A Guide for Parents of 0-5 year olds


The New Baby

The world is a strange and terrifying place for a new born baby. You can help your baby realise that it can also be a friendly, happy place by meeting his needs reasonably soon after they are felt, and by providing lots of cuddles and closeness. Remember, you can’t spoil new babies – they have no idea about the world or the needs of others. All they can feel is their own needs.

If your baby cries a lot, it might help to realise that he may be finding it hard to adjust to this new and frightening world. Crying is your baby’s only language. He has no other way of expressing his needs to you. He doesn’t know he is supposed to sleep at night or that it might annoy you when he doesn’t. Sooner or later all babies learn these things, but in the meantime it takes a lot of patience and understanding from parents. Often it might need more patience than you feel you’ve got, especially if you’re tired. If you feel you can’t cope with your baby’s crying, ask a friend or neighbour to take over, even for an hour. You could also ask your midwife or Public Health Nurse. Contact your local Health Centre. 

The Older Baby

By the time your baby is a few months old, things will probably be much easier and you will understand much better your baby’s needs and routines. You will notice your baby’s personality developing, and the speed in which he develops will often surprise you. Accept that he does things at his own pace – he may do one clever thing very early on, but another quite late. It really doesn’t matter. New parents sometimes get upset by comparing their baby’s progress to that of other babies they know. All babies, like adults, are different, and you will be much happier if you try to accept your baby as he is.

Most babies go through a very clingy stage, complaining loudly when you disappear from view, and showing a strong dislike or fear of strangers. Some parents find this irritating, but it’s a natural sign that your baby has become attached to the most important people in his life. When your child is old enough to feel attached to you, he will obviously feel sad when you leave him. But it is better to explain and say goodbye properly than to slip away.

Sometimes he may appear to reject you on your return, or to prefer the babysitter. This is quite normal and does not usually last for long. He is simply showing you, in the only way he knows, that he didn’t like being left. Sooner or later he will grow out of that phase.

From 1 to 3

Until the age of about two your baby learns mainly through seeing, hearing and touching. Before they are two, it isn’t possible for children to be ‘naughty’ because they do not mean to do anything wrong. For example, your one year old may discover that it makes a lovely splashing noise and an amazing pattern if he drops his food on the floor, so he is quite likely to do this over and over again. If you get angry with him, he is puzzled by your reaction, but will not necessarily connect it to his behaviour. It is very important to keep this in mind.

In the early days, providing food is so closely linked with giving love that it can become an emotional battleground later on. Always remember that, if your child refuses to eat your food, he is not rejecting you or your love. It’s a good idea to allow them to feed themselves as soon as practical and to decide for themselves when they have had enough. 

Learning through Play

Playing is another important way babies can practise new skills and learn about the world around them. Only a very unhappy or ill child will not want to play. Through play you can help your child to learn new skills, so never feel guilty about spending time playing with your child. However, don’t feel you have to join in all the time. Children need to make some of the exciting discoveries themselves.

Try to make life easier for yourself by moving any dangerous, breakable or valuable objects out of reach, so that your child can explore safely and you can feel more relaxed. Provide a variety of toys – a plastic cup is just as exciting to your baby as an expensive new toy. If you’re not sure what toys are right for which age, ask your Public Health Nurse or friends with children.


By the age of two, most children will be trying to copy real words and will chat to themselves. Encourage this as much as you can. Your child learns language from you, so talk to him as much as possible right from the start, even if you find it a bit embarrassing.

Giving Praise

Your child needs to feel that you are positive about his efforts, or he will not get pleasure from new achievements and will stop trying so hard. Your child’s view of himself is based almost entirely on what you tell him. So try to praise him, not just for achieving things but for trying, too. If you laugh and say he’s stupid or clumsy, he will eventually believe this.

Terrible Two’s

This is the stage from about 18 months to three years, when many parents find the behaviour of their child either bewildering or annoying. If you are having a bad time with the terrible twos, try to remember: children aged one or two do not understand the idea of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’. They see themselves as the centre of the world and behave as if their own immediate needs are more important than anything else. They feel emotions more intensely than adults, and they express them more forcefully too.

So, if your child screams with rage if he doesn’t get what he wants, or has a full blown tantrum, try to be patient and realise that he is not doing any of these apparently awful things on purpose. He is just finding out the hard way that he has to consider other people in the world and that he needs to learn to share. This can make enormous demands on parents, but remember it is just a passing phase. By the time your child reaches three years or so, it will probably be over. In the meantime, if things get out of hand and you feel you are losing control, ask your Public Health Nurse or GP for help.

From 3 to 5

This age can be very rewarding for parents. At last your child seems to ‘love you back’, and to be concerned about the feelings of others. He is still learning through play and will now particularly enjoy messy games with sand, water and paints. He will also want to learn from you, so try to be patient with what seem like endless questions. It is a good idea to provide books and tapes if you can. Children of this age love stories, songs and rhymes, and will want to hear these over and over again.

From about the age of three, children begin to make friends and enjoy the company of other children. If your child is very shy, he might prefer just to watch others play for a while. Try not to force him to take part. He’ll soon join in when he feels ready. Now is the time when most children will be ready to start going to a playgroup or nursery school, and many will start “big school” before they are five. This is when many parents realise perhaps for the first time that their parenting efforts are suddenly on view to the public. 

Some Common Worries

  1. Many small children become very attached to a special toy or object- like a dummy or a blanket. Provided these are kept clean, parents need not worry. They can be very comforting to your child and can help him feel secure. They will be given up when no longer needed.
  1. Some parents worry that their children are aggressive and tend to bully other children. You can teach children by example and gently control that it is never all right to be cruel to someone, especially if they are smaller and weaker.
  1. Many three to five year olds invent imaginary friends. This is a normal, healthy way of sorting out their inner feelings, and is nothing to worry about.
  1. You may be worried that your three or four year old appears to tell lies. Children of this age find it hard to separate reality from their fantasy world and may quite genuinely believe in something which they have been day-dreaming about.
  1. It is generally agreed that children do not fully know right from wrong until they are about seven years old. So until then, children are much too young to be punished for lying or stealing. Of course, you can always explain why you don’t want them to do those things, and praise them for not doing them. And remember that your child will learn more from what you do than what you say.

Provided by “ISPCC” Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children www.ispcc.ie

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