Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates

Brenner Children’s pediatric emergency department has moved back to its original location. Learn more

In order to help protect patients, family members and health care workers from the spread of COVID-19, no visitors are allowed at any of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s outpatient or inpatient facilities, except in certain situations.
Learn more

More COVID-19 Updates

Behavior, Emotions and Development

Skip to a section:



Children develop at very different rates. They tend to build one step on top of another as they grow. Their development depends a lot on their age, their size, their surroundings, their heredity and the people around them. Here is a general idea of how children grow up to about age five, as suggested by the American Medical Association. It is simply a general idea, varying greatly from child to child: 

  • Smiling, around six weeks. 
  • Rolling over, around nine weeks. 
  • Raising the head and shoulders from a facedown position, around three to four months. 
  • Sitting supported, around six months.  
  • Saying simple sounds like "Mama" or "Dada," about nine months. 
  • Moving to a sitting position, around nine months. 
  • Understanding simple commands and standing unsupported for a brief time, around 12 months. 
  • Trying to feed themselves, walking without help and building block towers, around 18 months. 
  • Being toilet trained, around two years. 
  • Talking in simple sentences and getting dressed and undressed (with help), around three years. 
  • Hopping and skipping, and drawing a figure with head, body, arms and legs, around five years. 



If you remember your teens, you know what a transitional period of life this is. It is the time that you are caught between adulthood and childhood, wanting to be treated like both, depending on the day. 

Adolescence can begin around 10 or 11 in girls and around 12 or 13 in boys and continue until around age 18.

The physical, mental and emotional changes can be difficult for parents and children. One change can impact another, like severe acne causing emotional problems. Adolescents and their parents face many challenges during this period of change, including concerns about friendships, relationships, drugs, sex, alcohol and other responsibilities. 

Because adolescents are often self-conscious and self-centered at the same time, they can be a real challenge. They can be very frustrated at the fact that they can do a great deal on their own and yet have to depend on parents for rides everywhere, for example. 

Talk with your children about your concerns. Give them responsibilities that show your trust and belief in them. And help them get through the down times when they feel awkward or don’t like you or aren’t getting along with their friends. Even though they may be pushing you away on the outside, inside they need you. 



Author and psychologist Penelope Leach suggests that parents abandon the word discipline in favor of "learning how to behave," because that is what parents are trying to teach their children. 

Discipline carries with it the idea of punishment, but what parents really want to convey to their children is how they want them to behave at home, at school and out in the world. 

How you discipline your children depends on how your family operates, but here are a few thoughts on discipline that may be helpful to your family, no matter how old your children are: 

  • You are your children’s primary role model. They will do what you do. Even though you may tell them to act one way, they would rather follow your example. So think about how you want your children to behave and then act accordingly. 
  • Whatever your family rules are, keep them consistent. If you tell children that they can only watch television after their homework is finished and then let them do so while you talk on the telephone, they will try and bend that rule again and again. Being consistent with your children is one of the best ways to get across what you expect. 
  • Talk with your spouse ahead of time so that you agree on discipline. Watching parents debate over rules and regulations is confusing to children. Give the children good reasons for wanting to behave well so that when you are not standing over them, they have self control to the point of knowing what to do when they are on their own. 


Emotional Problems  

Children have their ups and downs, just like adults. They have days at school that make them feel fine and others that can bring them way down. 

There are many factors that go into children’s feelings, including their stage of life, the people around them, their genetic make-up and what is happening in their families. What parents have to figure out is if a child is going through a temporary problem or in the midst of a chronic one. 

If a child acts depressed because the family dog died, that would be a normal, even appropriate way to behave.

If a child is depressed for long periods of time for no apparent reason, a parent may want to talk with a doctor to determine if the child needs help. Children who are depressed can behave just like adults who are depressed - under or over eating, keeping to themselves, having bouts of crying and feeling bad about themselves. 

Adolescents may have periods of depression while they are transitioning from childhood to adulthood and trying to figure out where they fit in. 

Children can also develop fears or anxieties, some of them very temporary. Around age six, for example, a child may suddenly realize that people -- even parents -- can die and worry about that. 

Talking with your children about their problems at any age is important. But when parents find they are unable to help a child through a depression or fear, they may need to turn to a professional. There are many solutions for helping children, which can include everything from talking to relaxation techniques to exercise to medication.


Nightmares & Terrors  

Children may go through periods in which they have bad dreams that can be absolutely terrifying to them and frightening to a parent who hears a scream in the middle of the night. Nightmares can be caused by a variety of things, including a frightening incident, story, television program or movie, or from stress a child feels at home or at school. 

Children with night terrors may act extremely frightened but have no memory of calling out or walking around. In either case, your child needs comfort. A child with a night terror may simply drift back to sleep without knowing anything happened. It is better not to wake the child. If your child is having nightmares, try to get the child to think about other things. Later on in a calm environment, you can talk with your child to see if you can find out if there is an underlying problem. If you have a child who sleep walks, you may want to consider putting up a gate or closing a door or doing something to protect the child from getting injured.