It’s hard to be a parent. Kids don’t come with rule books or training manuals. With technology and culture advancing quickly, it makes it even harder to not feel as if kids are growing up too fast. How do we sort through all the unsolicited “support” we get from family, community, and even strangers who think they know what is best for our children?
Recently I completed research for a presentation on parenting for preschoolers and was energized from some information I found on kids and their developmental stages, especially emotional development. My kids are past the preschool ages, but I work with kids these ages and found it helpful to get back to the basics of what they can developmentally do, versus what does everyone else expect from them at this point.
For example, the average 3-year-old has an attention span of about 15 minutes (4 to 5-year olds about 20 minutes). So, when my children were that age in church, and I felt shamed from the comments of the older ladies that sat in front of me who said, ‘Why can’t they be quiet during the service?” or “Look at how spoiled that child is with so many activities in their pew”. It would have been nice to be reassured that children aren’t able to focus on one task that long and bringing many ‘quiet’ toy options was a good idea. Or when developmental research shows 3 to 5-year olds tell lies not in malice, but in testing reality because they are just learning the difference between fantasy and reality. This would have helped reassure you that your child is not headed down the wrong path.
Preschoolers aren’t little adults. They thrive on consistency. They need routines, but they also need time for free play to let their imaginations roam. They are just able to recognize feelings of mad, sad, and glad in others, but don’t have complete control over those emotions (I know some adults that still fit into this category). Things like hunger, tiredness and boredom will make it difficult for them to stay on track. So, it is okay to slow down from the fast pace of life and focus on what your child is capable of handling at this age versus what does everyone expect. A good healthy inspection of your own expectations for kids at this age is also important. It would have been helpful to me in the church incident above, to focus more on the fact my kids were enjoying their time in the house of God versus focusing on my expectation that they didn’t make someone around us uncomfortable.
Karen Gotto, LMHC
Family, child, and individual therapist serving the Carroll and Jefferson, Iowa areas