Wouldn’t it be nice if each child came with their own instruction manual? One that would change with the child, a constant relevant reference? If that was available, I would sign up to get one. I’d even pay for an update each time it came out. The reality is, there is no manual. What works for one child is not necessarily what we should do for the others. In fact, we are parenting 3 children and each are their own person.
Parenting is a balancing act and not equal, each child is an individual with unique needs. Each have their own perceptions, thoughts, feelings and stress level. They all have their own interests, talents and ways that they shine.
In knowing that each child is their own little unique being, it would only be fair to parent them to who they are and where they are at. Which is why in our household we parent to “stage” not age, thanks to my daughter’s counsellor for giving us the wording for how we parent.
In everyday life our children can present at varying developmental levels and ages. Some times they are age appropriate, other times they act younger and then there are moments when they are more mature. It’s not a constant upward progression. It’s definitely more like hills and valleys if you were to chart it. There are so many factors that influence their developmental age throughout the day. Some of these influences are:
So to be fair to them, it’s best that we parent at the level that is being presented. What can they handle at that moment. I try to meet them where they are at, parenting the stage that they are in. If their brain is at a younger level, parenting them with higher expectations will bring more frustration for all involved. This is quite tricky, though.
When I lose sight of their individual abilities or the stage they are in at that moment, which happens, and parent to the chronological age I find that there is a lot more behaviour. There tends to be an unfairness in expectation for them. If our can’t handle much in that moment and we are giving them a too much responsibility, they cannot meet that expectation. It can look as though they are being defiant, argumentative and not listening, but are actually unable, at that moment, to cope with what is being asked. Skills and responsibilities that they could have done that morning or the day before may not be what they can handle now in this moment.
Then there is the issue of the younger ones surpassing the older ones. The abilities are not the same and so the expectation is also different. This sometimes creates feelings that things are unfair, but really they’re not. It’s just that they’re not there yet. Life and learning are not linear, its a process, each of one them can do things when its right for them and when they are ready. Unfortunately, they often equate age with the ability to do things.
I get asked all the time by our children, “How old to I have to be to play this game? How old do I have to be to go to the mall? How old do I have to be to watch such and such show?” They really want me to put an age on when they will be “old enough” to do certain things. In my opinion a rating on a TV show, game or movie is a guideline, not permission to watch or play it. They could be emotionally ready for it earlier or they may have to wait a bit.
They really want that end point, knowing exactly when, which is understandable. In reality, this is something that I can’t predict. My youngest often will ask when he can do things “Tell me when I can do ‘_________’ and don’t give me the stage not age answer either!” I will usually respond with, well when your 12 (or some other age), we’ll see how things are, but not right now, or sometimes to their surprise we’ll say let’s try it and see how you do!
I try to celebrate what they can do now and what they do well. I look for ways to give them each the opportunity to do the things that they shine at. I think it’s really important for them to be as independent as possible, seeing that they are capable and successful because actually, they are!
It’s so hard for me to be mindful about these things all of the time and I have had to backtrack and try again, but I try my best. This parenting gig can be exhausting and it’s ever changing. There is never one answer on how to parent and I have yet to find an “Easy” button that really works. Some days are smoother than others and some are more of a challenge. None of our children came with their own instruction manual, not for their typical behaviours nor for their exceptionalities. We parent to each individual and do what we feel is the best for them.
I do have to say, that these little people have brought so much to my life. Yes, challenges, but a whole lot of goodness and laughter too. A good portion of these challenging moments turn into good stories for later. I have also had an opportunity to meet a great network of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise known and for these things I’m thankful!