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Developmental Stages of Children

Home l Referral by the Court l Mediation l EvaluationCustody and Best Interest of Children l Developmental Stages of Children l Parenting TimeParents Helping Their ChildrenParenting Time Evaluation l Domestic Abuse l Community Resources l Book ResourcesPrivacy Rights l Fee Schedule

Infants and Toddlers (Birth - 2 1/2 Years)
Preschoolers (2-1/2 - 5 Years)
Elementary School (5-12 Years)
Adolescents (12-18 Years)

pics of infantsInfants and Toddlers (Birth - 2 1/2 YEARS)

The primary developmental tasks of infants include establishing a sense of trust in their environment and the people around them, forming an effective attachment with at least one primary parent who consistently and promptly responds to their needs, becoming comfortable with others who interact with them, and making their needs known through crying or other signals. Infants and toddlers may need frequent contact with both parents and they do not cope well with numerous changes to their schedules or routines.  At approximately six months, a child begins to make strong distinctions between primary caregivers and others, which may result in the beginnings of separation anxiety. Parents of infants begin to bond with their children and to recognize their children's signals regarding their need for food, comfort, sleep, and nurturance.

As children grow from infants to toddlers, their developmental tasks include:  an increasing sense of self-awareness, the beginnings of a sense of independence, the beginnings of speech development, and an increasing ability to provide self-comfort and self-regulation in sleeping, feeding, and toileting. In addition, the parent’s process of bonding with the child continues as children grow into toddlers.

Parenting Time Considerations

Parents of infants may fine it helpful to establish a parenting time schedule that is consistent, predictable, and routine in nature. Depending upon the non-custodial parent's availability and caregiving history, the non-custodial parent of an infant  may have short (one to three hour) but frequent (two to three times per week) parenting time during the day or early evening.  As the child grows from infant to toddler and becomes more comfortable with separation from the custodial parent, the duration of parenting time may increase.  For parents who live far apart, the noncustodial parent of an infant or toddler should travel to the residential area of the custodial parent.  This may mean that parenting time takes place in the home of the custodial parent or in a nearby location where the child feels comfortable. Overnight and extended parenting time may not be appropriate for infants and toddlers. However, children who are able to make smooth transitions between homes, or who have older sisters or brothers to accompany them on parenting time, may be comfortable with overnight and extended parenting time.

What Parents Can Do to Help - Parents can help their infants and toddlers by: 

  • Establishing a consistent, predictable, and routine parenting time schedule. 
  • Interacting with the child in a location where the child feels secure and comfortable. 
  • Gradually increasing the duration of parenting time. 
  • Moving to overnight and extended parenting time only when the child is able to make a smooth transition between parental homes. 
  • Sending along personal objects, such as blankets, stuffed animals, and photos of the parent.

preschool childrenPreschoolers (2-1/2 - 5 Years)

Preschoolers continue to increase their sense of individuality. They make significant gains in their verbal skills and become more likely to express their feelings.  Preschoolers also develop a greater sense of curiosity and exploration, and increase their abilities to imagine and fantasize. Children at this developmental stage may think they are responsible for their parents' divorce or for their parents not living together. They fear abandonment and may fantasize that their parents will reunite. Their sense of security may be affected by predictable and consistent routines.

Parenting Time Considerations

Routine and consistent parenting time schedules are very important.  For parents who live far apart, it is usually best for the child if the noncustodial parent travels to the residential area of the other parent. This may mean that parenting time takes place in the home of the custodial parent or in a nearby location where the child feels comfortable.  During this stage, children may be comfortable with longer parenting time periods, including overnights.  For younger children, overnights may be limited to no more than one night per week.  Older preschoolers may be able to have additional overnights and lengthier parenting time.  Assuming the child has an ongoing relationship with the noncustodial parent, vacation time may be appropriate.  Weekend parenting time that is increased gradually may help preschoolers to make the transition to an extended vacation time.  Transitions may be easier if children bring with them personal objects, such as blankets, stuffed animals, photos, or memorabilia of the parent.  Because preschoolers have improved verbal and comprehension skills, it is important for parents to avoid speaking disrespectfully about the other parent or about others in the home.

What Parents Can Do to Help

Parents can help their preschoolers by - Establishing a consistent, predictable, and routine parenting time schedule. 

  • Gradually increasing the length of parenting time, working up to overnights. 
  • Sending along personal objects, such as blankets, stuffed animals, and photos of the parent. 
  • Avoiding criticism about the other parent and others in the home.

pics of elementary studentsElementary School (5 - 12 Years) 

Elementary school age children are learning to develop relationships and cooperate with peers and adults. At this age, children establish foundations for academic and athletic skills.  Self-esteem, self-worth, moral development, and personal security are issues for this age group. Elementary school age children are likely to identify with and model the activities of the parent who is the same sex as the child.  Children also become aware of their parents as individuals, often fear the loss of parents, and feel sadness and anger because of their parents' divorce or separation.  Self-blame, depression, and attempts to reunite parents are not uncommon in this age group.  Children need parental assistance in learning organizational skills.

Parenting Time Considerations 

While many elementary school age children benefit from a primary home base, children at this stage of development can also benefit from spending longer periods of time with their noncustodial parent, assuming that they have developed and maintained a close relationship with that parent. Children of this age may be comfortable being away from their custodial parent on a regular basis for parenting time lasting two to three days and for longer periods during school breaks and summer vacation.  The more time a child has spent with the noncustodial parent, the more comfortable the child will be spending time away from the child’s home base. For younger children of this age group, frequent parenting time (at least once per week) with their non-custodial parent may be desirable. As a child matures, longer parenting time with fewer transitions may be preferred.

What Parents Can Do to Help - Parents can help their elementary school age children by:

  • Establishing and following a predictable parenting time routine.
  • Gradually changing the frequency and increasing the duration of parenting time.
  • Encouraging and assisting in phone and letter contact with the other parent.
  • Avoiding criticism about the other parent and others in the home.
  • Informing teachers of any stress the child is experiencing and getting help for school-related problems.
  • Encouraging and assisting the child to maintain contact with school, friends, and extracurricular and community activities.

pics of teensAdolescents (12 - 18 Years) 

During the early stage of adolescence, children continue the process of establishing their identity and self-worth. Through this process, and with guidance from their parents, they establish a sense of self in relationship to the rules and regulations of society.  Adolescents also begin the process of separating from their parents, during which they may mourn the loss of childhood, dependency, and protection within the family.  During this stage, adolescents gain academic and/or athletic prowess, make and sustain friendships, continue the process of gender identification, and begin to explore intimate relationships.

During the later stages of adolescence, young adults continue the process of establishing their independence. They continue the development of loyal friendships, begin to develop a work ethic, and begin to develop aspirations. Young adults also continue the process of gender identification and management of sexual impulses.  Adolescents need the support and involvement of both parents.  Adolescents may be embarrassed or angry about their parents' relationship. They may begin to have doubts about their own relationships with family members and peers, causing them either to focus too much on relationships or to withdraw from relationships. Adolescents may also inappropriately act out by using drugs or by engaging in sex or other unhealthy behaviors to attain a sense of belonging.

Parenting Time Considerations

It is important for parents of adolescents to maintain the child's accessibility to school, peers, extracurricular and community activities from both homes.  It is also important for each parent to consistently apply the family rules of their own household.

Adolescents may desire to be with friends more than with their family and, therefore, may resist a rigid parenting time schedule. Parents may find it helpful to exercise greater flexibility, adapted to the increasing ability of the child to take care of his or her own needs.  There will also need to be greater flexibility adapted to the child's preferences. It may be helpful to include input from the child in arranging a parenting time schedule.  It may also be helpful for the parents to be flexible with adolescent activities. 

Many adolescents benefit from a primary home base, with specific evenings, weekends, and activities at the other home scheduled on a regular and predictable basis.  Other adolescents, however, may be comfortable spending equal time with each parent, including up to two weeks at each residence.

Adolescents may be comfortable with one to three weekends of parenting time per month, depending upon the child's schedule, distance, and capacity to travel.  The noncustodial parent should maintain contact with the child's teachers and attend the child's performances and other important events. 

Parents who live far apart should establish, with input from the child, a permanent schedule with some built-in flexibility.

What Parents Can Do to Help - Parents of adolescents can help by:

  • Developing a parenting time schedule by working with the child;
  • Establishing a predictable schedule that is flexible enough to allow for the child's activities;
  • Consistently applying family rules and expectations; and

Avoiding the assumption that a child's mood swings or behavioral acting out is caused by the other parent.


For more information on special situations, what parents can do to help, parenting time suggestions, Read the complete "A Parental Guide to Making Child-Focused Parenting Time Decisions" - Prepared by the Minnesota Supreme Court Advisory Task Force on Visitation and Child Support Enforcement.