Capable and Competent Kids

Children in Australia live in one of the most affluent countries in the world and yet it seems this affluence is harming and in some cases killing them – increases in childhood obesity, youth suicide, technology addiction, failure to launch, mental health disorders.

Our current social construct of childhood is one in which children have few responsibilities, spend too much time indoors and are viewed in terms of their ability to consume rather than their ability to contribute to society. This robs them of a multitude of opportunities that they NEED to develop into healthy, competent adults.

Children of the past and still today in some cultures, have been assumed to have capabilities that we now rarely think they have. This assumption was made in the past out of necessity – children were needed to help the family survive – they participated in paid work, child minding, household chores, in fact all aspects of daily life.

No one is suggesting that we send children back to the workforce to clean chimneys or sell produce in the streets. But it is important to note that children COULD do these things. We have become so fixated on giving our children a long and happy childhood that we downplay their abilities and their resilience. There is a tendency to view children in the western world as incompetent and dependent. A good example is the comparison of 4 year olds from the colonial period in America to a modern 4 year old. Today a 4 year old who can tie his shoelaces is impressive. In colonial times 4 year old girls knitted stockings and mittens and could produce intricate embroidery, at age 6 they spun wool.

Our view of children as potential victims in need of protection is a very modern outlook and it is one that could be the undoing of our children’s physical, mental and spiritual well being.

Developing capable and competent kids is reliant on the development of the mind, body and spirit. This is achieved when a child has the ability to imagine, plan and carry out roles in the areas of self maintenance, productivity (work/school), leisure and rest, whilst interacting with people and their environment (Chapparo & Ranka, 1997). Engaging in a broad range of life roles and the associated routines and tasks, provides children with a sense of reality, mastery, competence and autonomy.

Therefore, I encourage you to challenge the modern view of children as incompetent victims with the expectation and understanding that capable and competent kids develop when they are able to perceive, desire, plan and carry out meaningful roles for the purpose of self maintenance, productivity (work/school), leisure and rest.

Practical ideas for developing capable and competent kids:

  • Let them play – unstructured child led play provides children with opportunities to ‘practice’ life roles and also to take a break from real life and reset
  • Don’t do everything for them – expect children to do things for themselves eg: pack lunch box, carry school bag, get dressed, tidy room
  • Remove all screen based devices from your child’s bedroom – any device in a bedroom will have a negative impact on the amount and quality of sleep
  • Review family schedules to ensure there is a balance in everyone’s routines – time and opportunity to participate in self maintenance, work/school, leisure and rest. If there is an imbalance (ie too much time spent in one or two areas) look at ways of restoring balance to yours or your child’s life.

Written by: Madeline Avci. Mum of three young men. Occupational Therapist. Owner of Jump Up for Kids (including Jump Up Outdoors). Madeline is passionate about making the outdoors part of everyone’s day and supporting families to navigate the challenges of our modern world.

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