One of the biggest struggles I’ve had as a parent is a pretty common one. And that is requiring better behavior from my children than I require from other adults or even myself. One of the ways I usually justify the higher standard for my kids is that I am teaching them and training them to be better than I am. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes that I have made. I want them to avoid the things that I have done wrong.
At least that’s what I tell myself…
But here’s the thing, a five-year-old is, after all, a five-year-old no matter what.
I believe that children are often capable of a lot more than we think they are, but to assume that kids are always capable of bigger things is a mistake. This is really significant when there is a difference between their chronological age and their emotional age. We have to teach them foundational things (emotional age) before we can require correct behaviors (chronological age) from them.
Attitudes are Foundational
One of the things we do is tell our kids to have a good attitude. We even have them split their bad attitudes out when they aren’t behaving well.
Before our oldest two were of school-going age we had them at an in-home daycare a few houses down the street from ours. Their care provider was a very sweet woman who had a favorite saying, “obey right away with a good attitude.” I’m a big fan of catchy sayings because they make concepts easy to remember. They make wrong things appear correct and easy to remember as well.
What does obey right away with a good attitude mean? What does it mean to you and what does it mean to your kids? I bet you just came up with three different answers.
The question we have to ask is do little children even know what an attitude is? It’s a word that we use a lot but does it hold meaning for our kids? They don’t read the dictionary so you have to explain it to them. And if you don’t teach them what it means you’re just asking little people to be accountable to a standard that they don’t even understand. That’s on us. We need to be the example, not just the enforcer.
As adults, we should always be held to the higher standard. We should never expect a five-year-old to act like anything but a five-year-old. We need to model right behavior. We need to require the best from ourselves because that’s the only way they will learn. In the adult-child relationship, all of the responsibility to act like an adult is on us.