Blog Entries

Children Are Not Little Adults

After attending a host of holiday gatherings over the past few months, I started reflecting on a pattern I noticed of a lack of attention that being paid towards young children at some of these events. What I noticed was not that children were being overtly neglected, but that there seemed to be some odd expectation that they would behave like little adults while the actual adults got on with more important and mature matters.

This observation inspired my thinking process, and thus this blog post, about reasonable expectations for children.  The old saying that “children should be seen and not heard” is long since a thing of the past, and we have plenty of research to show that quite the opposite is true in terms of promoting their healthy development.

  • Children are meant to play. In this process, they are meant to explore, make messes, and be spontaneous. This means that they will jump from one thing to the next without thinking, and yes, without cleaning up. This process is critical to their development. Their brains are not developed enough to complete one task at a time, clean it up, and then neatly move on to another one. (Let’s be honest, some adults can’t even do this).

  • Children are meant to be dependent. This means that they need you as their parent, or the involved adult in their life, to be available. They are dependent on you to not only provide their basic needs, but also to be their secure attachment when they are scared or hurting. They are also dependent on you to set reasonable expectations and boundaries for their age and development. Yes, they are needy, and they are supposed to be. Ignoring them in a moment of need could leave a very significant imprint on their brains about how important their needs are.
  • Children need kid-friendly events. It is my personal belief that an event that hosts children (such as a family holiday gathering) should be prepared to cater to children. This is because children’s brains are not developed enough to allow them to sit calmly and quietly and engage in small talk (i.e. adult behaviors). Yes, these skills can be learned over time, but small children will still need to be provided with adult supervised engaging activities. When done appropriately to children’s needs – this is a big undertaking. It doesn’t look like just providing them something to occupy them, but also being present for it, watching them, and listening to them.

As I write this, I reflect on the immense energy it takes to carry out responsible care for children. Being the parent, relative, or other such adult in a child’s life is a huge undertaking. It is important for us to remember that they are precious, developing humans – not just little adults. It is our job to stop what we are doing and attend to them when they need it, even if it’s just gentle re-direction. Their brains are pretty new to this world, and super impressionable.

It is important that we take extra care in the way that we interact with them because the things we do and say will often be imprinted in their brains for a lifetime. So, the next time you’re at a backyard barbecue where you wish the kids would just “settle down”, take a deep breath and remember that they are children. They are just doing what they are innately designed to do.   

Blog Entries

How to Have Less Technology and More Engagement This Year

A common complaint among parents these days is that their kids spend too much time on technology. In fact, it’s the reason why many families call our office. Parents often notice that their child seems disengaged and less interested in other social activities, and thus prefers the tablet or video games. After arguing with their child (and sometimes even their spouse) for days and months on end, they often seek therapy out of frustration. Here are a couple of strategies we offer to help families strike a balance with technology use and family time.

1.     Avoid discounting technology all together. Taking extreme measures like banning all technology does not help teach balance. Of course there are sometimes when restricting privileges is appropriate, but those should be on a case-by-case basis.

2.      Recognize that kids may experience connection through technology, and instead of always complaining about it, use it as a chance to connect by expressing interest in their world.

3.      Model appropriate use of technology. If you expect them not to use their phone at the dinner table, then it is a good idea for you not to use yours either. Kids will repeat more of what they see you do than what they hear you say.

4.     Set clear boundaries around the use of technology ahead of time if possible. Before your child gets on the device, for example, let them know how long they have, and what is/is not okay. It is important to follow through with this as well.

            The bottom line is that if adults are going to complain about the over use of technology in today’s youth, then WE need to be prepared to engage them. I’ve always thought that the interesting thing about the technology debate is that adults are typically the ones that put children in front of a television or tablet in the first place. Now, we want to unplug the TV, and take the tablet away, and we expect them to occupy themselves. It sends a very mixed message to them. Children do not innately know a variety of ways to occupy themselves. It is our job as adults to show them.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that a balance between technology and face-to-face social engagement is a wonderful thing. I think it creates well-rounded children who become well-rounded adults. We should be prepared, however, for what that really means. It means that we as adults have to put down our technology at times too; it means we have to stop attending to work emails, to cleaning the house, and all the other things that make life constantly busy. It means to stop doing all of those things in an effort to connect and engage in the lives of our children. To show them the other fun and entertaining things around them. Perhaps you play a new board game with them, spend some time outside together, or chat with them over a snack, to name a few things.

Just remember, the next time you want your kid to take a break from the latest technology gadget – be prepared to step in and do your part to engage them.

Marie Woods, LMFT, CSAT