Expert Parenting Advice
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"You are not a parent, you are a substitute frontal lobe"

Why you need to be realistic about what your child is actually capable of doing if you want to avoid frustration.

A few weeks ago, I went for a walk by the beach with my 4 year old daughter.

Normally she loves walking with her feet in the water, but this time she had long pants on.

As she started to run towards the water, I reminded her "Pull up your pants, otherwise they'll get wet!"

She pulled up her pants, walked with her feet in the water for a bit, and then came out again, straightening her pants.

A few minutes later, she did the same thing again. She started running towards the water, and I had to remind her "Pull up your pants, otherwise they'll get wet!"

While I was telling her to pull up her pants for the fourth time, I thought about something that Jennifer Kolari said when I spoke to her for our book How To Get Kids To Listen.

Jennifer is one of the US’s leading parenting experts, a parenting speaker, and the founder of Connected Parenting.

Jennifer explained how she sees our role as parents:

And I always say to parents that they’re not actually parents. They’re substitute frontal lobes. Their job is to regulate, organize, prioritize, and do everything that the frontal lobe can do, because their kids don’t have a frontal lobe yet.

Jennifer Kolari

That's why, when my daughter kept running into the water, I had to remind her again and again to pull up her pants - her brain is simply not developed enough to remember to think before doing.

The same is true when your young kids keep breaking house rules.

When I spoke to Dr. Heather Wittenberg, a parenting writer and practicing psychologist, specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, she said:

And a young child, especially up until about the age of seven, cannot consistently remember something like “Don’t come in the kitchen when I’m cooking,” because we know that their prefrontal lobes are not developed enough to hang on to that rule. They need reminders. They need that physical gate.

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

This is a big reason why it can be so frustrating raising young kids. We often have expectations that they are simply not yet able to meet.

Lisa Smith, a parent coach and host of the weekly podcast Real World Peaceful Parenting, also spoke about this when I interviewed her:

I spend a lot of time talking to parents about “What are kids capable of, in terms of brain development,” and I really encourage parents not to ask more of their children than they’re developmentally capable of. I mean, we would never ask a newborn to tie their shoes. It’s silly to even say it.

Lisa Smith

A big part of getting your kids to cooperate is to be realistic about what they can actually do. Setting the right expectations, and understanding what they are developmentally capable of doing, is critical if you want to avoid constantly getting frustrated.