I’ve never heard of anyone ever trying to force their child to walk. I don’t hear of parents setting up elaborate reward systems for taking first steps or punishing kids for not walking on the parents command. We seem to understand that gross motor development comes when it comes. There is a “normal” window of time that children generally start walking, but that “normal” window can be quite large.
But walking is different than other kinds of developmental stages and tasks. When our child is learning to walk, it is not an inconvenience for us and it is easier to define when it has been mastered than things like emotional regulation.
We often try to hurry our child’s development along. We struggle with the in between phases, when they are trying new things but often failing to get it just right.
It can give us comfort to know that some so called, “misbehavior” is just a normal part of growing up. If we simply stay TRU during the struggle of their developmental growth, our kids will surprise and astound us with their development.
5 Milestone we sometimes try to force
- Potty training
- Emotional regulation
- Reading/ or other academic learning
- Independent completion of chores or tasks above their capacity
Eli Reading Story (general statement of development)
“A says ă,” My wife told my second son Eli. My oldest son Cuylar was learning to read and his little brother, Eli wanted to be just like him. They are two years apart but we thought, “we’ll just get him started a little earlier than we did our first.” My wife would sit with him, look into his attentive eyes and say, “A says ă. What does A say?” He responded with blank stares and all kinds of other sounds. It just wasn’t sinking in. After pressing the issue harder and getting more and more frustrated, we decided to simply allow Eli to watch Cuylar’s lessons and to provide and environment of learning, equipped with letters on our kitchen wall and countless books every day. There were no more lessons. There were no more forceful attempts to squeeze vowel sounds from his brain. However, something amazing happened. Within months, he was reciting sounds voluntarily from the zoo phonics animal chart on the wall and when my wife said, “What does A say?” The answer was an unprompted, exuberant “ă!”
Don’t force it
I’ve watched my kids play with peg boards as babies and try to force a square peg through a round hole many times. I’ve noticed that all this does is frustrates the child and make nics, scratches and dents in the wood. In the same way, when we try to force our kids’ development, it frustrates us and them and dents and scratches up the relationship. The nice thing to remember is that the shape of our children is always changing and they will eventually find the right hole. We just have to be there to gently guide the process.
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Bed wetting story (negative- forcing it vs. positive)
A while back, a very frustrated mother entered my counseling office alongside her son. Her son was full of energy and had been through some hard things in his life already at six and a half years old. He sat in my office across from his mother with his head hung down as she asked me, “How do I get him to stop peeing the bed?” She was understandably frustrated and tired of changing and washing sheets every single day. She reported to me all of the tactics they had tried. They had tried a rewards chart as well as a chart that lead to losing privileges after so many “bed wetting offenses.” This had just resulted in him lying and even trying to hide the evidence of his bed wetting. At one point she would wake him in the middle of the night and yell at him to get up and pee, and if he said he didn’t have to, she became angry.
I informed this mother that there is a certain population of kids that continues to wet the bed for much longer than other kids. The percentage of kids that wet the bed goes down considerably each year after about age 7 but there is still a small group of kids that struggles with it into their teens. There are things you can do to help set the stage for staying dry like, checking with your doctor to ensure there isn’t anything medically wrong, building a strong supportive relationship, not drinking liquids right before bed, and going to the bathroom right before bed, but bed wetting is involuntary and developmentally normal. It will eventually subside.
In contrast, I have seen parents that have acknowledged the developmental nature of bed wetting. They have put washable covers on their child’s bed or bought the “coolest Spiderman pull-ups” they could find. They have reassured their child when the child announces with his head bowed that he wet the bed again. There is no shame. I’ve seen parents that empathetically ask their child how they can help them and what the child thinks they could do. Some of these kids grow out of the bed wetting in no time, while others continue for several years, but it never becomes a reason for argument, punishment or disquiet in the relationship.
As we deal with our child’s developmental readiness, our job is to simply guide the process. We can do this by setting limits, teaching skills and loving them through it all. There is a natural progression of development, but there is also an element of learning. I’ve watched my own kids learn and grow and try, and try and try and then finally, one day, it just clicks. Implementing punishments for a child’s tearfulness, overwhelm with chores or potty training would be like punishing a child for not walking before they had the strength in their legs, or the coordination.
Setting limits that make sense and protect our own boundaries are still important even when it is a developmental issue. With things like emotional regulation, we don’t allow our emotionally unregulated child to hit or abuse us. We simply recognize that he is still developing the ability to manage the strong feelings that accompany his aggression. Our adherence to set limits, boundaries and natural consequences can be instrumental in helping him to develop those abilities. We continue to teach positive, proactive skills in ways that they can relate to. We show empathy and understanding and regulate ourselves, all in an attempt to help to build the nurturing environment our kids need to develop as nature intended. Remember the TRU principles when responding to something that you think of as a “bad behavior.” Teach them skills at their level, build the relationship and continue to upgrade yourself and your responses. It’s often not “bad behavior, but developmental experimentation or exploration.
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Remember, they will develop the skills they need. It’s okay. Be patient with the process and they will come along, as long as we continue to provide the cycles and environment for growth!
Disclaimer: There are times when development is not automatic. If your child is considerably behind in a particular developmental milestone and you are concerned about your child’s physical, mental or emotional development, don’t hesitate to educate yourself and/or seek professional help.
Question: What are your biggest developmental questions or concerns?
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