What the heck does that mean, and what does it have to do with Foster Care?

I know you probably don’t have to ask that question, but I did!

So I am going to answer it here.

developmental age (DA)[divel′əpmen′təl]an expression of a child’s maturational progress stated in age and determined by standardized measurements, as of body size and dimensions; by social and psychologic functioning; by motor skills; and by mental and aptitude tests.

So that’s what it is!

Here’s my own definition for “the rest of us”.

It is simply a way of talking about the rate of development in children, and adults for that matter.
The idea is that children don’t necessarily develop at the same rate in every aspect of development.

Why does it matter?

Developmental age becomes more important when you are dealing with children who have experienced some kind of abnormal trauma. It is a pretty good bet that if a child ends up in a foster home they have gone through some kind of trauma.

What can happen is for children to get “stuck” in some area of development, or maybe in several. Dealing with this and helping the child to heal or “catch up” is largely the job of psychologist and psychiatrists but it is important to understand what is going on with your foster children. As a foster parent you spend more time that any one else does with your foster children. We have found that a lot of how we parent our foster kids really depends on having some idea of their developmental age.

Basically, you will get really frustrated and will not be vary successful trying to use what works with a 6 year old to try and discipline a 3 year old. It is easy for us to understand that, but what if the child is 6 years old but they are acting like a 3 year old? Our tendency, and many experts would say that we should treat them like a 6 year old, but with a child who has been through the kind of trauma that often comes along with foster care they may be “stuck” at that developmental age.

If they are “stuck” then they will not respond to 6 year old discipline. What they need is 3 year old discipline.

But Why?

The answer to that is harder to figure out, but here are few possible reasons.

•    They may not have experienced the normal things that a child should at the age of 3.
•    They may have regressed. Actually went backwards in their behavior patterns.
•    They may not have been taught how to act like a 6 year old.

Bottom line, your child’s therapist will be able to help figure these things out. We as foster parents just need to remember that sometimes the way our kids act doesn’t fit quite right with their actually age. We have found that trying to understand their actual developmental age has really helped us to parent them more effectively. Sometimes when the 6 year old is throwing a tantrum like a 3 year old he needs to be held and comforted when what another 6 year old needs is completely different.

When we start to pay attention to a child’s developmental age instead of just their physical age we have a better idea of how to help them.

Oh, and the good news is…They can catch up!

If they are “stuck” in one area or another they can get “unstuck” and catch up with a little bit of understanding and some help along the way. This is where therapy is a big help. The key is to provide safety, stability and consistency.