Dr. Polzin, Clinical Director at the Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch explains the developmental ladder and chronological vs developmental age.

A child’s chronological age is their age based on their date of birth.

A child’s developmental age is the age at which they function emotionally, physically, cognitively and socially. A child may be nine years old, but developmentally they may display behaviors that make them seem much younger.

Understanding that there is often a difference between a child’s chronological and developmental age will help caregivers to have more realistic expectations for the child.

Why might a child function at a lower developmental age than their chronological age?

A child’s health as well as the environment around him or her can play a role in development. Many children have had experiences in life that have impacted their ability to reach developmental milestones. Traumatic events can interrupt their psychological stages of development, as can a lack of stimulation. Under stress, many children typically regress or “move down” their developmental ladder. Certain special needs also can impact a child’s developmental progress. As parents and caregivers we can sometimes become frustrated with our children when they are not “acting their age.”

For example, witnessing your 13-year-old throwing a 2-year-old temper tantrum, or your 10-year-old needing someone to sit with them because they cannot settle to sleep on their own. We can often have expectations that a teenager “should” be able to manage their own emotions; that a 10-year-old “should” be able to go to sleep on their own, or that an 8-year-old “should” no longer be wetting the bed. However, when we see children regress in their development (moving down their developmental ladder), this is often a sign of stress, and it requires the parent/caregiver to adjust parenting and expectations. It is helpful to ask the question: “How old is my child acting right now?” and then to adjust expectations and parenting to the appropriate developmental age. This should always be done in a caring and non-shaming manner.

Watch this video that helps to further explain this: