Parents often love praising their children and giving them compliments. But is there an unhelpful way to compliment your children? What we say to our children as parents can have a huge impact on their psychological development from childhood all the way into adulthood. This is why it is essential to try your best to optimise wording and phrases when complimenting for your children.
For instance, calling children “mature for their age” can actually have negative psychological effects on them. According to child psychologist Dr Briony Leo, this phrase can do more harm than good.
The Weight of Responsibility
While it is important to teach your children the value of responsibilities, it’s also important to let kids be kids while they still can. By saying that a child is mature for their age, it can put a heavy weight of responsibility on their shoulders. When given maturity as a complement, they can feel they must act older than they really are to gain approval. Reinforcing the behavior of acting older than their age or mature for their age by complimenting them for it, they may well experience external pressure that can influence their behavioural choices.
Cons of Early Maturity
Although many parents would think early maturity is a good sign in children, it can actually be a red flag in their psychological development. According to Briony, while in most cases some children that are more mature than others is nothing to worry about, it becomes problematic when a child worries much more than they should or if they feel the need to take on an excessive amount of responsibility.
This type of behaviour can be referred to as “parentified”, which is a term coined by Briony. A child will mostly likely be come “parentified’ when their parents or guardians cannot handle or cope with the responsibilities of childcare due to mental or physical limitations or illnesses. Although it can sometimes happen regardless of parenting if the child is sensitive to their environment and they respond by panicking, taking on responsibility, or working hard to manage what they cannot control within their environment,
Impact of Early Maturity
Being “parentfied” can have an impact on the child’s life later on. Issues such as struggling to have adult relationships, unable to drop the role of caregiver, feelings of anxiety and anger, facing burnout in their adult work life, getting taken advantage of, and even substance abuse can be caused by a child maturing too early for their age. This is why it is so important for parents to discuss with their children any emotions they’re feeling or trying to cope with. It can put them back on the path of kids being kids.