Sunday, 3 November 2013

The 97:400 Rule

I just made this up, so bear with me..3063416392_3cfe3e014e_o

A lovely woman online was bemoaning her five-year-old. Trust me, I know. I’m not doddering enough yet to have forgotten five-year-olds (5yos, henceforth).

I made a comment about how parents generally believe that it’s reasonable to expect a 5yo to… well, the list was pretty long. I suggested the list was, well, deranged. “Listen, be respectful, remember to brush teeth, get dressed when told to, eat breakfast” … et cetera went the long, long list…

5yos are, I know for sure, at least two years prior to developing the brain parts necessary to be able to cogitate concrete reality. While they’re walking around and talking that big vocabulary and generally looking a lot like little real humans, what they really are is real big infants, complete with magical thinking, little impulse control and no understanding of the difference between ‘mom prefers this to be true’ and ‘objective reality.’ They are at least two years’ off Concrete Operations, and still firmly implanted in Magical Thinking.

Parents might think it’s reasonable that these ‘mini adults’ can or will or should do . . . whatever . . . but they can’t, won’t and, in fact, should not.

So, what’s the 97:400 Rule?

Any parent with a child under, let’s call it 7 for tidiness… could be older, is probably capable younger but don’t count on it… any parent who thinks they can spend more than 3% of their time outside touching/hearing range of their child is probably going to spend a frightful amount of time frustrated. The rule is:

If you choose not to spend 97% of your time with your under-7 child(ren) expect to expend 400% of the energy you have available in any given day week month year dealing with the fallout of the lack of supervision.

There is an alluring cultural lie, that children ‘should’* something-something-or-other… (obey, understand, ‘get it,’ follow directions, respect someone, remember the rules . . .  oooh, the list is SO long.)

The fact is, prior to the brain development necessary to get concrete operations, a child does not have the capacity to ‘get it’ –about any of those things.

Any child you see anywhere who is performing those behaviours at that age has been rehearsed (probably coerced) and is mimicking, not understanding what they seem to be doing. That is: Shirley Temple was a great dancer for a 3yo, and not a good dancer for an 8yo and a not-very-good dancer at 13. Performances can be rehearsed. Understanding requires development.

Parents can ‘get it’ that kids need near-constant supervision until they’re about seven, or . . .

. . .  they can spend about four times as much energy as they have available in any given day, week, month, year . . . dealing with the fallout of unsupervised children.

97:400 . . . you pick.

*beware of the word ‘should’ –within traps, expectations, disappointments and frustration lie



  1. I know that you are right. I find it difficult managing everything else in my life if I'm constantly supervising my children. I cannot cook, clean, use the restroom, bathe, work at home, socialize...involving them in these tasks results in more stress for me, as they either don't want to or don't do it right. Letting them play while I do these tasks results in more stress for me, as they then find things to get into or do that I have to clean up later. I am often overwhelmed and frustrated either way.

  2. Truly, the only people I know who do this with skill and calm are planners: they make dinner early in the day while the kids are happily entertained and not at all hungry or depleted yet, or they make dinner after dinner, when kids are happy to have mum doing anything but starting the bedtime stuff...

    I won't pretend that was me... but the super-small house helped. There was just a limit to how far away from me they could ever be. Not that I'm suggesting you add a move to the rest of the complications of having small children...