If anything could convince me that understanding consequences is a developmental ability, last week was it. By developmental ability, I mean an ability that develops in the child’s brain and body over time instead of being ‘taught’ by a parent. Anyway, Maximus has given me opportunity to stretch my parenting skills (and patience) over the last few weeks. This probably has something to do with his age; he’ll be 5 in a few days.
Now, lots and lots of Fives are in what Ames and Ilg call ‘equilibrium’, meaning that all systems (physical, chemical, emotional, hormonal) in the body are operating more or less in harmony. At the half-ages, 3.5, 4.5, 5.5, etc. most children are in DIS equilibrium. Meaning- you guessed it- all systems are NOT go. Things are out of balance, chemically, in a child’s body about every six months. Why? (“Are there rocks ahead?”) Big things are happening! 😀 The body prepares to master a whole new set of tasks, mentally, and emotionally, and physically. Ever wonder why most kids learn to ride a bike around the same ages? Or read? Or swim? Now you know! We develop the ability to coordinate ourselves in those ways around the same times in our lives.
Maximus has always, for some reason, hit disequilibrium at the whole ages instead of the halves. This means that when Minimus is at a half-age; I have TWO boys in disequilibrium. BLECH! So Maximus is doing and saying some pretty interesting things right now. (Sorry for the tangent folks, I’m bringing it back now… 😉 )
Ever watch ‘The Princess Bride’? (“by S. Morgenstern”) One of my favorite characters- Vizzini- has a real problem predicting the possible outcomes of his grand schemes. Every time an unexpected event occurs he sputters, “Inconceivable!!” Events which surprise Vizzini are not all that out of the ordinary, they are not in fact inconceivable; it’s just that Vizzini has an incomplete understanding of the possible consequences of his choices. 😀 He is convinced that he is entirely capable, however, and presses on through numerous setbacks.
Maximus is much like Vizzini. He is capable- sometimes more than is safe! He has been trying to do some very dangerous things lately, insisting that he CAN accomplish whatever it is, and uncomprehending of my insistence to the contrary. :doh: I have had to physically pull him away from window sills, carefully remove sharp objects from his wiry little hands, hide vitamins, and in many other ways prevent him from even attempting what he wishes to do. Here’s a sample conversation…
gg- “Max, WHY are you sitting on the window sill? And WHY is the screen open??!!”
Max- “Oh, Mommy I am just going to jump out of this window. (bighappysmile) ”
gg- (strangled croak) “No! You may not! I am helping you down.” (I help him down. This looks remarkably like an orangutan wrestling an octopus.)
Max- “NO MOMMY!!!! I HAVE TO jump out of that window!!!”
gg- “Max baby, I love you so much and I am not going to let you try to jump out of that window! It is 12 feet off the ground! You will get hurt if you jump from that high.” (I block the window with my body as I pull the screen back down, and close the window for good measure- even though its seriously 98 F outside)
Max- “No, I Will NOT get hurt!! I promise I will be VERLY CAREFUL!!!!”
Experience has taught Maximus that he is suddenly able to do some new things. He can climb up the net ladder at the playground. He can run faster, jump farther, climb higher, balance better- why shouldn’t he be able to climb out a window?
At one point, Vizzini’s hireling Inigo says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means!” He is right. Just because Vizzini has failed to see a consequence, does not mean there isn’t one! Vizzini seriously underestimates his opponent, and ends up dead. Unforeseen consequences can bite us in the butt.
Maximus thought that simply by being careful, he could avoid the consequences of a jump from 3x his height. I KNOW he cannot. He has gained so much knowledge and skill by forging ahead, stepping out into the unknown, taking risks. This is a risk I cannot allow him to take. He lacks the capacity at 5 years old to predict the consequences of a jump or fall of that magnitude. He was earnest in his belief that he had control of the outcome. He did not understand at all why I was saying no. He understands gravity in a basic way, but not in this way. Eventually, he will be able to look out a window and accurately judge whether a jump from this height would be safe. He has yet to develop the cognitive capacity to make that sort of complex prediction.
I was completely exasperated. I had no idea why he was doing this. It looked like insanity to me- WHY on earth was he insisting he should be allowed to jump out windows??!!! :O (This is the sort of thing I would have been spanked for- probably with the wooden spoon- not for wanting to jump, but for insisting I could.) Then I started to piece things together. It wasn’t just that. He was insisting things WERE a certain way, when he could not have had any knowledge of the facts. He insisted that he could take extra vitamins, and they would not make him sick. He insisted that soda would help him sleep. He insisted that he could cut the watermelon himself, with my big knife! When I took the knife, he got a small butter knife, and proceeded to try to cut the watermelon with that! LOL!
Very simply, there are times in a child’s development when things are not going to make sense. Nothing they do will make much sense. They will say infuriating things. They will make impossible claims. And guess what? The more capable and emotionally healthy your child is, the more things he will try to do! It is worth it to pause (once the dust clears anyway) and consider WHY your child might be doing whatever crazy thing he is doing. If we blindly punish actions instead of finding the reasons behind the actions, we can shut down a child’s willingness to stretch himself. We can blunt his curiosity, and we can teach him it isn’t safe to try anything new, or take any risks.
So I wait. I try to figure out the why and the ‘whattheheck’ and I learn my Kid. I shield him from some consequences, and allow him to experience others. I let him try, and try, and try. I say ‘Yes!’ much, much more often than I say, ‘No’.
One of my goals for my kids is for them to come to adulthood with the same excitement and curiosity they have as children. Another goal is for them to be capable of making good decisions. So I purposefully and intentionally allow them to make as many of their own decisions as possible. When they go too far, I keep them safe without squashing their ‘I will.’ They will need that ‘I will’ when they grow up.