How often are you frustrated with your toddler for not sharing a toy… or doing something you JUST told them not to do? Part of the problem may be your own expectations are too high. New research from the non profit Zero to Three discovered a significant expectation gap that parents need to know about… a big difference between what child development experts know children can do and what parents think their toddler can do when it comes to self control.
Claire Lerner, Senior Parenting Advisor for the non-profit organization Zero to Three explains why they did the research.
“It is unbelievably frustrating to parents and young children when the expectations are not in linen with children’s abilities,” Lerner said. “So things like sharing and taking turns and not having a tantrum when they're frustrated parents really expected children to be able to master those skills before the age of two and some even younger.”
But, in fact, that process can take two more years to solidify.
“Really what the research shows us, is it’s around three and a half to four years that children really begin to be able to understand and follow rules with any consistency,” Lerner said. “The reason that’s so important is because if we feel like a child is purposefully misbehaving or purposefully being oppositional or to work our last nerve, we’re much more likely to come on with a more harsh response.”
Age two and a half IS a critical time because children start to understand logic.
“That’s why they’re always asking, ‘why?’ Lerner said. “But it doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the impulse control not to still act on their feelings.”
“That process takes another full year to solidify…so that children are really not completely able to manage those impulses until about 3 and a half or four.
“It’s one of the most vexing challenges when you have higher expectations you’re constantly frustrated and angry and resentful and it’s a terrible feeling for parents to feel that way,” Lerner said.
That’s why Zero to Three is working to get information about the expectation gap to more parents and to offer guidance as well as things to do to help children learn.
“Incorporating into your day with them activities that begin to help them learn self control,” Lerner said. “Like playing stopping and starting games -- freeze dance where we turn on music and the kids dance around ---- then turn the music off to help them work on their self regulation. Turn taking games are really helpful for really young children. The critical thing is to put yourself more in the role of teacher rather than disciplinarian.”