way on purpose, I didn’t say they need to understand deeply. Your child’s whole history is what is your child need to be successful in that environment.
So for example, like my son needs certain tools to help him stay regulated because of his sensory system needing some support. Right. And so that I might share well this is what that might look like. The good news is in the school system there’s mechanisms built in. Yeah, right. For that. Such as, you know, individual education plans, 504 plans kind of thing.
And through that process, you can help make that information known. If there are things, specific challenges that are connected to their history. And it’s important to share that information as to the why, then you can share that. But you know, if you’re sharing information with a family or family member, right? Aunt and uncle, yeah. You’re going to visit over the summer and you’re going to be spending a week with them.
Do they need to know that child’s entire history? Probably not. But they might need to know. Well, you might see some, like behaviors or like when she gets upset, you know, it takes longer to calm down and then maybe other kids her age. And that’s just as she’s still learning the skills to do that. Done. Yeah, I don’t need to say anything.
Yeah. Yeah. So I think it’s just that’s the biggest thing. What do people know? I need to know about your child and or their history in order for them to be successful with that person or in that situation is probably the biggest piece. Yeah, that’s great advice. And yeah, you don’t need to. That is obviously like a really kid’s history is like that’s for them to to share and to, you know, kind of confront on their own.
Like not to have everyone in their life necessarily know about some of that hard stuff. Yeah. And it can be simple too. It doesn’t have to be. I can just be like, you know, hey, it’s hard for my daughter to follow multiple directions at once. She does better if you just give her one instruction at a time, as opposed to giving her foreign instructors at a time.
Yeah. Period. Yeah. And they may say, why is that? And like, well, you know, it’s just the way it’s just what she needs now, right? It’s kind of one of those like if they don’t need to know it, they don’t need to know it. Absolutely. Can you just share some resources for families that are navigating the challenges that can come with developmental differences?
Yeah, for sure. I think, you know, I mentioned earlier, I think utilizing resources in your community is huge. So, you know, pediatricians and doctors vary in terms of what their level of understanding and expertise is in this area. But I think if you you know, a lot of occupational therapists are a great place to start. If You suspect that there might be some developmental delays.
I would very much recommend that you inquire with that occupational therapist as to whether or not they are well informed or have any expertise around sensory processing or sensory integration. And most of them are, but not all of them are. And that’s a really big thing for a lot of our kids. So I would I would reach out for those resources.
When it comes to if you if you think you and I get an evaluation and also child find through school districts is a great resource in terms of just things that are out there on the Internet. Of course, at HCI we have our families are forever training classes and there’s just a lot of really wonderful topics that caregivers and professionals can check out and do some learning websites specific to child development.
Of course, the Karen Purvis Institute for Child Development, the Center on the Developing Child through Harvard University is a really great resource. And the Child Trauma Academy, that’s Bruce Perry’s work that has just some fantastic information. And then there is a center for early childhood mental health consultation through Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development Right. And as an easy button, if you just want to go to the Child Welfare Information Gateway and type in child development, it’ll give you a list that will include most of these.
So awesome. So it’s kind of an easy thing. And then, you know, as far as books, I mentioned Daniel SIEGEL earlier, I think if you’re interested in learning about brain development and how trauma impacts the brain, he has two really amazing books that are not they don’t feel daunting to read. You know, I’m not like, you know, I do read and I do, you know, I go through phases of wanting to read not oh yeah, but like one of his books, if you’re just starting out or if it’s been a while since you’ve learned or learned anything about the brain brain development, I would suggest the whole brain child by Daniel SIEGEL, Dr. Daniel SIEGEL
and Tina Payne Bryson. And that’s actually a really lovely book about the brain that’s pretty thin. That’s only about like, you know, a quarter inch thick and it’s got like comic strips and stuff and it’s fun to read. It feels weird because it’s about the brain, but it’s fun to read. Yeah. And then the other one that Dr. Daniel SIEGEL wrote is called Brainstorm the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.
And I really love that it was actually written for teenagers through Wow! As well as their caregivers. And I said, I suggest if you have a teenager and I mean, you could bribe them 20 bucks a chapter, something like read it together and then talk about it. But it’s just really a wonderful way to have a better, deeper understanding about the teen age adolescent years and what’s happening in their brains and bodies and how that kind of comes out in their behavior.
If you’re not a reader, that one is. Dr. Siegel has done a recording on YouTube that’s about 2 hours in a room giving a presentation. I know to our songs long, but it’s well worth it. And it’s basically the essentials of what he has in that book, in a presentation. And you just go into YouTube and put in Dan Siegel brainstorm and it will come up.
And then I think obviously I think the books around TBRI Connected Child by Dr. Purvis, Dr. Wendy Sunshine as well as the Connective Parent, which is newer. And that was Dr. Purvis and Lisa Quarles. And then the last one is, you know, probably well over 80% of our kids who experience trauma has some form of sensory processing challenge that they face.
And that’s a really big one that I very strongly encourage, encourage parents to learn about that. But one of my favorite books, too, they’re kind of together, but is the out of sync child and the out of Sync Child grows up by Carol. Stop the Carol Stop craziness. And the reason I love those books is because they’re very accessible to read her background is as a kindergarten teacher and she just has this beautiful way of explaining things that’s not doesn’t feel like your brain is spinning, trying to understand it all.
And she does a really great job of offering anecdotal examples of like what this would what the situation would look like for a typical child versus a child that’s struggling in that area. So those are really good as well. Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to compile that amazing list. I’m like, I got to check out some of these books and so many different options.
So thank you. And it was such a joy to talk with you and I’m just so appreciative of your time and your and your wisdom. So thank you, Jill. Thanks for listening to Together by AGCI as always. If you liked what you heard, please rate or reviews wherever you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to read or watch even more stories, check out our website, allgodschildren.org.
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