Parenting the Young Child: Ages 4-8
These are the family years of high activity, rapid growth and emerging personalities. Children between the ages of 4-8 are in love with life and all that it can give them. At the beginning of this stretch, 4 and 5 year olds busy themselves by making daily discoveries about themselves and their world. By the ages of 6-8, children are trying to make sense about what they are have discovered. Four and five year olds are still fairly self centered and bossy. By ages six through eight they become able to see what life is like from someone else’s perspective. Physically, the entire span of these years is filled with growth and refinement of motor skills (four and five year olds still prefer gross motor activities but by age eight many enjoy fine motor hobbies and games).
The growth and development that you can see is actually driven by amazing changes within your child’s body – especially the brain. This organ that weighs just over 3 pounds is collecting, sorting and storing everything that comes to it from the senses. Even though the complete process of brain development is not known, one simple truth has been proven – children in this age group have brains that trap information faster than at any other time in life.
Parenting pre school and school age children is both exciting and exhausting. There are more questions, more safety issues, more needs (and wants), more independence… Let’s take a look at some ways to make this stretch of family life manageable and pleasing to God.
COMMUNITY OF PERSONS
As you might recall, the first task of each family is to form a community of persons. This means that as parents, it is your obligation to create a loving, supportive and consistent home where your children know they are loved, valued and secure. Every family member should find peace and comfort within their home. It should be a place of low conflict, high expectations and high affection.
Keep Your Marriage Strong
This may seem redundant, but the foundation of your family is only as strong as your marriage commitment. Children know when the love between their parents is solid and steadfast and they know when it isn’t. Children experience less stress when the love between parents is stable and joyful. When kids experience less stress, they are able to maximize their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth and development. During these active years, make sure that you schedule daily conversations that go beyond reporting on what is happening in the family (John did this, Amy did that. Trish has a game tomorrow and Josh has homework.) Try rapport conversations instead of reporting. (Your day was so busy – tell me about it. On a scale of 1-5 how is your energy today? Let’s sit down, catch our breath. How are you doing?)
Imagine how much each person in your family learns and experiences each day. Unless all of you spend every hour of every day together, there is a need to establish some family time to share what each family member is doing and thinking. Here are some easy ways to make those connections.
Every family should have their unique customs. These can be daily (blessing each child when they leave the house) or seasonal (going to midnight Mass on Christmas). The key is to make the activity some that is repeated over and over again and meaningful to all members of the family. Traditions and rituals will multiply as your family grows older. Enjoy adding more and more to your family.
Try some of these ideas or make up your own.
The easiest way to create tension in a family is to create a schedule with no down time. As parents, control of who gets involved in what activity so that family time is preserved. Consider the following;
The next task of the family is to serve life. In this age range, serving life means that you will hold onto the principles of responsible parenthood which include;
As your children reach the ages of 4-8, they are becoming more aware of who they are and what they mean to others. They know they are a member of the family. They know they are either a boy or a girl. They know they are a friend. And they know that being in relationship is important to their well-being. As their understanding of relationships grows, your parenting strategies should include the following.
As the parent, you are in charge of how your family will develop. Have the confidence and courage to be genuine and do what is right! There are three important steps to being an authentic parent.
This is the time to become very attentive to your child’s development. Notice their physical growth, social behaviors, intellectual preferences, emotional tendencies and moral strengths. As you watch each child, identify their God-given gifts and human failings. To help you do this we suggest the following:
Each of these interactions will help you know your child’s unique goodness. As a parent, it will be up to you to encourage and support the behaviors, talents and abilities that are right and to discourage that which is wrong.
Count on this – your children’s judgment is immature during these formative years. They need plenty of guidance and discipline from you to correctly form their conscience. To that end, we suggest;
We can’t say this enough – serving the life of your family must include honor. Honor is a three step process
It might be a good idea to make a family poster of these three steps and post in where everyone can see it.
A virtue is a firm habit to do what is right and good. There are seven main virtues that should fill each family.
Each of these virtues will help your child develop her unique goodness and strengthen her ability to resist what is wrong.
In a perfect world the family would positively impact society and society would help and support the family. Unfortunately, today many families feel like society is at odds with the virtues and morals they are instilling in their children. There is a grave temptation to isolate from the culture and to become an “island” that exists independently. The Church rightly asks that families put effort into reshaping the culture. This is a tall order, but one that can bear great fruit when attempted by all.
Let’s look at viable ways for you to develop both your family and society during this stage of life.
Developing a sense of common good and brotherly love begins in your own home. Give you children ample opportunities to serve each other on a consistent basis. Here are a few suggestions.
Cultivate a spirit of brotherhood and a sense of the common good by getting to know the larger communities in your area.
Each community has a special history. Take the time to learn about your city.
Serving others as a family can result in a deeper understanding of humanity and gratitude for the gifts you have been given by God. Each community has needs. Find some way that you can give back to those in your area. Here are a few places that always need extra help.
Children at this age learn their faith mostly by imitation. They watch everything their parents do. Your main task as parents is to model what you want your children to grow into. If you want your children to pray, then you must pray. If you want your children to have integrity, then you must practice honesty. If you want your children to seek God's will for their lives, then your children have to see you putting God first in everything you do.
In addition to modeling, it is important to have your children participate in the faith as well. This reinforces what they see you do and helps them grow toward owning the faith for themselves.
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