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RACSB-PEID: Perspective Shift

May 10, 2023 06:42AM ● By Emily Freehling

Raising young children is tough. Focusing on the progress your child is making can help turn annoyances into moments of gratitude.


The first three years of a child’s life are a momentous period of brain development. The brain reaches about 80% of its adult volume by age 3. But all of the important skill-building and neural connections happening during this time don’t play out in daily life like a highlight reel of slam dunks and touchdowns.

Growth is messy. It can look like a basket of toys flung all over the room, a chase around the grocery store, and an exhausted, frustrated parent or caregiver. The Parent Education – Infant Development program (PE-ID) is an early intervention program for children from birth to 36 months, run through the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board.

PE-ID’s team of speech language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, early childhood education specialists and service coordinators works directly with parents and children in their homes to minimize developmental delays (and work with atypical development) during the first three years of life. (The program serves families in Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties, and the city of Fredericksburg.

Through decades of experience working with families of young children, PE-ID’s team understands just how stressful raising an infant and toddler can be. When parents learn to see that some of the most frustrating behaviors of this age group are actually signs that a child is reaching important developmental milestones, some of that stress can give way to smiles of celebration.

Gripe: “My child keeps taking all the plastic food containers out of the cabinet and spreading them all over the kitchen floor, over and over and over again. I am constantly cleaning this up!”

Gratitude: This child is learning one of the most important skills of childhood—play! At around 15-18 months, it’s normal for a child to be exploring their environment through behavior like this. Whether it’s books on a shelf, toys in a basket or plastic bowls or containers in the kitchen, this kind of behavior is one of the earliest ways children learn that there’s a whole world out there—beyond the bounds of a crib or playpen—for them to explore. As long as they are doing this with safe objects that don’t pose an overt risk of choking or have sharp edges, you can look on with pride. Don’t stress too much about cleanup—it’s likely your child will move on to a new favorite activity before long. Give yourself a break and learn to see the mess as a sign of accomplishment for this brief period.


Gripe: “In the afternoon, I like to take a moment for myself and enjoy a rich piece of dark chocolate. My toddler often sees me enjoying this treat and will come try to grab it from me. Even if I hide it out of sight, she will be all over me trying to get it. She’s so determined—but I just want to enjoy my treat for this one moment!”

Gratitude: Children start to grasp the concept of object permanence at about 7-9 months. This means that their brain has developed the understanding that an object is still there, even when she doesn’t see it. She’s developed --a memory of that object. During this first stage at 7-9 months, she will find the candy under a piece of paper.  As she gets older she will be able to find objects that are hidden under multiple layers.  By the time she is 18-20 months old, she will find the candy that you have hidden behind you, under the couch cushion where you are sitting!  You can congratulate her on finding the chocolate while also reinforcing the concept that some things just belong to mom or dad. Of course, that does bring up another developmentally important behavior…


Gripe: “My child won’t stop saying, ‘Mine.’ Everything—his toy, his food, the family dog—is suddenly ‘Mine.’ ‘Mine.’ ‘Mine.’ Shouldn’t he be better at sharing?”

Gratitude: “My” and “mine” are powerful words that children tend to discover around 18 months of age. These words signal that your child is starting to grasp the abstract concept of possession of an object. Many parents find this stage concerning—they’d rather hear, “please” and “thank you,” but that kind of etiquette around sharing comes later. For now, recognize that your child is developing his ability to communicate clearly with others. This also goes for the word, “No,” which toddlers start repeating with gusto around this age. These words give children agency in the world and can help them learn to communicate clear desires as they get older.


Gripe: “All of a sudden, my 2-year-old doesn’t want to sit in the cart at the grocery store. I’d always enjoyed narrating the grocery store items to her as I put them in, but now she wants to toddle up the aisles herself and look for things. It’s making the weekly shopping trip a lot more stressful!”

Gratitude: The grocery store is a great place to spend time with infants and toddlers. By naming the objects you see and buy, you are helping your child develop language and comprehension skills. We know how hard it is to have a toddler running around the grocery store, but you can celebrate the fact that your child has reached a stage in her social-emotional development where she is ready to detach from mom or dad and explore the world outside the cart. You will want to see that she is turning back periodically and looking for you—paying attention to where you are as she tests the limits of her environment. Children had far fewer opportunities to explore like this during the pandemic, so we heartily encourage parents to take their children on errands—and to playgrounds, libraries and other suitable environments for exploration—to help them learn the skill of exploration.


Gripe: “My older children look forward to watching an episode of a children’s TV show while I cook dinner. But my 19-month-old can’t get through an episode without wandering off and getting into something.”

Gratitude: We all need a break at times, but try to look at the bright side here: Your toddler has a developmentally appropriate attention span. As a general rule, you can expect a focused attention span to last for one minute per year of life. Think about what other things might keep your toddler occupied. It might be that a pile of spoons and bowls on the kitchen floor gives you more peace during food prep time than the TV on the wall. Also—never underestimate the power of the simplest dinners at this stage. Once in a while, plan an “easy dinner” and call it a day. Your house has been busy with important brain growth!

To learn more about PE-ID’s Early Intervention services, call 540-372-3561 or visit

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