Myth busting: Little Kids and Mini-Adults

Some parents say that their children are capable of acting like adults, paying attention, obeying rules, and keeping their emotions in check. Other parents fall back on their child’s age to defend their inability to do those same things.

These two points have some truth to them. Some kids are at an age where they are limited in their understanding of rules and emotions, but others are not. Some kids have been taught to function like small adults, and others have not. The difference isn’t age specific--it’s child specific, and it's training specific.

The difficult part of either perspective is that they fail to take into account the child's present ability and future training. They focus on where the child is at in the present rather than viewing them as learning, developing human beings.

Viewing your child as a miniature adult can cause frustration when they fail to respond like you would to a situation. On the other hand, viewing your child as helpless to their emotions and personality leaves them feeling frustrated when they struggle to develop consistent patterns of behavior and strategies for dealing with their emotions.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Colossians 3:12

By holding our children to a standard they are not ready to reach, we can risk causing frustration and discouragement.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge our children, but it does mean we need to set age and developmentally appropriate goals and standards. And involve your child! Decide together what grades they should get or what household responsibilities they should take. Clear expectations and support in achieving those expectations will serve to prevent discouragement and frustration for both you and your child.

“The Lord reproves him in whom he delights, As a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12

If you find yourself more on the side of excusing poor behavior, let me assure you that correction comes from a place of love--even if you don’t feel like you sound very loving in the moment. The fact is, the unloving thing is to allow poor behavior to go unchecked. Holding your child to a standard and correcting them when they act in a way you know that they can control helps set clear boundaries for them.

Now, odds are, you fall somewhere in the middle. Or, maybe you find yourself hitting both extremes several times in the same day! The challenge that parents have is looking at what their child has and helping them steward that correctly. Think of the parable of the talents! The master blessed the man whom he gave 5 talents because he produced five more. He then blessed the man whom he gave 2 talents because he produced 2 more.

The master didn’t punish the man whom he gave 2 talents for only producing 2, and he didn’t bless the man whom he gave 1 talent and produced nothing.

So, instead of putting a label on a child and calling them a “mini-adult” or “just a kid”, it is important to identify what they have. Maybe your child obeys adults very easily, but they struggle with fighting with kids their own age. Celebrating obedience but failing to follow up with helping your child understand their behavior

The key for parents is growth--it is teaching our children how to steward their talents. Parents who excuse bad behavior under the guise of grace for their “little kid” are doing the equivalent of rewarding the servant with 1 talent for doing nothing with it.

Sometimes, kids are upset about something entirely unrelated to the reason they think they’re crying. They need our help to slow down and figure out why they are upset. As parents and leaders of children, our role is to see where they are strong and help them grow in the areas where they are not. Our goal is to help them go from 1 talent to 2, 2 to 4, 4 to 8, and so on!

At some point--probably in high school--but maybe a little sooner or later, your child will be ready to transition out of needing your help steward what they have. But an atmosphere that constantly challenges them and calls them to a higher standard while respecting the limits of what they have learned so far will help them do it for themselves as adults.

Think of it like you are at work. No one likes to have a boss call them out on doing something wrong or having a wrong attitude. But, these experiences help us realize where we have skills that we are neglecting, or areas where we need to stretch ourselves. By reaching out to our kids with the skills they have and calling them to use those skills well, we are doing the same thing.

Of course, there’s a different grace in parenting than in the business world, and there’s certainly more grace for a 3 year old throwing a tantrum than a 42-year-old. But the same concepts exist! Your boss wants you to grow, and you want your child to grow.

God disciplines us with a grace. I know that he holds me to a different standard now that I am older and more mature in the faith than he did when I was 12. He consistently reveals to me the things I need to change in order to go to the next level--because he loves me! When we model this out for our children, correction and grace become ways of showing love, and show our children a picture of what their heavenly Father wants their relationship to look like with Him.