There's something that I read a long time ago in a book on divorce, about the way that kids behave when things are going on in their lives that cause them stress. I wish I could remember which book it was, because I've thought about that little snippet a lot lately.
What the author said was something along these lines; when a kid is stressed by something like a divorce, it would be really easy for adults if the kid sat down and cried and said "I'm so sad about the divorce". Sympathy would well up in us, we'd hug them and kiss them, and we'd do anything to keep them from feeling sad. Unfortunately, what kids actually do is act up. They say "that's not fair!" when we ask them to do something that's their chore and they've done without question for months. They ask "Why can't I watch the Dark Knight? But why not?" fifty times in three days even after you've told them 49 times that it's a R-rated movie and they're only eleven. They claim that their homework is optional, or that they don't have any, even when the teacher's blog says they do; or that comic books are acceptable for homework reading when you're pretty sure they're not.
Since then I've also noticed that on the rare times that a kid does say something like "I'm sad about you missing my concert", it often seems highly manipulative and not like they're expressing true feeling. It's like they're trying it out, listening to themselves say it and seeing how it works. It doesn't exactly make me feel sympathetic.
The challenge for me is to remember that the more challenging the behaviour, the more likely it's coming from a place of stress in their life. I think I'm doing better at not taking bad behaviour personally, but I need to get a lot better at responding to it.
I know this is nothing too illuminating, but where I'm going with it is trying to work on a continuum of abilities. I'm dealing with an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, and I miss the sections in "What To Expect the Toddler Years" where it said "What Your Toddler May Be Doing Now". I liked how it was broken down into your toddler "should be able to...", "will probably be able to...", "may possibly be able to...", and finally "may even be able to...". I'd like to know what an 11-year-old should be able to do, in a lot of different arenas - emotionally, socially, intellectually, physically, and organizationally. Obviously each kid is different and practice in things makes an impact, but I'd love to have a chart for each dimension where I could pinpoint where a kid is, but also show him where he goes from there in his development. Ages wouldn't even have to be attached to it, necessarily, since that implies a judgement if he is above or below his age level.
To give an example, here are two social skills; taking turns when playing a game, and conversing in a group (listening, waiting for an opening, saying something relevant). Fine motor physical skills include dealing cards without creasing them, and writing legibly. I'm hoping that collecting these ideas and organizing them will help me capture information from some of the good books I've been reading lately. So, when I come up with anything, you'll be the first to know!