“Why did you do that?”
It’s a question most parents ask their children on a regular basis, and usually to no avail.
Children often make choices that don’t make any sense to us and usually they aren’t able to explain it themselves.
This can drive us to make assumptions about what motivated our child’s behaviour. We can think they are being purposely naughty, manipulative or just down right mean.
It can also be hard not to take our child’s behaviour personally. Especially if they are acting out and saying things such as “I hate you” or inflicting pain to others.
But as the adults in the situation we need to temper our reaction and take a moment to consider our child’s choices. What drives a child’s behaviour is not always what we think. We often overestimate a child’s ability to make rational decisions.
Did you know that the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for impulse control, risk management and making rational decisions – isn’t fully developed until the age of 25?!
That’s pretty significant considering the expectations most of us have of our children and their behaviour.
Parenting expert Maggie Dent recommends getting down on the same level as your child to try to see the world through their eyes. This can help us understand their developmental age and how things may appear to them.
“So often their ability to manage losing, sharing, being considerate, taking turns, waiting are really, through the eyes of a child, developmentally appropriate,” explains Maggie Dent.
Although it can be very difficult in the heat of the moment, Maggie recommends parents pause before reacting to negative behaviours. It is our job as parents to help guide our children to make good decisions and learn about consequences.
Here are some ways to help support your child in making good choices:
- Connect with your child by being gentle and responsive
- Establish good routines – children react best when they know what to expect
- Talk them through problem solving to help them learn how to make good decisions
- Listen to their reasoning to understand their point of view
- Allow them to practice making decisions often by offering them 2 preselected options
- Give children age appropriate responsibility to help build their confidence
It really can be hard to temper our expectations of our children’s behaviour. However, by having age appropriate expectations and a positive approach, we can help develop their decision making capabilities and support them in making good choices.