Signs of Great Parenting: Pre-School to Age Six

It can be difficult to really know how our parenting is going. There are many children who seem to be fine when they are young but then go off the rails, and others who seem rather childish and end up being more mature in the long run. It can be useful to remember that we are raising good adults, and day-to-day events may not necessarily be indicative of our children’s future.

I’ve posted about signs of great parenting in babies and toddlers here: Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers.

(Firstly, don’t panic. Often being a good-enough parent is good enough. The information is indicative of things going really well, if it doesn’t match your children – consider how you might make small changes rather than feeling guilty and doing nothing, or dismissing it out of hand because the information makes you feel uncomfortable.)

Children with great parenting, in this age group, are open and enthusiastic about life. They are brave and adventurous, but understand their limitations.

There is no sign of cynicism or sulkiness. They like to spend lots of time with other children their age, but still need to have a strong sense of connection with their parents. They don’t tend to be attention seeking (Attention Seeking is a Big Fat Lie). They greet their parents warmly after separations and have great natural eye-contact with an increasing range of people.

Other adults generally respond to well-parented children of this age, in a calm, matter of fact and age appropriate way. Contrast this response with other children with whom adults often become controlling and angry, or others again whom they indulge, excuse and infantise. (The behaviours of the children illicit these responses from adults – unless the adults are conscious of what’s going on and can deal with them in a more helpful way.)

Likewise, children with great parents can respond to other adults warmly, and meaningfully. Those with an Owl temperament may be reluctant to do so with people they are unsure about, but with those who are familiar and ‘safe’ they will usually engage with others as comfortably as any other child. Owls will still, however, hate being the focus of intense adult attention.

Another great indicator, from the age of four, is their ability to manage delayed gratification. This is an old test, but a good one. Put a treat food in front of your child, say a chocolate biscuit. Tell them they can have this one now or two biscuits in 20 minutes time, and leave them alone with the first lone biscuit. The child who can wait the 20 minutes for two biscuits is doing just fine.  

Being cuddly but not clingy at the pre-school to age six stage is a key indicator of healthy parenting. Children may be cuddly to different degrees, but generally a cuddly child is a contented child. This does not give us permission to foist our cuddles on them, however. A truly cuddly child will come to us. If a child is still clingy after the age of four-and-a-half it is unlikely to be because of temperament. (The exceptions would be Owls when  tired or in a very new situation: who I would still expect to be clingy under those circumstances, but otherwise fine.) Boring Cuddles ( Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing) are a great strategy for dealing with a clingy child.

The most important thing to remember at this age and stage is that constant independence is NOT a great sign. These children are still developmentally checking in with us: are we as there for them as they need us to be; are we a reliable source of safety – day and night; and are we the constant in their lives. It is feasible that they still want to be with us at night; they still might want help getting dressed some mornings; they might want us to wipe their bottom; they might want to be carried sometimes; and they may want to eat off our plate. It is important to understand the reasons behind what they are doing – it’s not because they are baby-ish or poorly raised – they are checking us out – are we really as there for them as we claim to be. These behaviours are not going to continue forever, and biologically children are built to have our dependency needs met first, and then independence naturally follows. In small bursts. Sometimes in very small bursts.

At some stage between the age of four and a half and six-ish children go through a time where they seem a bit lost. It was suggested to me, and it seemed to hold true for our older children, this was a sign that they were changing how they used their imaginations. Prior to this stage, the stick really was a snake – after this stage they consciously understood they were imagining the stick to be a snake. I was told to be patient. During this period (a few weeks), the children followed me around the house but, like all stages, it passed. Working with them on physical jobs like folding washing, bringing in wood, gardening, sweeping or baking helped us to get us all through with minimal stress.

By the age of six, differences in temperament are beginning to mellow if things are going well. Highly sensitive Owls are not always clingy and shy; Hares are measured in their risk taking; Butterflies don’t use their charm or cute-ness to manipulate; and good old Tortoises are as often outside playing as they are inside eating, sleeping or blobbing out.

And lastly, well-parented children at this stage are happy to comply with reasonable requests, and sometimes volunteer to help out when things need to be done.  They still naturally mimic our behaviours, speech and gestures. In their minds, adults are still heroes, who know e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

If things at your house don’t seem to match this list, it’s not too late to change direction and follow different advice. Human brains are hugely adaptable: we learn, unlearn and relearn constantly. If things at your house do match this list, you’ve put in the biologically* correct ground work. Keep going in the same direction and from now on, aside from major hiccups, life will be easier for you than for other parents. Congratulations.

* It doesn’t matter if we believe the biological template for great parenting came from God or evolution – it is there, and how well our parenting matches that template directly affects on how well our children develop into moral, healthy, mature, self-assured people.

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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11 Responses to Signs of Great Parenting: Pre-School to Age Six

  1. hakea says:

    Walter Mischel’s research conducted in the 1960’s, is still being used to assess delayed gratification and impulse control in young children. It was called the ‘marshmallow experiment’ and tested whether children would take the marshmallow now, or a greater reward of many marshmallows twenty minutes later. An oldie but a goodie, and no-one got electrocuted like so many research studies in the 60’s before ethics became important!

    • kloppenmum says:

      Damned ethics interferring with all that fun!
      But seriously, thanks for the comment and all that.
      If you get a chance could you take a look at Nathan’s latest post on authority (local locale, link on my page). I’d really like to hear your take on it…basically come and back me up, would ya?!

      • hakea says:

        It’s the research geek in me, too many years at uni, gotta reference, reference, reference.

        Darn it, you beat me to the kid in the tree post. Lovely photo.

        Heading over to Nathan’s place now…

        • hakea says:

          I agree with Nathan. My work with kids has given me insight into how clever and responsive they are when they are given the opportunity to communicate their own needs. Young ones, dysfunctional ones, traumatised ones – they can be very impressive. But I am a strengths based, solution-focused practitioner, with a bit of narrative therapy thrown in for good measure. As I said before on another of Nathan’s post, it doesn’t mean I let them take over the assylum.

          • kloppenmum says:

            The assylum is my issue, in a previous post he talks about negotiating with a three year old about whether he can even bring a coat in the car on a cold day. My thing isn’t the children growing in self-knowledge and making their own decisions or communicating their needs, but ensuring that adults are still making basic decisions for them, as adults with greater life experience.

            • hakea says:

              The whole negotiation with little kids around basic needs is something I haven’t come across before now, and with all my study on child development I find it hard to believe they are capable of. But I’m open to learning more.

              The parents who use it may have found some special skills that I am not aware of. Certainly they swear by it. Maybe they have placid, sensible children? I don’t think it would have worked with my ‘wild things’. I can negotiate stuff now with the 8 an 9 year-olds, but the 5 year-old is still too crazy.

              There was the trend in permissive parenting a while ago, which researcher Diana Baumrind suggested was not an effective parenting model. There is also children learning from natural consequences which is probably more suitable for kids over 5.

              Dr Thomas Phelan says that parents should be like wild animal trainers. They kindly and patiently and lovingly do something over and over again until the little critters “get it”. They usually have a bond with the wild thing as well.

              The people who respond to your posts appear to have the same aims for their children, but they may do things a little differently. They appear to have their children’s best interests at heart, and provide reflective parenting. They may make mistakes, they may learn from them, and tweak things over time. They all talk about the deep love they have for their kids.

              At the thick edge of the wedge, there are kids who are sleeping rough, hungry, overtired, overwrought, illiterate, dirty, uncared for, beaten. They are the ones I worry about a lot. Reflective parenting is a long way off for these kids

              • kloppenmum says:

                I hear you, and you are absolutely right about the kids doing it tough. And I believe you are right about my audience, and yours too. I do like to challenge people to really think about what they are doing and why – not just blindly following the Super Nanny or any other expert. My concern really is those educated parents who still believe the ‘experts’ who are clearly advocating parenting which ruins attachment and healthy development. At the moment I see so many educated stressed families heading toward chaos and their kids heading towards a tougher life than what their parents ever intended. Hopefully, a few of those stop by and pause to consider there are alternatives.
                I am strongly anti-early negotiation and reasoning because I have seen it fail many, many times, I know people in their 20s who say it was one of the greatest disservices rendered on them, and I have seen our own children become more calm and happy once we took a little more control of what was going on – not in a mean way, just – this is what we do.

  2. kloppenmum says:

    I don’t know how you remember so many references… I could claim that I was studying while with babies, but so were you, damn it. Great to have them though, I agree.
    Have hundreds of kid in tree pics, it was trying to find one without a face showing clearly that was the problem.

  3. faemom says:

    That was a fascinating post. Now I have to watch my boys for the next few days to compare notes.

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