Building your knowledge of typical patterns of development is the first step toward a developmentally appropriate approach to guidance (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, p. 9). This is the knowledge that lets you take it in stride when an infant suddenly starts screaming at the sight of strangers she has ignored previously, when a toddler begins balking at all your requests, or when a four-year-old blurts out some shocking new vocabulary words at the family dinner table. Familiarity with typical stages of development will reassure you that none of these children are social deviants, that each of these behaviors is representative of a particular age. Not only are they typical behaviors, they are signs that children are moving along the path toward maturity. The infant's stranger anxiety is evidence that she can now remember familiar faces and compare new faces with those memories. The toddler's “no” is a sign of growing autonomy, of awareness that he is a separate person, not an appendage of his mother. The four-year-old's “bad” words are actually experiments with the social power of language, usually without a real understanding of the words' meanings.

Knowing typical patterns of development means that you will have reasonable expectations for children's behavior. You won't expect a seven-month-old to adjust immediately to a new caregiver or a toddler to comply willingly with every request. It also means that you will have some basis for deciding when you need to look more closely at behaviors that are not typical within given ages. But knowing about child development in general is only the first step in developmentally appropriate guidance.