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"Act your age!"

As parents we often find ourselves wishing, begging, pleading for our children to “act their age!”

This usually means we wish they would make something easier for us; like putting their shoes on without fuss, diving into homework without hassle, or going to bed without needing to be re-settled again and again.

But what does “acting their age” really mean? There is loads of science on child development, and there are widely-recognized milestones that we all use. These milestones help parents and teachers know what to expect, and when to expect it, from the little people they love.

But as we all are learning as parents, just because our child has reached a milestone doesn’t mean “we’re never going back THERE again. Thank goodness THAT stage has passed forever and ever.”

When it comes to emotional development, children often re-visit old stages, skip a stage, lurch forward to a new stage, then run back to a previous stage….all in a week. Or in an afternoon.

The truth is, kids change all the time. Every day while they play….every night while they sleep….their little bodies and minds are growing in magnificently invisible ways. The art of meeting a child where he is developmentally is really a wild dance with equal parts observation and guesswork.   

What we need to remember is that our children want our permission and support on this wild developmental ride. It’s ok for them to feel little and helpless one day and feel big and powerful the next. That’s part of being a kid. As I wrote about last summer, it’s our job to let them have those unreasonable feelings and not try to convince them how silly it is for them to be feeling/acting so young.

This emotional roller coaster often leaves us feeling like we’re not sure how to connect with this ever-changing kid in a way that really works. Well, here’s the model I use:

“Meet the Mind, Remember the Heart”

Meeting the Mind:
We often underestimate the brain-power of children. Kids love to be spoken to and interacted with respectfully and intelligently. They love intellectual challenges, solving problems, and deep conversations. We need to remember to honor the agile minds of our children and meet them with the sparks to set off those explosions in their brains.

Or sometimes you have an enormous 4 year old, that everyone treats as if they are 6. This poor kid has unfair expectations of them constantly, because everyone forgets they are actually a little 4 year old inside that big body.

So, no matter the chronological age, or size of the body….meet your child’s mind where it really is.

Remembering the Heart:
Take your child’s age. Cut it in half. Now connect with her heart as you did when she was that age. That’s probably what she still needs.

 Nuzzle your 2 year old like you did when he was a baby. Have a tickle fight with your 6 year old like you did when she was 3. Give your 12 year old the “I’m so proud of you” as you did that first day of kindergarten. And hug your grown son as you did when he was 10.

 So, meet the mind and remember the heart. And next month you might see some of those magnificent invisible changes. Update, and reach out again….