One parent said, “My toddler loves to constantly throw things down, even from the window, and he expects me to pick it up and give it to him.” The others chimed in saying, “My 7-year-old brat just does not listen. When I ask him to sit, he keeps jumping around.” AND, “My teenage daughter wants to be with her friends all the time, even go to a pub!”
At every age, as parents, we struggle with how to handle our children’s behaviour. As a listener, I could hear a common thread, worry, and concern for their child. We want the best for our children and hence it is natural to have expectations of how they should behave at each stage of their life. There are some thoughts and beliefs common to most of us.
- A child needs to listen to the parent.
- As a parent, I know what is good for them.
- They are old enough to comply when something is asked of them.
- They are stubborn and don’t do what we tell them.
- They will do what they want.
Now, hearing their discussion, I remembered a magic question our trainer used to ask us :
What is the age of your child?
This is such a simple, yet powerful question. When we answer and say my son is two years old. It is an ‘ahh yes’ moment. Fact is that a two-year-old will throw things. For him, everything is totally new and he is making sense of the world around him. Every time he drops something, he listens to the sounds and makes associations with each sound. With every experience, there are neural pathways being formed, and memories being stored for future reference. As this is important for his development, the brain is driving the toddler to touch, feel and explore things all the time!
Similarly, a 7-year-old (or any young child) cannot sit quietly for long, as they need to run and jump for their muscle and brain development. These movements are necessary not just to develop coordination and motor skills but also in building their spatial intelligence. Spatial intelligence is an important building block for the child for reading and writing skills. Without understanding this we label children as hyper. Most often we see all that pent up energy coming out in odd ways because the child is not allowed to meet his need for movement.
What about a teenager? A teen’s brain is actually preparing them for adulthood. It is preparing them to take care of themselves and to be able to survive alone. They have a strong urge to be independent, test their boundaries, to take risks, and also to form their own identity. Friends are extremely important as the brain is telling them that in the future they have to rely on their peer group. We see them experimenting with different ways of dressing and looking, wanting to be with friends all the time and trying things which are risky. All this is frightening and hard for a parent. We can only stop and consider that this is what teenagers need to do as part of their growth.
In my work with parents, I found that this question “What is the age of your child?” helps as a quick reality check. It brings perspective to the situation. During those particularly difficult times with your child when you can say to yourself, “He is just two years old” or “She is a teenager”. The simple fact that I am the adult and he is yes, ‘still a child’, helps us calm down. It also brings our focus to the point that this may just be age and development related. This behaviour is not happening because of faulty parenting, or the child being ‘naughty’, ‘pushing limits’ etc. What a relief! When we explore the questions, ‘Why do they do the things they do?’, ‘What is driving them?’ through this lens of developmental needs, and milestones, the understanding helps change our responses to the child dramatically. This still does not take away from how frustrating the situation may be for the parent, but, if remembering the age of the child, helps us regulate ourselves, and respond with empathy, we can then feel secure about our connection with our child, which in the end, is what we want.
One other issue we may face is that of comparing our children to others. We may ask,” If that child can sit quietly why not mine? If that child doesn’t cry to go to school why does mine? Just like each of us has unique fingerprints, we have unique DNA. Each child is born with own personality and will go through these developmental tasks in different ways.
Now, I would have loved to share all this with the group at the wedding, but it wasn’t the right place! If I get a chance, I would tell those parents that during the innumerable challenging moments, keeping in mind these three factors — a child’s age, personality, and stage of development really helps ease our parenting journey.
— Author: Sunita Ravi is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up