Letting Children be Children
In his book Parenting for Everyone Vijayadev Yogendra says, “A child needs time to be a child; he or she should not be made into a small adult. A child must have time to lose the immaturities of childhood.” We know that there are many pressures on families that can push the child into premature independence, but an interesting factor is what has been termed the ‘parent expectation gap’. This comes about when we over-estimate what children are capable of at a particular age. Research from the USA found:
- 43% of parents think children can share and take turns with other children before the age of 3, but this ability only develops between the ages 3 and 4.
- 36% think children under the age of 2 have enough control to resist the impulse to do something forbidden and 56% say this happens before the age of 3 whereas most children are not able to do this until they are 3 ½ or 4 years old.
- 23% think children under the age of 1 can control their emotions and not have a tantrum when frustrated and another 18% expect this to happen before 2, whereas this control is not developed until 3 ½ or 4 years of age.
On top of this many parents over-estimate the age at which children can manage their own emotions and can be affected by conflict, for example. When asked when children are affected by shouting in the home, even when asleep, 47% thought this would happen at age 1 or older whereas it actually begins around 6 months. Children are more vulnerable than we think.
In our book The Focused Child, we refer to the Minnesota Study which examines the factors which influence developmental outcomes for children. This study found that when parents accept the dependency needs of children, that is, see children as needing support and provide it, it actually permits them to grow in confidence and to become independent. Denying children’s neediness and dependency on the other hand promotes a state of insecurity and continuing neediness. The authors of this study point out that dependency is a quality in a child, and responsiveness is the adult’s way of answering that need. Pushing children to be independent too early does not promote self-reliance later. Superficially, children can appear to cope, but problems may emerge later. Real self-confidence develops in an environment where children are allow to be children and to take the time it needs to out-grow the need for ‘training wheels’.