I don't think I want to know a six-year-old who isn't a dreamer, or a silly heart. And I sure don't want to know one who takes their student career seriously. —Uncle Buck
My daughter acts like a seven year-old.
She often asserts her will, day dreams, and acts silly. And you know what? It is perfect —she's seven. Developmentally this is exactly how she should be. There are amazing things that happen at each age and stage and also some challenges which can sometimes drive a parent crazy.
My husband will joke to my daughter, “What are you, seven?” when he knows his expectations might not be taking her actual age into account. You see, seven, or four or even 14, aren't always the age we want them to be in the moment. We might want a bit more maturity in the thought process before they decided to hide when we need to get out the door, or maybe a little less two years-old with their reaction to not getting cereal in the grocery store. Completely understandable in the moment desires of a parent. But if there is anything we know as parents it is that time goes quickly, too quickly, and we don't want to rush them growing up, in fact we often wish we could freeze time.
I love this clip in the movie Uncle Buck where he defends his niece's right to be a kid, stating basically, and much less diplomatically, that they are all good kids until people's unreasonable expectations take that away from them.
Katie Hurley, of The Happy Kid Handbook, warns that this “fast tracking of childhood comes with significant consequences.” And we can see that can't we - children today are stressed! She shares that this stress and anxiety is on the rise; 1 in 5 children are diagnosed with mental illness and this figure is only taking into account those that are seeking help. A staggering thought.
Check in with Your Expectations: Are they age appropriate? Deborah MacNamara, author of Rest, Play Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one) states that we need to let kids be appropriately little and not hold it against or pathologize them for it. Songwriter and Artist Nancy Kopman shares a great reminder in her song I Know I'll Grow that is also title of her album (2009), which shares that being a kid is what they are supposed to be good at now and to focus on what they can do rather than what they currently need help with. Lastly, think about how you are feeling whether your mood, exhaustion or stress is affecting your expectations.
Be Patient with the Process: Parenting Educator and author of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children Sarah MacLaughlin states in her article Let Them be Little that "development is not a straight line. It often looks more like a one-step-forward-two-steps-back pattern". She conceptualizes this well by stating, "think in terms of your child rewinding a little before they take a flying leap into the next stage of development."
Slow Down: I am the most un-fun and lack the most patience when I am rushing around in life. Hurley states that "slowing down and stepping away from the culture of busy" helps children and families by lowering the amount of obligations and rush, which lowers stress levels for all involved. She says that slowing the pace gives families, "more time to rest, relax, and engage in child directed play which gives children the opportunity to learn and grow at their own pace".
Act Like a Kid Yourself: Find your own silly heart and have fun! Watch the movie Big. How many of us wish we could play with abandon again? Get out, get dirty, balance on the log, follow the leader with your child. Play is good for you and really good for your kids. Tracy Cutchlow, author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips says that play is how children learn, so use it for teaching and connecting.
Encourage Play: I find it so sad when you watch kids want to play but they are worried it won't be cool or accepted. Keep play cool in your family for all ages. I personally remember crying at my front door while waiting for my friends to come on my eighth birhtday because I was pondering my new age and thinking that getting older meant some of my friends who were already a year older than me were also aging and soon wouldn't want to play anymore. Make it understood that playing is always going to be a part of your family life.
Although we might have come a long way from a “seen and not heard childhood”, we seem to be in what Hurley calls a “hurry up and grow culture” which is negatively affecting children's mental and emotional health. Let's slow down to slow it down for our kids. This is not a race, this is development which takes time, patience, modelling, and nurturing.
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