Are Our Expectations of Children Appropriate for their Maturity Level?

The New York Times News Service ran an article which cites research from two major studies debunking the notion that “children entering school with behavior problems were doomed to fall behind in the upper grades.” You can read the article in full here. Whether you agree or disagree, I think it is instructive to discover the latest thinking and research, considering its implications for life in the home and ministry in our faith communities.

Notably, Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education is quoted in the article as saying, “I think these may become landmark findings, forcing us to ask whether these acting-out kinds of problems are secondary to the inappropriate maturity expectations that some educators place on young children as soon as they enter classrooms” (emphasis in bold mine). Although she is not connected to either of these studies, her observation is salient to the issues presented.

It raises the question: In the church and in our homes, are our expectations of children, especially those with various incarnations of behavioral issues and medical issues, realistic for their levels of maturity? Or are we contributing to and even creating the problems they experience by virtue of unrealistic and inappropriate maturity expectations? If our expectations are inappropriate, what course corrections need to be made immediately? What adjustments are just as important, but need to be made gradually? What training is required for parents and teachers and for ourselves as leaders of children’s and family ministries?

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4 thoughts on “Are Our Expectations of Children Appropriate for their Maturity Level?

  1. Thanks for the post. Yes I’ve been learning about not to ‘dumb’ down on the kids. Kids need simplier words not simplier ideas.

  2. That is an interesting insight rags. I think you are on to something important.

    The challenge, in my experience, is to communicate with kids in ways they can understand with with ideas that are appropriate for their level of maturation. Too often we can slip into a way of thinking that assumes small children are adults in the bodies of children, when in fact they are children in the bodies of children. This is stating the obvious, I know. Yet it has helped me to realize that adult-level educational methods do not work well for kids. In fact, they often do not work well for adults, given that they so often are poorly executed.

    I remember well the maxim I learned in my graduate school Child Play Therapy course: “Play is their language and toys are their words.” Yes they are learning verbal skills quite rapidly, but they are most fluent in the language of play. So if I can engage them in meaningful opportunities for play which are infused with the biblical narrative and its redemptive message, they are more likely to internalize it, apply it, and communicate it as part of their everyday experience.

    I include Bible verse memory, learning to navigate the pages of the Bible, learning Bible facts, and so on. But those things are then infused into the language in which young children understand best: play. For children, play isn’t simply acting silly, although it can and often should be. Play is serious business which allow children to process the world in which they live. As a Children’s Pastor, I embrace this opportunity to interact with the kids as an adult who is observing and connecting, but who respects their unique world of play.

    Perhaps I will post more on this again soon. Thanks for dropping by!

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