As parents, trying to manage the less desirable elements of our children’s behaviour; encourage just the right amount of independence; and steer our kids towards age-appropriate toys, games and activities, it is useful to have some kind of gauge on what exactly is ‘age-appropriate’ for our children’s current level of development.
In the early years, this is relatively straightforward: don’t give them small toys they might swallow; try to keep them from chewing on electrical cables; and accept that full on meltdown tantrums in a public place are par for the course in the notorious ‘terrible twos’.
As our children get older however, things becoming a little less clear cut. The more they grow, the more they appear to diverge from any kind of common path and so the less we are able to look to their peers as a guide to what type of behaviour they ‘should’ be displaying. I know as I write that last ‘should’ in its quotation marks, that there really should be no ‘should’ about it. Our children are individuals and they progress at their own pace in their own unique way, so why should we look to what others do or what others expect?
Well, maybe we shouldn’t, and maybe the fact that I do makes me a bad parent, but the truth is that – if I am honest – it DOES matter to me what other people think of my children and I DO judge my own parenting – in part at least – by the extent to which their behaviour and actions reflect society’s expectations of their age group.
And so, as my eldest child hits 9 and my youngest turns 7, I find myself pondering (more often than I probably should) on what exactly they ‘should’ (there it is again!) be doing at this age and how they ‘should’ behave and interact with others.
Some of my current worries include:
- ‘Should’ my 9 and 7 year old children really be able to swim by now?
I know the answer to this one: yes and yes and yes!! I MUST probably should get this sorted as soon as possible by getting them back into swimming lessons. It is at the top near the top of my list of things to do. I promise.
- ‘Should’ I be able to trust my 7 year to walk alone to the end of a road without appearing to need to get as close to the edge as she possibly can, worrying surrounding car drivers and her mother in equal measure?
I am guessing that this is one of the situations where it totally depends on the child. When my 9 year old was 7, this would have been no issue, but with my current 7 year old it is a different story: her awareness of things around her is really poor. I’m not sure if it is the delay in getting glasses sorted for her (http://motherinferiorblog.com/2015/02/08/i-can-see-clearly-now/) or a more general attention problem, but I don’t really trust her road sense at the moment.
- ‘Should’ my 9 year old be able to tell the time consistently and with reasonable accuracy?
Umm…I think probably yes. It is in the diary at the back of my mind as something we need to work on this half-term soon.
- ‘Should’ my 7 year old really be waking the neighbours with her screaming tantrums on a Saturday morning?
I think, probably not. And I think my neighbour thinks probably not as well. In fact, I think my neighbour probably thinks he would like some nice, quiet new neighbours as soon as possible!
- ‘Should’ my 9 year old be able to tie her shoelaces with ease without shouting in frustration and giving up in a temper?
Maybe if I bought her more shoes with laces, then yes. Given that I wimp out and buy Velcro shoes instead, then probably no.
- ‘Should’ my 7 year old have a better grasp of Geography than might be implied by the following questions and observations from recent weeks:
- When approaching Wimbledon at midday this weekend: ‘is London the same time as Portsmouth or is it night-time in Portsmouth now?’
- An observation enroute to London: ‘It’s a bit weird that London is in the United Kingdom, but Poland isn’t.’
- On the (approximately 40 minute) journey from Portsmouth to the New Forest: ‘Is the New Forest a different country?’
- In an email to a friend currently visiting New Zealand: ‘Can you speak the language in New Zealand yes or no?’
Well, I guess the final one is a reasonable enough: New Zealand is very far away so why would she assume they speak English? But her grasp of basic geographical concepts is amusingly, but also rather worryingly, poor. Every journey longer than 30 minutes prompts the question ‘Is this a different country?’ Is this typical of a 7 year old? Who knows!
For my 9 year old in particular, life appears to be balanced between two worlds: the grown-up world of increasing independence, the first stirrings of romance and the excitement of the impending ‘tweenage’ years and the child’s world of play, adventure and limitless imagination.
This weekend I witnessed those two worlds very much side-by-side in my daughter’s thoughts and actions with the emergence of her two greatest secrets: the first (moving into the grown-up world) marked by a Valentine sent to a boy at school she has ‘loved’ for some time and the second (firmly in the child’s world) announced when she offered to tell me her ‘biggest secret’ this weekend. After a significant build-up during which I steadied myself with a slight feeling of apprehension, she finally whispered letter by letter that she is ‘actually H A L F. W O L F.’ I think she actually half-believes it, suggesting reality and fantasy are still very much intertwined in her world.
If I ever thought there were clear cut lines on ‘age-appropriate’ behaviour, then recounting these incidents has served to remind me that there really are no rules. So, there are many 9 year olds who can tell the time with ease….that doesn’t mean that Ana might not forge a successful career as an Olympic timekeeper! So, there are 7 year olds who are aware that leaving the county does not mean we are entering a new time zone and need to get our phrasebook out….that doesn’t mean Faith won’t one day circumnavigate the globe with only the stars to guide her!
You know, and I know, that children are all different. They have their own skills and talents and their own particular struggles and challenges. Sometimes, in the desire to appear a good parent, I (and maybe you too) forget this. But maybe I should check myself next time I find myself saying ‘You are 9 years old, you should…..’ because that ‘should’ is an unnecessary burden on us all.