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Understanding Changes in Child Development

If you’ve ever felt confused after talking about your child’s developmental progress with a doctor or educational specialist, you’re not alone. Child development specialists use a variety of terms that can sound intimidating and confusing to a parent, especially if you’re concerned about how your child is doing. Learning some of the basic concepts about change development can help you have productive conversations with your child’s caregivers and engage with his developmental progress more confidently.

What is Change Development?

Change development is a term commonly used to describe how a child is growing and changing. “Simply put, development involves change,” says Dawn Braa, an early childhood and youth development instructor at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota. Change development is usually divided into two categories: quantitative and qualitative. Even though the terms can easily be confused, they are different from one another.

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Quantitative Change Development

“A quantitative change is a change in quantity or amount,” explains Braa. “Usually this would be a change in number or measurement.” You might informally measure quantitative changes in your child on a regular basis without even knowing it. “Perhaps the child grew taller or is more verbal than before. These changes can be easily measured,” she says. When a doctor records your child’s height and weight and asks how he is changing physically, usually he’s monitoring quantitative changes.

Qualitative Change Development

You know as well as anyone that some of the ways your child grows aren’t measured very easily. “Qualitative change is more than just numbers,” says Braa. As the term indicates, it captures a quality as opposed to a quantity.

Braa notes that “relationships may be deeper, emotional development has broadened,” and so forth. “It's more difficult to measure because it's not necessarily more or less of something, but different -- changed.” Qualitative changes are commonly seen in a child’s emotional and social behavior. The definitions can sometimes be murky because behaviors can be quantitative, too. The best way to test whether a change is qualitative or quantitative is to determine how easily it can be measured.

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Engaging in Your Child’s Development

As a parent, one of your top priorities is being involved in your child’s development -- qualitative and quantitative -- in a positive way. Both types of change can be greatly stimulated, simultaneously, by the ways you engage with your child.

“Parents can support their child’s development mostly by being present -- in the moment with their child,” says Braa. She has several words of advice. “Make eye to eye connections, talk to the child about what’s going on around him, get down on the child’s level and play, talk about feelings and model appropriate emotional responses, and encourage the child to try new things but don’t force it.”

You can engage in any of these activities at age-appropriate levels for kids at any age or stage. Braa also recommends being actively involved in your child’s education, which extends well beyond the formal classroom. “Bring math, science, art and social studies into daily life. Locate easy, do-it-yourself projects and activities to stimulate your child’s mathematical mind, as well as kinesthetic self,” she says.

When You’re Concerned

Every mom has moments when she’s concerned about how her child is growing and changing. Sometimes what concerns you is physical, sometimes it’s behavioral and sometimes it’s a mixture. Whether you’re worried about a qualitative change, a quantitative change or both, you have a number of resources at your disposal to help you further understand what’s going on, as well as to provide assistance with your child when it’s needed. “If you're concerned about these areas or want to learn more, talk with a developmental specialist or pediatrician,” advises Braa. It never hurts to ask questions. You can also learn about age-appropriate developmental milestones from reputable sources like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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