At a certain point our adorable babies grow into toddlers and indications that we cannot perpetually play "goo-goo, gaa-gaa" with them emerges. By the age of three or four, or maybe even as late as five, the reality that they won't be "little" forever becomes clear.
It is around this age that we as parents need to really account for the reality that they will grow into adults. And we should have a plan to influence this reality. I offer a few shaping questions that can help in setting up "the plan."
These initial "what" questions are:
1) What do you define as an adult?
2) What are the key characteristics you want your eventual adult child to have?
3) What age do you start teaching your child the attributes you desire?
The answer to the "what" questions shape your approach during these critical years. Including when the shaping years begin and the subjects that are introduced.
I start with defining adulthood because it gives a tangible reference to an endpoint (although it is actually a transition point, but more on that later). That definition varies, it can be age or accomplishment. It may be 18 or 21, or graduate of high school or college, or living on their own. Any of those may be your definition, whichever applies, be clear about it. Because, at the point they become adults, the characteristics you want instilled should be evident. This is important because when you back-trace to what age do you begin, the time to teach is finite.
There is a definitive time of cognitive maturity and youthful interest. This is the primary time we as parents have to shape our children. And, in my view, there is about 13-14 years, total (for their entire life). That may sound like a long time, but there is sort of a bell curve when you look for optimum maturity and interest. Meaning, the younger the child (5-7) = lower cognitive maturity but more interest. So, they will listen to most, but understand less. But when older (say 14-15) the child has higher maturity but less interest (understand more, listen to less). This dynamic underpins the premise of my critical shaping years, roughly from 6-12. Those years are when the "bell curve" is highest, so we as parents should be the most aggressive in teaching our children. In fact, I believe if you misuse the critical shaping years, you may actually go from 13-14 years to nearly zero (separate from tangential and proximal lessons passed on).
Lastly, what are you teaching? Traced to those characteristics you want your adult child to have. From most important to least, the full list should be deliberately taught. The deliberate part actually starts with knowing the "what." These attributes should be known so that the foundational lessons can be introduced early on, then re-introduced and reinforced as the children get older. Once the what, and when, are established, you can invest in the how.
My views on the "how" will be covered in a separate post