Every child is different, right? Guest blogger Carolyn Brinkman wonders if those differences extend to what we expect from children, and what we trust them to do for themselves.
This past week I had the honor of attending a Strengthening Families Parent Café, where parents have the opportunity to talk to other parents about relevant parenting issues. At this particular café, parents joined in a conversation about building strong relationships with their children. One issue that surfaced was how to know when children are able to handle more responsibilities and when expectations parents have for their children are reasonable. What became clear during this conversation was that this issue can be the source of much stress and conflict for the parent/child relationship.
All and all the parents really felt that handing over responsibilities to their children was important for the child to become independent, confident and assured. Parents acknowledged that they don’t know what to expect, that knowing when their child is ready for more responsibilities can be a tough call. Sometimes they hover too much and don’t allow their children to “do for themselves,” especially when time is an issue. Other times the child seems to become frustrated with additional tasks and it is hard to know when to let the child “work through it” and when to step in and assist.
One thing that the parents did all agree to was that the handing over of responsibilities needed to be individualized to each child. Parents clearly recognized that different children have different skill sets, problem solving abilities, strengths and weaknesses… and that these differences contributed not only to their ability to handle new tasks or responsibilities but how they would respond to frustrations and unforeseen difficulties.
In a conversation with my sister this morning, she was talking about the decision to leave her 12-year-old son home alone in the evening, by himself. This is her youngest and so when left alone he would not have other siblings with him. As we talked through it, she brought up a description of her son that she has heard from others, that he is “the youngest old man they have ever met.” I laughed at this description, as that is truly him. He tends to be very particular (what he wears, how his room is kept), he has a sense of wisdom and is very quick witted. She used this description and knowledge of his skills and attributes to make a decision that was right for him. It was a decision based upon her son and his individual strengths and needs.
A mother at the Parent Café shared a similar story about children. Her two year old daughter is very independent, able to process feelings and has a strong vocabulary. Her older son does not possess the same skills sets and tends to become more easily frustrated. This mother talked about how she has struggled in letting her daughter do more than she thinks a two-year old “should do” while holding back on her older son who becomes agitated and frustrated if not successful. She is trying to help her children advance while also being clear that each requires different supports and allowances so that they can take on more at the speed that is right for them.
So it seems that knowledge about child development is helpful in being able to determine what a child should or should not be able to do at a particular age, and that this would help in setting expectations for your children and handing over responsibilities to them. However, is it just as important to truly know your child?