What Parents Need to Tell Children about Growing Up

“No! I don’t want to sleep.”

“Why not? You’re tired and sleepy. Look! You’re rubbing your eyes. Come, get into bed.”

“No! I want to stay awake.”

You’ve had this conversation with your child. If you haven’t yet, you will have it sometime in the future – it’s a rite of passage for parents – like diapers, cuddling and teen behavior. 🙂

Eventually, you understand why he resists going to bed. Your child thinks you’ll put him to bed and then do ‘fun’ things behind his back. He doesn’t want to miss out on the fun, so he’s refusing to sleep. Also, staying awake longer is a ‘grown up’ thing to do.

Show me one child who doesn’t want to grow up, and I’ll give you a million dollars. (Where I get the money is my problem, where you find the child, is yours! 🙂 )

Children are always in a hurry to ‘grow up’. To them, grown up means:

  1. Physical power – the strength and dexterity to push, pull, lift, bend, run, dress, bathe, drive, cook, read, write, type, draw, garden, knit, play games well…
  2. Decision-making power – Grown-ups decide everything! What to buy, when to buy, when to sleep eat play bathe work, how much to sleep eat play bathe work, how to sleep eat play bathe work…
  3. Self-determinism – Adults don’t need anyone’s permission (or so it seems to the child) to do the things they want to do. Parents seem to ‘do as they please’. Some parents are whimsical, inconsistent and arbitrary in their behavior, at least some of the time. But even when they are not, children feel grown-ups are self-willed, especially since the child cannot understand the reason for many of the decisions adults make.

But it is sad that children are in such a hurry to grow up that they miss the joys of being the age they are.

This is where you step in as a parent. Children need to know that every age has its fun, its joys, and its trials and tribulations.

Here’s what parents need to tell children about growing up.

A 3-year old needs to know that it’s great to be 7, but he won’t be wheeled around in his stroller; he will have to walk himself, even if you’re spending the entire day going from store to store. At age 7, the only alternatives to his walking all day with you will be to stay home or at a daycare.

A 5-year old who’s eager to enjoy the ‘freedoms’ her 11-year old sibling has, needs to know that she won’t be able to sit on her parent’s shoulders to be (literally) head and shoulders above the crowd to enjoy the magic show in the mall atrium.

Your 12-year old needs to know that it’s great to be 16 (or 18) and have a driver’s license, but he’ll miss the spontaneous hugs you share with him today. At the ‘grown up’ age when he can drive, he’ll want to hug you and be hugged by you, but won’t do so as often as he’d like to because he will feel embarrassed; he will feel he’s ‘too old’ for such childish behavior. (! 🙂 )

And so on.

The other thing parents need to share with their children is that growing up is not as cool and untroubled as it looks. There are difficult choices, complex decisions, complicated personal relationships, demanding schedules, challenging situations, testing times.

And they all lie ahead – in the area where ‘grown up’ is.

How do you make sure your child gets this? Explain. Give examples. Even with a 2-year old, you can always give examples. Here are some examples I have used over the years to calm eager beavers who can’t wait to be older:

Very Young Children

“When you were a baby, you just peed and poo-ed at will. You want to be grown up, so you’re trying hard to learn when you need to ‘go’. You pay attention, and rush to tell Mom/Dad to take you to the toilet. But sometimes you forget, or realize too late, and soil your diaper. And then you feel bad. There’s no need to feel bad – it takes time to learn what your body is saying, but still, you do feel bad.  Do you see? You are ‘growing up’, but it has its uncomfortable, ‘bad’ moments too!”

Primary School aged Children

“You were in such a rush to begin going to school so you could read and write like your elder sister. You would keep snatching her books and pens to do your own ‘studies’. Now that you’re in school, you get tired, and feel you have too much work. Do you understand why she would snap at you asking you to get out of her way and let her get on with it? You’re growing, and growing well 🙂 , but isn’t all fun and games. Do you see that now?”

Pre-teens

“You always thought it would be great to be a teenager! You would hang out with your friends, wear cool gear, do cool stuff… Now that you’re a pre-teen (and this is when the changes begin), you’re seeing how difficult it can be. You have these crazy mood swings – up one moment, down the other, and you can’t understand why you feel this way. You wonder if you’re the one going crazy or it’s the others who have lost it.

You don’t want to talk about this to your parents because you feel they’ll get worried, or you might be making too much of what you feel. You feel alone, and afraid. You might talk to your friends about it, but they’re in the same boat as you are, so you wonder how much good talking to them does you. At least you feel lighter for having shared how you feel. But then you wonder: what if they tell somebody else? Something else to worry about…

Your voice is breaking, you’re wetting the bed in strange ways, your body is sprouting hair in all kinds of places (for boys); your body is sprouting hair in all kinds of places, you’re developing breasts and hips, you’ve started having your period (for girls).

You’re supposed to look cool about all this around your friends, as if it’s normal, and you’re fine with all these changes. But inside, you’re not comfortable; you’re worried, you wonder what’s going on, you have so many questions and nobody to ask – it’s a horrible mess. You didn’t think this is what you’d signed up for when you wanted to ‘grow up’ did you? If you’d known, you might have had second thoughts!” 🙂

Teenagers

“It looked so easy – having this cool boyfriend or girlfriend to hang out with, to kiss. But it’s a miserable, sorry business.

Trying to catch somebody’s eye, wondering if he/she likes you, dressing talking walking sitting standing doing eating – heck, breathing! – right to impress him/her, looking cool while doing all this, not sure if you really like the boy/girl or have given in to peer pressure (all your friends are ‘with’ someone…).

If, by some chance, you manage to hook the boy/girl of your choice, keeping him/her is another chore. It’s fun, but it’s a hell of a lot of work too, and it’s not always worth it. And there’s nobody to talk to!

Your friends – you wonder about them sometimes. Your parents – they will go ballistic if they had any clue what was going on with your life. A sibling? Maybe, only if you get on with him/her. But he/she might split on you if you guys have a fight… Ugh!”

***

My daughter had been having a difficult time for a few weeks. She felt a friend had betrayed her confidence, and didn’t know how to deal with the hurt, the friend, and how to handle herself.

We talked the situation through almost every day, and I felt she was slowly beginning to make her peace with it, and see things more clearly so that she could make better decisions about how she wanted to deal with the issue. Eventually, it was resolved.

That weekend, she asked me, “Why is growing up so hard? And when is it going to end anyway? When will I be all grown up?”

I chose to ignore the first question and said, “Never. It just goes on.”

Welcome to growing up; or rather, to ‘more growing up’. 🙂

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