Thank you for your wonderful work with these e-mails. My husband and I really enjoy reading and discussing them. We’ve been getting a little frustrated with my kids regarding something, and we were hoping we could get your opinion on it. When they were younger, my kids were always silly. They made immature comments and acted childish. Now my oldest son is 13 and he still acts like a baby as do the 11, 9 and 6-year-old. It really aggravates us, and we need some advice. Thank you. Sharon, Cedarhurst.
Your issue is one that frustrates parents around the world. When kids are young and act silly, it’s cute and we encourage it. A few short years later, and the same behaviors irritate us. Silly or immature behavior is one of the subjects in the “Nature versus Nurture” debate. Do children act immature because of the personalities they were born with, or is it learned from their parents?
The reason this matters is simple. In order to fix this issue, we need to understand it better. If your kids are acting silly because it’s their personality, it would be dealt with as a behavioral issue. On the other hand, if this is a learned behavior, you would need to understand what you might be doing wrong, and how to correct it.
One father wrote me an email and asked, “Is it OK for a twelve-year-old boy to have a temper tantrum because he doesn’t like supper? He acts like a three-year-old! When will he grow up?”
I happen to be really good friends with this particular father, so I called him up. During our conversation, he confessed that as a young teenager he was extremely immature as well. Eventually, he admitted that his wife wasn’t that mature either. If both parents were immature as kids, it’s not really fair to expect that their children should be models of maturity. I suggested that perhaps he and his wife needed to be a little more tolerant.
That doesn’t mean the situation can’t be rectified. Rather, it means that it should be treated as any other behavioral issue. There needs to be consequences and rewards, and possibly some serious motivation. Most importantly, it requires patience, understanding and love.
However, many kids act immaturely because their parents unintentionally encourage it. When your 3-year-old sticks her tongue out at you, do you laugh or do you ignore it? When your five-year-old makes an inappropriate comment, do you call it “cute”? As parents, sometimes we encourage immature behaviors, but children don’t grow up overnight. We reap what we sow.
It would seem therefore, that it’s definitely in the nature of every child to act silly, and very mature children are the exception, not the norm. Nonetheless, I believe that the way parents react to these behaviors help shape their tendencies going forward. We need to be cognizant of this when our children are young…very young.
I’m not saying that you should read the riot act to your 2-year-old if he does something silly. Yet, clapping and making it into a big deal is extremely unwise. I’m sure it’ll happen a few times, and that’s fine. If, however, you consistently encourage your children through positive reinforcement, you can rest assured they will end up being immature as they get older.
I have included a few tips to help deal with the immaturity. As always, some of these might work with some families, some with others.
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Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.