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Sensitive Periods

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Key identifiers of a sensitive period. What do you do when you notice a sensitive periods? What are the sensitive periods?


Key Identifiers of a Sensitive Period:

- The child shows intense interest in an activity or skill

- The child will easily repeat the task over and over without tiring

- The child finds much joy and pleasure in the task

- The child is able to willingly focus their attention on the task

- The child will possess unequaled energy and intense effort toward the task

What to do when you notice a sensitive period?

Let them be! I know it’s hard but try not to interrupt or impose on them. Allow them ample opportunity, time and space, to pursue this area. Introduce other activities that support the emergence of the skill.

What are the sensitive periods?

1. Order

Your child has an innate desire for order and consistency. A child's desire for order is different from adults and is better characterized as the child's desire to understand the relationship between objects.

How might a child show this?

Showing pleasure in having things in their correct place, putting things back when they are not in the correct place, have a melt down when they are not able to put things in the correct place.

What to do?

Allow the child to assist in daily tasks they see you doing, keep things simple, follow routines, prepare an environment that is safe for the child to interact with.

2. Mouth & Hands

The child absorbs the qualities of objects in their environment and seeks to act upon them through taste and touch. The neurological structures for language are developed through sensory and motor activity. It is during this sensitive period that the child should be exposed to language.

How might a child show this?

Putting everything in their mouths and trying to touch everything. Usually these are objects that child has been told not to touch.

What to do?

Name object the child frequently interacts with. Carry on a conversation with the child (even if it is one sided) and narrate your normal routines and tasks. Allow the child to touch, taste, and smell the normal objects in their home environment. For delicate objects, examine them with you child and demonstrate the proper way to treat the object.

3. Walking

Think of walking as a second birth for your child. They are now able to move around independently without having to be carried around and depend on others for help.

How might a child show this?

Attempting to get out of their crib, refusing to go in their stroller or high chair, pulling up on furniture, using furniture or walls to remain steady when they walk.

What to do?

Allow the child room and opportunity to walk. Take a walk for the sake of walking, stroll through the park, take a nature walk at your child's pace. I know this can be inconvenient and difficult as it may cause more mess and interaction on your part, but it is a chance to give your child more freedom (within limits).

4. Tiny Objects

The child possess an intense interest in small, tiny objects like crumbs on the floor, threads on couches, rocks, beads on necklace, etc. The child is attempting to understand: how does it all fit together? what role does it play in its entirety? what is the object's purpose? This stage is usually the beginning of pincer grasp and other fine motor skills.

How might a child show this?

Stopping to pick up or play with tiny objects, carrying tiny objects around, getting upset if they lose the tiny object, transferring the tiny object between places.

What to do?

Allow them freedom (within limits) to carry around and play or work with their tiny object. Let them explore harmless things like leaves and rocks. Observe them closely if they are in a stage where things go in their mouth rather than their hands. Children put things in their mouth because its a sensory way to explore it. For objects that make you nervous, sit down with your child and explore them together - discuss its texture, use, and proper way to handle it. For objects that the child wants to put in their mouths but present as a choking hazard, find a larger substitute item - for example substitute a wooden spoon for wooden beads.

5. Social Life

The child is starting to understand the relationship between people, self and personal rights. The child may be concerned initially only for themselves, but grows to include others. Development and eventual understanding of manners and how behaviours affects other starts here. This is also called grace and courtesy.

How might a child show this?

The child is concerned about their possessions and gaining possession is important to them. With guidance, the child slowly begins to see the needs of others which may be a willingness to share, give comfort to someone else, or stand up for the rights of someone else. The child may realize the opportunity for a respectful, appropriate action but not know what that might be. They may recognize the need in a situation but might not know what to do.

What to do?

It is important to remember that the child is guided by the actions and responses of the parents or guardians. Lead by example, show grace and courtesy to you child and other you meet. Admit when you're wrong and not only make amends but explain why it was wrong. When reading books point out different emotions or responses by asking questions. When correcting a child's behaviour or directing them in appropriate manners, explain to them the what and why aspects. When your child is having a bad day, ask they how they are feeling or why they did what they did. We don't want them to feel shame or guilt, but we do want to lay a foundation so they are able to question their own actions, learn to identify their weakness or strengths, and what they may need to change in the future.

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