Often when you hear parents talking about maturity, you hear them refer to their children as being either immature or mature. Actually, maturity is not an either/or quality. It is something that children acquire over time as they learn skills and develop the capacity to deal with the complexities of life. At any given moment, children are in various phases of growth and maturity with regard to the following areas.
Can they write legibly enough to read their own writing? How adept is their eye-hand coordination? Do they have the physical skill to dress themselves? Are they large for their age? Did they begin to walk at an early age? Do they pick up the ability to ride a bike easily and early? Are their muscles developed well enough to be able to control their bowel movements?
How patiently can they wait for a toy that they asked for? How well can they handle the frustration of not being able to build a lego tower? Are they able to control their anger and express it in constructive ways? How well do they handle disappointment or losing in a game?
How willing are they to share an item with a friend or sibling? How well are they able to play in large groups? How cooperative are they when playing games? How do they get along with peers?
How well are they able to read the instructions for a construction toy they just received? How well do they do in school? Are they mature enough to understand abstract concepts such as God, death or mathematical ideas?
Do they understand cause and effect and time concepts? How well can they relate what they are learning in school to everyday life situations?
Are they willing to admit when they have been unkind to someone? How well do they understand the concept of helping others, or acknowledging their mistakes? How well do they understand the concept of honesty and not cheating? How well are they able to empathize with others?
Making Sense of Maturity
- All children mature uniquely and at their own pace in each area of development. Children may be mature in one area and immature in another. For example, children may understand the importance of giving to others in need (moral maturity) but still not be willing to share with their friends a toy they just purchased (social and emotional maturity).
- Sometimes children’s maturity in one area leads adults to expect them to be mature in other areas. For example, if a toddler is large for his age and physically very coordinated, people might expect him to be advanced verbally and in his interactions with other children. Similarly, a child who able to read early (intellectual maturity) may also be expected to handle frustration and disappointment (emotional maturity) with greater maturity than one would otherwise expect of child of his age. These unrealistic expectations can lead to frustrations on the part of the adults and lowered self-esteem and frustration for the children.
- When considering whether your children are mature or not, you need to consider each area of growth and to what extent or degree each of your children has developed in each area.
- True maturity occurs when children have the skills or ability to do a task and have acquired the internal motivation to complete the task on their own. Things go smoothest when your children are both capable of and willing to complete a task. For example, if they are able to tie their shoes (capable), and they are enthusiastic about wanting to do that for themselves (motivated), they may eagerly put their shoes on each morning so that they can tie their own shoes.
- Difficulties arise if your children have only the ability, but do not have the desire or conversely, if they have the desire, but have not yet developed the ability. With potty learning, for example, sometimes very young children go through a short period when they are motivated to use the potty, but they are physiologically not capable of doing so. In other situations, children may be physically capable of using the toilet but they are not interested in doing so. Both components, capability and motivation, need to be in place for the achievement of potty learning.
Why is knowing this important?
One of the most important things that parents can do for their children is to determine realistic expectations for them. If parents expect too much, they can become disappointed and frustrated, children’s self-esteem will be eroded, conflict may increase, and children may stop trying. If parents expect too little, less than what their children are capable of, children will not be challenged and will not meet their full potential. Being aware of your children’s maturity levels in each area of development can help you to find the balance between expecting too much and expecting too little from your children.
For more information about this topic, check out the following books. Purchasing books from our website through Amazon.com supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
If you found this article helpful, click here to make a donation to The Center for Parenting Education. Your support will enable us to continue to provide quality information free of charge.