Maturity: Being able to stick with a job until it is finished. Be able to bear an injustice without having to get even. Be able to carry money without spending it. Do your duty without being supervised.”
I have had the honor of being taught by some fantastic children. You read it right. They taught me. Students can teach valuable lessons. They come from different perspectives and experiences. At times I met children who showed a maturity that is beyond their years.
It is difficult to teach maturity directly. We can support its growth in and out of the classroom; however, maturity has to be modeled by others — at home, in schools, the basketball court, friend groups, at church, and on playgrounds— in order to be successfully duplicated. Some strategies can be used to improve maturity and compliment modeling maturity such as giving children regular jobs to do or taking care of a pet. Letting a child make mistakes and learn from them and then reflecting on those mistakes helps a child to problem solve and learn.
Teaching responsibility is closely tied to developing maturity. Giving children tasks that teach responsibility aids in the development of maturity. In addition, we can directly teach emotional regulation, such as what to do when angry, hurt, or rejected and how to control those feelings and not let them take over. Like maturity, emotional regulation can be modeled. Reflecting with a child or role-playing reinforces this concept. Emotional regulation is a critical factor in living a happier life.
A British study found the following: “So-called non-cognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence, and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier”. —The New York Times Magazine September 11th, 2013.
New York Times Magazine Article https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/magazine/can-emotional-intelligence-be-taught.html
Emotional regulation —the key to a happier more successful life? Not something we hear every day is it? One way to speed up maturity is to have children work and play with more mature children. The truth is that showing maturity is not always consistent in every aspect of a child’s day. A student showing maturity during one task may not be as mature doing something else, at least that is what I say to my wife when I am being immature. All you can do is model maturity. Children need to see it in action so they can then emulate it. I am not saying immature children come from immature parents, well not always anyway. With maturity comes responsibility and vice versa; they go hand in hand. Empathy and compassion also teach maturity and come from being mature. It’s a circle.
When I saw two boys with maturity and compassion beyond their years, I took notice. Girls typically mature earlier than boys emotionally, socially and intellectually. The Watson brothers came to school so full of compassion for others; it was beautiful to see it played out every day. Justin’s and Jesse’s daily routine was to check in with me, their teachers, and friends. On any given day they asked me —“how was your day?” —“how was your morning?” —“how was your drive to work?” They were always genuinely interested. They offered to help with whatever a staff member was doing. They helped others around the school; finding a lost item, helping a hurt friend up to the office. They cared. They showed gratitude to those around them and even thanked others for allowing them to help. Gratitude is a sign of maturity. It was not attention seeking at all; they truly cared. Albeit to some, Justin’s and Jesse’s offers seemed awkward at times; in their heart, they just wanted to help.
After meeting the boy’s parents, it was clear where the foundation had been laid. Mom and Dad had high expectations of their boys, but they had also fostered caring traits, which in turn promoted maturity beyond their years. Justin and Jesse also had a strong character, instilled by their parents and played out daily. That is where their genuine concern and care for others came from. The boys saw maturity, compassion and caring modeled every day for them and in turn, they showed it to others.
I don’t recall the boys ever getting into trouble at school. I am sure they made mistakes as all kids do! I can remember one time on the playground where Jesse was physically upset. With a ball in his hand, he ran over to get me. Someone accused him of not sharing the ball. Upon further questioning, that was not really the case. Jesse held onto the ball because the accuser was not letting someone else play. The accuser had told Jesse’s friend he was out of the four square game for missing the ball.
Jesse was indignant that his friend was being treated unfairly, the person was not out, and they had the right to play. So when Jesse could not resolve the conflict with words, he just held onto the ball which turned into a sort of keep away. I tried not to smile as the students revealed what happened. Jesse’s firm moral conviction would not allow his friend to be tossed to the wayside of the playground. Jesse was upset and he felt it was unfair, but his maturity showed when he merely took the ball and went to find help. He did not have the skills yet to solve the problem alone entirely. He knew enough to seek help and show self-restraint. Jesse’s decision was based on his character; he had a strong sense of right and wrong. He was also passionate enough about the issue to not cave. He stood his ground.
We resolved the conflict, no one got hurt. The game started back up. Fairness won. Jesse went home that day, still bothered by the incident. He talked to his parents about it. Justin, his big brother, gave him advice and encouraged him. Justin was always looking out for his brother. Justin often put others first, another sign of maturity. He reassured him he would keep an eye on them. Justin in his own words pointed out to his brother that conflicts will happen, and that people treat each other that way because they were treated that way. Jesse’s second-grade world changed that day.
These two boys have touched many lives with their acts of caring. What struck me the most was Jesse was thinking of others. Second graders are usually self-centered and in time they mature and grow. Jesse was showing humanity and care for someone else. Justin and Jesse modeled maturity to those around them; they modeled it for me, too.
Maturity comes from more than time and age alone. When parents ask me about retaining their child to keep them in the same grade because of a lack of maturity may sound sensible the reality is that they will not have the role models to encourage maturity. In fact, classmates are often six months to a year younger. I have seen retention slow the maturity process and revert a child’s social and emotional growth. Maturity is modeled by peers and adults, and it cannot be taught in isolation. For the Watson brothers, maturity was modeled for them by educators and their parents. Justin’s and Jesse’s key to maturity growth was due to — high expectations, actively teaching them responsibility, self-restraint, persistence, self-awareness, and caring for others — together this created an environment for growth.
With something to think about…
your friend Chris
For more on maturity check out—Tim Elmore’s article on “The Marks of Maturity.” This is an excellent article on teaching children maturity. He also discusses children today are exposed to more sooner without the maturity to handle it.