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.