I’m not talking about permissiveness or strictness here; I’m talking about accurately estimating children’s actual abilities.
A reliable body of research shows that we expect our children to do things they’re not yet able to do and that we judge and punish them according to that expectation. We all know that children develop differently, but it’s natural to underestimate the astonishing variability among and within individuals.
Your expectation may in fact accurately address the mean—that is, you may expect a behavior of your 9-year-old that most 9-year-olds can do—but remember the range of human variability and try to structure antecedents (the things you do to encourage a behavior to occur) with room for that variability.
When your child fails to meet a reasonable—specific, clear, flexible—request and it’s a one-time occasion, try to let it go if you can.
The resistance, on top of the reading problems, produces a situation that can make a parent crazy with frustration and anxiety.
One move you can make in response is to try something low-key, like, “We’re going to read to each other.If you’re in that position, recognize that the problem here is in part the expectation.Shifting it to, say, having the child play quietly in her crib at that time will take care of most of what’s really at issue: The child needs to rest, and you need a break.A designated number of minutes of actual unconsciousness on her part is probably unnecessary.If you find yourself saying, “No matter how hard I try and try, I can’t make my kid do X …” or “No matter how hard I try, I can’t make my kid understand Y …” it’s usually a clear sign that expectation and enforcing that expectation are a significant part of the problem.If that stress gets into your voice, it affects the process.Or reconsider what’s vital and what’s negotiable in your demands. Parents know that a child of that age should take a nap, and they’ve picked a time of day when that nap should happen, and yet the child cries or wants to play.So stop hitting them, or I’ll have to spank you.” Frequently, we want something very simple from kids, like peace and quiet. When you bear down harder, in other words, you increase the likelihood that your child will escape and avoid your authority, which will inspire you to bear down even harder, and so on.The spiral of escalation twists up and up, sometimes to the point that a parent loses it and ends up doing something normally unthinkable—slapping small children, for instance, for failing to nap when they’re supposed to.(If you do want to compare a child constructively with others of the same age, the University of Michigan Medical Center’s Web site offers a useful listing of developmental milestones.) Our expectations of our children’s psychological abilities, even more than of their physical abilities, are typically much too high.The research shows that we consistently overestimate their self-control, ability to persevere and stay on task, consistency of performance, and social ability.