Letting kids be kids

It is obvious that children develop both physically and mentally as they grow up. When you compare photos of your child as a baby with one of them at age fifteen there may be some small features in common. However, a baby looks nothing like a fifteen year old.

The changes which occur in physical appearance are obvious to the eye. The changes which occur in the ways children think as they grow up are not always so obvious:

As children grow and develop they move from being able to only understand very concrete concepts to being able to engage with more abstract ideas. Concrete things are things you can touch, smell, and see. Abstract things are things you have to conceptualise within your mind and may not be able to see, touch or smell.

Small children struggle to get a grasp on time. They may be able to read a clock and will slowly develop a concept of tomorrow and yesterday but they will struggle with next week or next year, etc. You can see this in the way teachers use concrete objects such as blocks or bottle tops when they are teaching the early concepts in mathematics.

Some other aspects of children’s responses to parents can also be tied to developmental issues. We can all probably remember asking our child why they did something and being frustrated at the response, “I don’t know,” (often annoyingly delivered in a whining tone of voice). The reality is that children often do not know why they did something. They do not have the life experience or language skills to put what they are feeling or thinking into words.

Those of us with older children can all probably also remember the times when our children have given the, “I don’t know,” response and have clearly known quite well! It is a real skill to be able to tell the difference between the two (a skill I don’t think I ever completely mastered).

The point is that children are not little versions of adults. They do not have the same capacity to process their thoughts, feelings and motivations as adults do. Brain development continues right into the twenties. It is generally accepted that the prefrontal cortex of the brain does not finish developing until around the age of twenty five. The prefrontal cortex is where we make decisions which weigh up risk against cost. This goes a long way to explain why young people sometimes take such ridiculous risks!

I know there is a temptation to see children as little versions of ourselves. It is always nice when people make the observation that a child is similar to one or both parents in looks and/or mannerisms. They are, however, not a mini you, or a mini me.

Children are just that – they are children. We should not put adult-like expectations on them.

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