Grandparents raising grandchildren: Part three

A refresher course on child development can help when taking on a parenting role again.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that if you are raising your grandchildren, you probably spend much of your time trying to understand their behavior and support their growth and development. Having a basic refresher course on child development can help you as you are taking on the role of parenting again.

Children face different challenges at every stage of development. Knowing some typical and some challenging behaviors at each stage can help you make a plan of action for responding to negative behaviors. You can ask yourself, is this challenging behavior normal, or is this child acting out because of a deeper social/emotional issue. How you respond may be different for each case.

Most challenging behaviors can be handled with age appropriate positive discipline techniques such as time-out, removal of privilege, grounding, etc. For example, a two-year-old who throws a temper tantrum may need a brief time-out to calm down. However, behaviors that seem more severe than expected for their age, for example, a five-year-old who is still having a lot of meltdowns or temper tantrums, may need some extra support from a family counselor or play therapist to help them deal with negative feelings that they are not able to express.

Here are some basic age-related characteristics and some ways you can support each stage:

Infants ages birth-12 months. 

Goal or job of infants: Learn to trust.

Typical behaviors:

Cry to communicate

Listens to voices

Looks at objects and faces

Learning to control their body: roll over, sit up, crawl, grab, etc.

Challenging behaviors:

Cry a lot

May not sleep through the night

Dependent on caregivers for everything


Supporting Infants:

Feed, diaper and clothe

Respond to cries

Hold close, support head and neck

Talk and play together


Toddlers ages 1-3 years.

Goal or job of toddlers: Learning autonomy and independence.

Typical behaviors:


Talking begins

Play alongside others

Enjoy stories, songs, rhymes



Challenging behaviors:

Says “no” a lot


Toilet learning begins


Supporting Toddlers:

Keep safe, clean and dry

Ease fears with a smile and a hug and reassuring words

Encourage play with other children

Play with and read to them


Pre-school-age children aged 4-5.

Goal or job of preschoolers: Take initiative to explore and learn.

Typical behaviors:

Talking in sentences

Learning to dress self, run, jump

Can use toilet


Challenging behaviors:

Sharing is still difficult

Mixes fantasy and telling the truth


Supporting Pre-School-Age: Children

Keep safe and clean

Provide quiet and active play times

Listen and read to them

Encourage pretend play


School-Age children aged 6-12 years.

Goal or job of school-age children: Expanding their world beyond the family.

Typical behaviors:

Enjoy being with friends

Interested in afterschool activities



Challenging behaviors:

Beginning to question rules of parents

Find it hard to deal with criticism

Like to tease and criticize each other

Supporting School-Age:

Need guidance on acceptable behavior

Support hobbies and interests

Be consistent with discipline and guidance.

This is just a short list of some behaviors for the first five years of life. For more information, or to find classes offered on parenting in your community, contact your local MSU Extension office. Look for another article in this series related to grandparents raising teens.

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