Behavior Due to a Developmental Stage

How do I know if development is contributing to my child’s behavior?

Development asserts a very strong influence over children’s behaviors. Children have an innate need, or drive, to practice the important tasks of different developmental stages. Each stage has predictable behaviors associated with it.
For example, a nine-month-old infant finds delight in repeatedly dropping a spoon from her high chair, while her exasperated mother tells her to keep her spoon on the tray. This baby is practicing the concept of object permanence. The baby tests out this new awareness, which begins to develop around eight or nine months, by dropping things and having them “reappear” when picked up by a patient parent.

How can you tell whether or not your child’s behavior is due to a developmental stage? Gather information about general development from well-respected sources such as parenting books, from your experience with children of the same age, or by reflecting upon your own childhood.
Ask yourself:

  • Have I read about this behavior in parenting literature or heard about it from my pediatrician or other trusted professional?
  • Have I seen this behavior in other children of the same age?
  • Do I remember doing this myself?
  • What is my child trying to communicate? How can understanding this help me in knowing how to respond?

If your child’s behavior is due to a developmentally based need, he may be communicating to you that he is exactly where he needs to be, working on something very important! Here are some strategies for responding:

  • Relax! Your child’s behavior is not due to something you have done or not done. It stems from an internal, developmental drive. The behavior will pass or evolve as your child masters the particular skill or task.
  • Try to tolerate your child’s behavior; it is developmentally useful.
  • Channel the behavior, if it is still challenging. When you channel behavior, you don’t try to stop it. You allow it to happen in certain places or at certain times. This allows your child’s developmental needs to be met as well as yours. To enhance object permanence, you might channel behavior into games such as peek-a-boo and appear-disappear-reappear games. This allows the infant to practice this new developmental skill in a fun and engaging way.


Why Is This Happening? What Questions Can I Ask? What Is My Child Trying to Communicate? Strategies for Interventions
Is this due to a developmental stage?
What is a developmental stage?

It is a normal, necessary phase that all children must go through to mature and grow.


 – Object permanence achieved around eight months

 – Stranger anxiety occurs at or about twelve months

 – Egocentrism emerges at or around twenty-four months

 – Have I read about this in books?

 – Have I seen other children at the same age behave in this way?

 – Is this typical behavior for this age?

 – Do I remember doing the same thing?

“I am working on mastering a developmental milestone or task. I am where I need to be for now.” 1. Relax. All children do this. It will end or evolve.

2. Tolerate. It is developmentally significant and useful.

3. Channel. Allow the behavior in certain places or at certain times.

4. Stop. Stop behavior when it is disruptive or a danger to others or self. But know that it will return.

Remember: The behavior stems from a developmental need within your child. Don’t blame yourself or feel guilty; it is not due to something that you have done wrong.

Links & Resources » Behavior / Discipline

The framework for understanding your child’s behaviors is based upon an adaptation of James Hymes’ Understanding Your Child by Kadija Johnston, LCSW, Director of the UCSF Infant Parent Program, and is used with her permission.