Setting Age Appropriate Limits on Activities for Children
What are your limitations? Everyone has them, either physical limitations or emotional, intellectual, or psychological. Everyone has had bumps in their development. Another way of saying this is that everyone has a disability. I may dearly want to play basketball for the NBA, but I may have no real talent, and my height will limit me!
Helpers who work with children sometimes overlook or underestimate the limitations of the children they work with. Children who have had very difficult histories often have severe delays and damages to their developmental processes. These damages can be in the areas of the physical, emotional, psychological, social, moral, and spiritual spheres. Some limitations may not be able to be improved upon very much (such as mental retardation), while others can be effectively treated and developed to near normal (such as social interaction).
So, everyone is disabled and has limitations, it’s just that some of our disabilities are more visible than others. This fact should bring us to a position of compassion for the children we are trying to help. When we try to press our own “developmental envelope”, trying to grow, we know how tough a job this can be, and how long it often takes to see any positive change. So it is too with the children we are trying to help.
Very often, the children we work with have immature behaviors that do not match their chronological age. We look at the child, and expect them to act their age. When they do not, we may become quite frustrated. It may be that the child is limited by their developmental experiences (or the lack of them). One part of our job is to discover what areas of development that the child is lagging in, and then design approaches and experiences for them to help them come up to “age normal“.
Along the way, the child will likely demonstrate their struggles to progress developmentally. Do you recall the mix of excitement, trepidation, and frustration of learning how to ride a bike? How would it be to try to learn to ride at age forty instead of age six? When the child is working on “catching up” in developmental areas, they are often harder to accomplish years after they should have.
It is important for the team trying to help a child to make a thorough assessment of the child’s developmental levels. Recognition of those developmental limitations that will either be very slow to make progress on, or those that will be lifelong and unchangeable is important. It is just as important not to underestimate the ability for the child to make positive gains in the areas of their limitations. Setting priorities of the areas of limitation to be addressed in treatment needs to be an agreed upon agenda for the treatment team.
When a developmental area is particularly disabling to a child, the child may begin to have self esteem issues surrounding it. It becomes the helper’s job not to sugar coat or encourage the child to ignore their developmental limitation, but to learn to accept it and cope with it. In helping a child do this, it may be a good idea to self reveal a bit about your own limitations and disabilities.