Last time I shared about the importance of helping our kids mature and learn to do hard things. The follow up question usually is: how do I know when to challenge my kids and when to extend grace?
This is the ultimate tension in parenting. While the “right” thing will vary depending on many factors (including age and capacity of the child) there are some things we can tune into that will help us better read the situation.
Are our expectations reasonable and age-appropriate?
No one expects a newborn to calm themselves down and learn to wait when they are hungry. We all instinctively know that when a newborn has a need, it is important to be timely in our response. At this stage, there is little difference between a “want “ and a “need”. As our baby grows into a toddler and then a preschooler, we start to expect a bit more from our child. We help them learn to wait and help them navigate the big feelings they have.
Have we helped our children learn the task by first joining them in it, modeling it for them and helping them navigate the big feelings when things don’t go their way?
As our children exit the infant stage of maturity and enter the child stage of maturity (around 4 years old,) it’s time for them to begin learning to do things they don’t feel like doing. We help them learn to leave the park without a tantrum when they want to keep playing. As they get older, we help them learn to do their homework even though they would rather play. They start to learn they have responsibilities around the house. We help them learn new tasks and have patience as they are learning (even though we could do it faster for them.) I still remember when I was trying to teach our boys to clean the bathrooms and it took much more time and involvement from me than if I had just cleaned the bathrooms myself – but now I can send them to do the task without supervision. The key at this stage is doing things with our child as they learn the task and can enjoy doing it together. In this way, we help them build the capacity to take ownership of a task themselves.
As we are challenging our kids to do more than they want to, how do we know if what we are asking is too much?
Some things are obvious in terms of what is age-appropriate (I wouldn’t expect a 5-year-old to make dinner by themself, but a 12-year-old might be able to after practicing cooking with me). But what about the days when my child can’t handle the age-appropriate task, or whose capacity is not the same at 7 as their older sibling was and I have to adjust my expectations?
The first step is to attune with our child. Tune into what is going on and their feelings:
- Is what we are asking overwhelming to them? Do we see them struggling emotionally with the ask?
- Do they need our support in order to accomplish it? Have they had enough experience doing “with” that they are ready to do it on their own? Sometimes it is enough just to know we are with them and they don’t have to do it by themselves.
- Is something impacting their capacity today that makes it harder for them to follow through? Did they sleep poorly last night, are they hungry, did they have a hard day at school?
Noticing what’s going on with our child and what external circumstances might be impacting their capacity can help us gauge if this is a time we need to adjust our expectations and give them a little extra grace or help.
A big buzz word in parenting is consistency. If I tell my kids they have to do something and then I instead give grace and don’t make them follow through, am I setting a bad example? This is where tuning into the Lord’s leading is a great way to know what’s best in a given situation. He knows exactly what they need and is a master of having loving expectations and extending grace.
For more on how to tune into what your kids need at each stage of maturity, check out Chris’ newest book: The 4 Habits of Raising Joy-filled Kids.