Little Adults

Once in awhile, one of my children asks me a question and, instead of giving the 5 second answer that they are looking for, I give them the college-level answer. After  sitting through my lecture (or not sitting through it), they typically go straight to mom to ask the same question – and they usually get a much better age-appropriate answer.

Occasionally, when my children are whining or acting out, I give them a lecture on why their behavior is inappropriate.

Why do I do this? My dad was a school teacher and I regularly endured lectures from him on appropriate behavior and many other topics. Am I a product of my upbringing? In reality, I think that I sometimes forget that I am speaking to a child, not a little adult.

In training adults to work with students over the years, I have often reminded them that they are not working with little adults. If you start to think of children as little adults, you will make many bad assumptions.

First of all, when children are acting out or whining, you will assume that they simply need to understand your perspective and they will begin to act appropriately. I’m pretty sure that you will never witness a child who is acting out suddenly change her behavior because of her new cognitive understanding of the inappropriateness of her actions. This is why we typically work to manage their behavior first, and later, if appropriate, we talk with them and explain our reasons for our actions.

A second problem of treating children as little adults is that you expect them to be consistent. If this is the case, you will often find yourself saying, “a minute ago you were my perfect angel-child, how can you possibly be talking to me with that tone of voice?”

While it is not always true, you usually know what to expect from other adults on a normal day at the office. However, children have the ability to completely surprise you with their actions, attitudes and words from one moment to the next. I am certain that my children will grow up and get off the emotional roller coaster that they are currently on, but, for now, I get to experience the joys of that crazy coaster on a regular basis!

One other problem with thinking about children as little adults is that we expect them to be able to give rational reasons for their actions: “tell me again what you were thinking when you did that.” When you ask children or adolescents this question, they simply do their best to come up with the best reasons they can give you for the decision they made. Most of those reasons probably did not cross their mind when they were actually making the decision. So that question actually becomes a good exercise in teaching your child to justify past behavior.

Rather than asking children what they were thinking, its better to simply talk about the decision and the consequences of that decision. This helps them develop an understanding of what they did that will hopefully influence their future thinking.

Parenting would actually be much less interesting if we simply had adults in little growing bodies. Instead, we have the joy of raising children so that they will someday be adults physically, and if we have done our job, they will have adult cognitive, emotional and decision making skills to go along with their full-sized bodies.

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