About last Saturday.
Yours truly was privileged to be amongst a crop of amazing facilitators at the global online conference of ‘The Young Single Mothers Network’. I shared on the parenting topic: ‘Preparing Your Child For Maturity’.
I am posting here the full text of my presentation.
Baring all unforeseen circumstances and with all things being equal, every child would grow through varying developmental stages throughout their lives. As parents, we all look forward to the next developmental milestone our child would attain. I remember that when my children were babies I used to read up on developmental milestones of infants on websites and in books, just to see how my children are faring. It is always the joy of a parent to know that their child is reaching those milestones at the correct age.
To summarize it, the developmental stages are:
As a child progresses through these stages, certain physiological changes are expected to be seen in them. For instance, in toddlerhood, we expect to see a child that is able to at least stand upright with little or no support and responsive to stimulation.
When a child fails to exhibit the expected developmental traits, it becomes a source of anxiety for his or her parents and an issue for medical inquiry.
The process of moving from one developmental phase to another is known as ‘maturation’.
As children grow physically, we also expect or anticipate emotional or psychological growth in them. The way we expect a teenager to think or reason is quite different from the expectations we have of a child or an infant.
The measurement of physical maturation is quite different from the measurement of emotional maturation.
While physical maturation can be measured using chronological parameters, it isn’t always so in measuring emotional maturation.
Before we start to consider the parameters for measuring emotional maturation, let us quickly define what we mean by maturation.
Maturation is the process of attaining full development.
Every living thing goes through this process.
The fact that it is a process, suggests that it occurs in stages. A person develops or matures in stages.
Now back to emotional maturation.
Just like physical maturation, it occurs in stages. There are certain expectations we have of a child which we may not expect from an infant.
For instance, it is generally expected that a 5year old should be sufficiently potty trained while we won’t raise any eye brow if we encounter a three month old baby in diapers.
Likewise, we’d think something was amiss if we meet a teenager who is whinny and cries for everything like a child or toddler!
As children pass through various stages of development, there are behavioural changes we look forward to seeing in them. These informs us that they are maturing.
There are parameters by which we determine emotional maturation.
- BEHAVIOURIAL CONTROL: as children develop, they are more in control of their actions. They can make decisions which affect how they respond to situations and circumstances.
They become less impulsive and can delay gratification.
For example, in infancy or toddlerhood, a child’s actions are governed purely by his instincts. If he wants to do something he’ll do it immediately without thinking of the effect of that action on others. However as he matures, he learns to control his actions as he is now able to factor in the interests of others around him.
- EMOTIONAL CONTROL: a maturing child or individual is able to practice some degree of emotional restraint and not always give in to ephemeral feelings.
Our emotions affect the way we feel about ourselves, others and situations that we encounter from time to time.
The ability to control ones emotions goes a long way in making one socially acceptable.
- SOCIAL AWARENESS: a matured individual is one who has learnt to ‘read’ his environment very well and can modulate his or her behaviour to suit the environment.
Young children are not adept at reading the environment and that is why a small child would scream or want to run around during a church wedding service. They do not yet know that some places, people or situations requires some modicum of piety.
Now, to a large extent, the process of maturation is chronologically determined but I dare to suggest that it can also be influenced by exposure.
What I am trying to say is that even though emotional maturation is largely influenced by the age of the individual, it is also influenced by the quality of experiences that person has been exposed to.
When you compare a child from a poor environment who has had to struggle in order to get every small favour, there is a certain level of ‘smartness’ that you would see in that child especially when you compare him to his age mate who has had an easier life.
I am always amused to see many parents treating maturity as an event in the lives of their children rather than a developmental process.
Maturity is NOT an event in the life of a child!
These parents spend a good part of their lives running around ministering to every whim and caprices of their children. They raise children who are totally dependent on them and at a particular age these parents suddenly drop the baton, declaring to the child that he or she is now matured and should take over the running of their own lives!
I was told of a young lady who lived a pampered lifestyle but upon her 18th birthday, her parents decided that she was now ‘matured’ and handed her the keys to her own apartment, a fat bank account and other goodies that were meant to aid her start in life. But guess what!? Within a short while she had ruined everything and almost damaged her own life too!
The question on everyone’s lips was, “how had her parents prepared her to manage the privileges they had bestowed upon her?”
We may wonder at the foolishness of that young lady’s parents, but can we all honestly declare that we are doing enough to prepare our children for maturity?
- Do we always excuse them from life experiences because we believe that they are too young?
- Are we too paranoid to allow them live in the real world because we are too afraid of imaginary dangers?
It is not right that we insulate our children through their formative years and suddenly expect that because they have reached a certain ‘age of maturity’ they’d be able to manage their lives responsibly.
In preparing your child for maturity, you need to take note of the following points:
- Believe and accept that they are God’s children and He loves them and would care for them in every situation.
Many mothers are paralyzed by the fear that something dangerous would happen to their children if they allow them to do certain things. At the end of the day, they end up crippling their children and raising children who are totally dependent.
A concerned mother once approached me at an event where I was the guest speaker, to ask what she could do as her husband is very fearful that their children would be exposed to dangers if are allowed into the kitchen and so the children, who are now approaching their teenage years, have never cleared up the dishes after a meal let alone doing the washing. Her children don’t do any chores at home and she was concerned that they are growing up lazy and entitled.
Many parents project their fears on their children and limit their children’s capacity for growth. My advice to such parents has always been, “Free yourself of fear and give your child space to soar”.
- Communicate your expectations to them.
As parents, we all have hopes and aspirations of our children. It is very important that we communicate clearly these expectations. I always say that children live up to the expectations we have of them. Let your children know how you want them to behave in any given situation. When my children were little and we were visiting older relatives, before we set out, I’d have already schooled them on how I want them to behave when we get there. What that did, was that over time, my children knew what was expected of them in almost all situations and could adjust their behaviour as each situation demanded.
- Train them
We train children with our words and actions. It is an ongoing process that demands active engagement, one that we must not relent on.
Instead of always performing tasks for your children, show them how to do those tasks and allow them to do it. Continue training and retraining until they have mastered the skill.
- Allow your children to do chores at home.
As soon as a child is able to walk, it is a good idea to allow him to contribute his own quota to the running of the household!
Every chore can be broken up to age appropriate tasks which a child can do. A toddler can be given the responsibility of picking up his toys after playtime, a young child can be given his own duster for wiping down surfaces. These chores should be graduated as the child grows. Provide them with their own set of equipment which is commensurate to their size.
When my daughter was little, I bought her a set of pink bejeweled dustpan and brush and I showed her how to use it to sweep the floor and clean up any mess she had made. Because of the interesting aspects of the equipment she took delight in using it often and soon she was doing more than cleaning up her own mess but sweeping up every part of our apartment!
The benefits of children doing chores is immense and it goes a long way in developing their minds and making them intelligent as well as giving them a healthy self-esteem.
- Trust them.
As your children develop, trust them with some privileges and allow them to prove their maturity to you.
When my daughter hit a certain age, we started giving her a small allowance. This allowed her to show us how matured she was becoming in handling money. She had to be responsible for keeping it safe, she had to learn how to apportion it to all her wants as well as learn how to save.
Recently, she and her younger brother were both given their own mobile phones and we are also monitoring how they can be responsible in using them.
As they prove to be matured and responsible, more privileges would be allowed them till they get to an stage when they can confidently fly solo!
In closing, I guess it’s worth restating that ‘maturity should not be treated as an event in the life of a child but a gradual process which is developed through exposure to real life experiences’.
Do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. I’m looking forward to reading them.