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Children Are Not Mini-Adults

Child in oversized suit sitting at desk drinking from a mug like an adult would
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Children are new to this world. We forget that sometimes.

To explain my point, I will give two examples:

A child makes up a word to complete the sentence.

Almost all children make words up as they learn to speak. It is a developmental win, actually. It is also very cute.

When my daughter was maybe three years old, whenever I asked her to be careful she would respond "I am becarefulling."

Becarefulling is not a word. Nobody taught her this word. She made it up.


Because she had a need to communicate but didn't have the words that conveyed the meaning, so she made up the word to the best of her ability.

She succeeded in communicating. When I heard the word, I understood what she meant. It is not "the right way" but it was effective.

It was now my turn to teach her "I am being careful" instead of "I am becarefulling".

A child behaves in a socially unacceptable way

Almost all children will try to resolve a situation on their own as they learn their community's social expectations. It is also a developmental milestone.

Three-year-old Tommy is playing with his blocks and another child comes around. Child starts playing with Tommy's blocks, Tommy doesn't like the idea of sharing and feels that he needs to do something about it. His first reaction is to push the other child, or throw the blocks, or throw a tantrum.

It is possible that no one taught Tommy to push, hit, or throw, but he had a problem and he needed to solve it. He fixed his problem to the best of his ability.

He succeeded in sending his message across. It may not be socially acceptable, but it was effective. The other child probably either cried, walked away, or fought back. All of which should have attracted the attention of a nearby adult to handle the problem.

Adult behavior at this point is often negative. Tommy would likely get a timeout, get removed from the situation, get yelled at, or get his blocks taken away from him.

Did you notice the difference?

In case of the made-up word, adults have an understanding that children are still learning the language. They will often gently correct it and repeat the correct words until the child learns it.

However, in case of the made-up action, adults almost assume that children should know how to behave and respond negatively to the behavior by punishing the child. As if the child should know better.

This may come as news, but


Children are new to social interactions and expectations just as they are new to language.

As the adults in their lives, it is our job to teach them how to behave in different situations.

Better yet, we can plant seeds to socially acceptable problem-solving. That's teaching our children how to think about problems and solve them in a socially acceptable way. As these seeds grow, children will gain independence in their problem-solving. This time, in a healthy and effective way, because now they know better.

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