Let Kids be Kids

A parent brings a bouquet of roses to a child playing the part of a bush in the winter pageant.  A father buys his son a drum set as a reward for eating carrots.  And the classic, in my view, the parent who demanded a retake of the school photo because her child was in the second row of the picture and not side-by-side her friends in the first.  Such relegation has without doubt scarred the child for life!    Extreme maybe, real yes.

Whatever happened to child-time and what I like to call “good suffering”?   We don’t need constant rewards, we don’t need to feel special or good 24/7.  It’s good for kids to be bored, unhappy, disappointed and confused, to feel deprived, to tolerate longing, and to be cold, wet, or hungry for more than one and a half seconds before they graduate from high school. It is good for them to have a crabby, unenlightened, uninspiring fifth grade teacher. Why? Because they are absolutely for sure going to have a crabby, unenlightened, uninspiring boss at some time when they have a job one day, and you can bet they will have a shallow, bossy best friend to boot. All of this is preparation for life. These normal rough patches provide an opportunity to let go, even a little, and to grow into happy, healthy, contributing human beings.

A mom was checking out schools for her four year old daughter, Amy, who seemed, at four, to have a strong interest in science. “At another school I visited, the kindergarten teachers put streamers in the trees to demonstrate the properties of wind to the students,” she reported. “I’m hoping you would do that here too. I wouldn’t want Amy to miss out.” The teacher hesitated and thought for a moment. “We have leaves on our trees,” she responded. “They do kind of the same thing. Can’t guarantee you we’ll be using streamers.”

Too many parents want everything fixed by the time their child is eight. They want academic perfection, a child as capable as any other child in the Western hemisphere, the world in fact.  Children develop in fits and starts, but nobody has time for that anymore. No late bloomers, no slow starters, nothing unusual accepted! If a child doesn’t get straight A’s, his parents start fretting that he has a learning disability or a motivation problem. Parents seem to think that children only come in two flavours: learning disabled and gifted. Not every child has unlimited potential in all areas. This doesn’t mean most kids won’t be able to go to college or university and to compete successfully in the adult world. Almost all of them will.  Parents just need to relax a little and be patient. If not, their otherwise perfectly capable kids will grow up looking like handicapped royalty.  These kids will believe that the earth does not revolve around the sun, but around them.

When our son was in kindergarten he didn’t do a lick of academic work.  He learned how to get along with others, how to sing a few songs, and he made ashtrays for us out of clay.  Yes ashtrays! It wasn’t boot camp for the second grade standardized tests or a pre-cursor to a PhD. It played to the wonders of childhood, not parents’ paranoia on steroids.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, discovered in his studies of highly successful adults, that few world leaders or those who have made great contributions to science or art got straight A’s in school. Instead, they have other qualities in common. They have high levels of emotional intelligence defined by Goleman as empathy, optimism, good teamwork, a sense of humor, as well as the ability to bounce back from failure. Good parenting, communities and society, with emphasis on fellowship, independence and age-appropriate challenges make a unique contribution to the development of the whole person — disappointments, obstacles, and skinned knees — no extra charge.

Aren’t we all children, constantly growing and developing, falling and clambering back up and arguing and laughing? Take time to watch a sunrise, marvel at a butterfly, listen to the leaves rustle, and maybe even ride a bike without wearing a helmet!

Are we really here to be first overall, to win a mythical race? Maybe our role is to look after the racers.  We are but one amongst a plethora of wonders.  We do have responsibilities, but the universe does not rest directly on our shoulders alone.  Let’s do our best, do our part, and enjoy life itself.  And above all, let’s not grow-up too fast!

Other views are welcome.

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