Every once and a while my wife and I get frustrated because our son acts like a three year-old. Oddly enough, he is. So why does this surprise us? That my friend is a very good question. Yet for some reason we still look a little shocked when he comes in the room with marker all over his face. Yes, that is him to the right there. He wanted to be a clown so he drew clown lips on his face. He also colored his tongue green but decided it didn’t taste too good. Fortunately for my son, and you, my wife decided to take a picture instead of getting upset. Isn’t he a handsome young man?
We had another “situation” at Church the other day. Josiah came up to Kim rather sheepishly and told her there was a big mess by the water fountain and he had made it. Oh, and Grace had helped. Apparently he had found a small paper cup and he and Grace had been rain dancing. Yep, just like it sounds. He was throwing water in the air and she was dancing in it. We were at the Church early and this all went down before too many others were there. As it was though, a friend had seen them and asked him to go and explain what he was doing to his Mom. Needless to say, Josiah helped clean up the mess and was instructed that it was not appropriate to make it rain in the Church.
All of this to say, there are times when our kids (old and young alike) will simply act their age. How we respond is important. This is especially true for younger children. My son knows that he isn’t supposed to draw on himself with marker. However, he also knows about costumes and playing dress up. We are pirates and kings quite often. Was using markers to dress up like a clown wrong? Which rule is okay here? Will the humor factor be great enough to avoid trouble? These are probably not questions that went through his head. He just wanted to be a clown. So, how do we respond? Well, there are two ways:
- Discipline him for marking on himself with makers – You may think this is the obvious reaction but I am glad this was not my wife’s first response. Yes, he disobeyed, but the context was different. Can we expect our kids to remember and obey every rule in every possible context? I will let you answer that. Regardless, by strictly addressing the disobedience we would have missed a teaching opportunity and possible hindered his amazing creativity.
- Explain that not marking on himself includes dress up as well – This is the route Kim went. She helped him process a rule in the current context. This aids in critical thinking skills and will ultimately help him make good decisions down the road. She took time to explain the intent of the rule and acknowledge his creativity and artistry. Were he to do the same thing 10 minutes later, or even a day or week then he would be disciplined for disobeying. For now though, he was just acting his age.
A similar discussion was had regarding the water fountain as well. If a child is acting in defiance or direct disobedience then they need to be addressed as such. However, if the behavior was simply acting their age then take the time to connect with them, teach them, and help them understand how to process and make good choices. There may still be a need for discipline. Josiah didn’t get out of cleaning up the water. That was a direct consequence of his choices. The book wasn’t thrown at him either. You know, for doing something that he, “should know better than that!” Should he? Really, at three? Next time, take a deep breath and ask yourself:
- Was it in defiance?
- Would I have enjoyed it at their age?
- Am I using wisdom in my assessment of the situation my child doesn’t possess yet?
- Is there an opportunity to expand a rule beyond the letter-of-the-law here?
- Shoot, would I have enjoy it at my age?
Hopefully these will help you find the grace to allow your kids to act their age. Teach them along the way, but don’t over react when your four year-old does something hair-brained that only a four year-old would do. Don’t be surprised when your 16 year-old isn’t behaving like a 28 year-old. Kids will always act their age, we can do a lot to help them grow by how we react. So, how has your child shown off their age recently? Just curious!