Tag Archive for maturity

Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”

I enjoy learning about and teaching child development. Recently I read that “in play a child becomes a ‘head taller than himself.'” Most people probably do not use the phrase “a head taller than himself.” I had to think about what that meant; and, as I read the example, I children playrealized it means a child is “beyond his years” or “mature for his age.” Play enables a child to go beyond his years in maturity, to engage in mature behavior expected of someone older than him. I don’t know about you, but I want my child to become “a head taller than himself” (well, herself in my case because I have daughters). Although play enables a child to grow “beyond his  years,” not just any play will do. Video games won’t do it. No, the play that helps a child to become “a head taller than himself” is imaginative, dramatic play…the kind of play in which a child takes on and acts out an imaginary role. Preschoolers do it when playing house, teacher, princess, or cops and robbers. This kind of play becomes the first activity in which children must control their impulses and resist the urge to instantly gratify their own desires. It becomes an activity in which children follow the rules of the character in a story line they first had to develop. A study completed in the 1940’s supported play’s role in helping children grow beyond their years. In this study, researchers asked 3-, 5-, and 7-year-olds to stand still. Not surprisingly, the 3-year-olds had difficulty standing still for any length of time. The 5-year-olds stood still about four minutes and the 7-year-olds could stand still for over 10 minutes. However, when 5-year-olds were asked to play the role of a “lookout” by remaining at their posts and not moving, they were able to stand still for as long as 12-minutes! Their ability to control their impulses and self-regulate their behaviors during this role playing activity had become “a head taller than themselves,” making them look more like 7-year-olds.


Interestingly, this study was repeated in 2004 and the children in the 2004 study were actually “a head below” the children of the 1940 study. The 7-year-olds of 2004 exhibited self-regulation and impulse control skills that looked more like the 5-year-olds of the 1940’s…and the 5-year-olds of 2004 appeared more like the 3-year-olds of the 1940’s in impulse control and self-regulation. Sadly, the children of 2004 did not engage in the same level of imaginative, dramatic play of the children from the 1940’s. They spent their time in adult organized activities and video games, limiting the time they had to engage in dramatic, imaginative play and the skills we learn in that play. They missed out on the creative planning and role playing that would put them “a head taller than themselves.”


Perhaps we need to take a lesson from the comparison of these two studies. Our children need time to engage in dramatic play. Dramatic play gives them the opportunity to plan out an activity, develop roles, and then act within the boundaries of that role. It provides them the opportunity to practice self-regulation and impulse skills as part of their mutually agreed upon story line. This translates into less “blurting out answers” in the classroom, less “striking out at others” in anger, more “thinking” before acting, and a greater ability to problem-solve with others, among other things. In other words, dramatic, make-believe play helps our children become “a head taller than themselves.” So I say, “Let the children play!”

5 Tips for the Dirtiest Job of Parenting

I love to watch “Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe. “Dirty Jobs” gives us a glimpse of dirty jobs that most of us never knew existed and would avoid if possible, even though they contribute to our life. Parenting involves some dirty jobs—jobs like changing diapers after an “especially explosive episode” or cleaning a toddler after he eats his first cupcake. I recall a particularly dirty episode in parenting my daughter. I was holding my daughter over my head, pretending to make her fly, when she threw up…right into my open mouth. These are dirty jobs. There is one parenting job, however, that will most likely not make the “Dirty Job” cut. This dirty job may well be the most difficult and arduous job of all. I am talking about the job of letting our children go.  It begins early in life, as early as their first steps. Remember when you started to help your 3-year-old zip up their coat and they looked you straight in the eye to say, “I do!” Your child was telling you to “let go” even then. The steps we take in the process of letting go only grow larger as our children get older. From watching our children leave our side to attend first grade…to trusting them to resolve simple conflicts without our input… to dropping them off at college, letting go grows more demanding as our children mature. 
Letting go is a positive parenting goal though. We instinctively teach our children to make decisions independent of peer pressure. We encourage them to pursue independent interests and goals. We cautiously step back and allow them to independently learn from their mistakes. We even admire their independence, most of the time. When their independent decision seems contrary to our individual goals, we may unjustifiably become upset. When they decide to pursue some career outside of our dream for them, we mistakenly question their independent wisdom. When they want to go out with friends rather than us, we wrongly perceive it as personal rejection. Perhaps most difficult of all, when we see their independent decisions leading to simple, but painful, consequences, we jump in to save them, rather than trust them to learn, from their mistakes. This “letting go” really is a “dirty job;” but, there are some basic skills that can help make it a little easier.
     1.      Put aside your dreams and expectations. Look at your children; study them to find their “natural bent,” their natural talent, personality, and ability. Nurture those unique attributes. Take the time to step into their world of interests and develop an appreciation for those interests. The more you know your children, the more comfortable you will feel “letting them go.”

2.      Connect your children with other adults–youth leaders, teachers, mentors, or extended family. Step back and allow these adults to nurture your children’s talent in ways you never could. These adults will also be able to tell your children things that they will not hear from you. You will find your children coming home excited about something a teacher told them while you think, “I told you that 2 months ago.” Sometimes, parents become jealous of the influence other adults have with their children. After all, “I used to have that influence.” Remember, you still do have that influence. It may seem as though your children no longer listen to you, but they do. You will hear other adults talking about what your child said and you will recognize your words coming from your child’s mouth. So, rather than become jealous, be grateful that there are other positive influences in your child’s life. Take time to thank them personally.

3.      Provide your children opportunities to expand their independence. Let them make choices. When they are young teens, let them participate in decision like which night will be family night and which night they can spend with friends. Let them choose whether to watch a movie with you or with friends. Encourage them to seek the advice of a mentor in addition to input from you. Allow them to take sponsored trips with trusted groups such as those at your church, school, scouting organization, etc. Encourage their involvement in positive activities outside of your presence. As they show wisdom and maturity in those decisions and actions, allow them more opportunities.

4.      Allow your child to have time independent of family. This time will increase with age. A toddler needs constant supervision. However, as children mature, they make more independent decisions, engage in more peer related activities, and define their individual life more clearly. They will spend less time with family and more time in pursuit of their individual lives. A parent’s role changes from one of control to influence. In order to have influence, we must give up control.

5.      Give up control and pick up trust. Trust the work you did as a parent. Trust that you have instilled positive values and decision-making skills in your child. Trust that they have experienced your love and will always feel safe to return to that love when they need to. Trust that God will bring people into their lives who will continue to provide a positive influence to them. Trust your children’s growing level of wisdom and maturity, nurtured by childhood years of loving discipline and instruction from you.
By the time our children leave for college, they need the skills to independently manage their decisions, time, and relationships. They begin growing toward that independence from the moment they learn to walk. Join them in the process. Work toward the goal of independence. It’s a “dirty job,” but someone has to do it.

A Secret for Happy Family Relationships

We all want to experience satisfying relationships in our home. We dream of a marriage filled with romance and intimacy. We strive to have parent-child relationships that remain close through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and even into our “grandparenting” years. The question is: how can we make this happen? Northwestern University recently published a study that reveals a secret that might help us build happy family relationships. The study asked individuals involved in romantic relationships how much their partners were trying to improve characteristics such as patience, understanding, or being a good listener…you know, relationship-oriented skills. Three months later, the same couples were asked to rate their partner’s level of improvement and their own feelings about the relationship. The answers revealed that people who believe their partner incapable of change tended to discount their efforts to improve. In addition, they became more dissatisfied with their relationship. To state the flip side of this, believing the best about our partner will help us appreciate his or her efforts to improve their relationship skills. Moreover, when we believe the best, we will grow more satisfied with our overall relationship. In fact, the author of the study (Daniel Molden) suggests that “a secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your partner can change, give him or her credit for making these types of efforts, and resist blaming him or her…” Although this study was conducted specifically with romantic couples, I believe the results may apply to family relationships in general.
So, the secret to building happy family relationships is to believe the best about your family members. Reminds me of a line from the famous love poem Paul wrote to the Corinthians. You remember the line–“love believes all things.”
     ·         Love believes that family members can change. There is no “but” or exceptions noted in the phrase “love believes all things.” Love believes in the other person. Love believes that our family members will grow and learn. They will make improvements, sometimes small and sometimes big. Over time, even the small improvements will add up to a “big change.” Love does not limit the possibilities of change or criticize small changes as “not being enough.” On the contrary, love opens up the potential for positive change and appreciates every miniscule step of positive growth.

·         Love believes family members have the best of intentions, even when they fall short. Sometimes a family member may do or say something that, at first blush, seems hurtful or neglectful. We may actually experience hurt in response to their actions or words. However, love believes that our family member did not act maliciously or with negative intent, even when it hurt. Perhaps they did not realize how much their actions would actually hurt. Perhaps they spoke more harshly than intended because they were tired, hungry, or irritated with some situation outside the home. Perhaps they did mean to arouse a negative feeling because they felt their relationship with you was threatened and, in a knee-jerk reaction, said something hurtful. But it was a misguided reaction, done in fear, with the true intent of pulling you back into a secure and intimate relationship. Underneath all the words and deeds is a yearning for mutual love, a seed of love waiting to be acknowledged and reciprocated. Love believes that underneath the hurtful remarks of family there is still a desire for intimacy, a longing for closeness that is seeking expression and can only find that satisfaction through intimate relationship. When we acknowledge that underlying intention, the underlying longing for closeness, we can experience a growing intimacy and satisfaction with our relationship.

·         Love believes that family members are putting forth a sincere effort to grow individually and in relationship. Love gives credit to family members for the effort they put forth. Love acknowledges and accepts even the most miniscule level of change as evidence of effort and growth. Even when a family member “tries” to change and fails, love praises that effort, appreciates that effort, and applauds that effort. Love leaves no stone unturned in the quest to recognize the other person’s effort to grow.

·         Love believes that our family deserves our best effort and our best character. When we love our family, we believe that they deserve the best of our time, not the leftovers. In love, we want to give them the best of our energy, not the dregs that remain after we exert our best energy on friends, hobbies, or work. Love also compels us to grow so we can offer our family the very best of our character. Love believes motivates us to become a person who elicits pride and admiration from our family.
Yes, love believes all things. To paraphrase the author of the Northwestern University study, “a secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your family members can change, give them credit for making these types of efforts, and resist blaming them for falling short.” When we replace fearful hesitation with intentional effort, skepticism with faith, doubt with trust, and unbelief with belief, family relationships grow more intimate and satisfying. Paul believed it when he told the Corinthians…I believe it as I read the Northwestern University Study…love always believes it!
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