We model actions carefully by using two hands to lift a glass, we model manners diligently by always saying please and thank you, we model respect by asking our child’s opinion. But do we model joy? Do we model a thirst for knowledge? Do we model tranquility?
Are we showing our children that life is a wonderful thing to live or an endless round of work and repeat?
These were questions that I was forced to ask myself recently after observing Alfie repeating an action that I had been modelling absent-mindedly for a while. He picked up a ball, rolled it down his Wobbleboard then returned it to the shelf. What? I didn’t even know he’d been watching all the dozens of times I’d done that before!
He had! In fact his absorbent mind had been hard at work. What else had he been absorbing?
Had he also noticed when I’d been too distracted to clap along with his delight at seeing a leaf falling from a tree? Had he been watching when I failed to giggle over his ability to mimic an elephant (for the 50th time that day)? Had he seen me flicking through my phone during story time as I recited his favourite story from memory? Had he sensed that I wasn’t as awed by the sight of a bird washing in our stream as he was?
Did it matter?
I think it matters, what all these occasions told him was that I didn’t value his enthusiasm and joy – two core traits of childhood. I was accidentally showing him that life was a serious thing with only a limited resource of joy.
Spend time with pre-teens (the group formerly known as children) and it is depressingly clear that our youngest generation are jaded. By the time they reach 9, 10 and 11 many children are world weary, utterly immune to the unbridled freedom and sparkling spontaneity that being a child brings.
As an example I will tell you about an 11 year old pupil I had. She was due to receive the results of an exam that would decide which school she would go to. Instead of ripping open the envelope before it had hit the doormat she waited for hours until there was someone in the house capable of live streaming her reaction so she could show her friends. This was one of the most exciting days in her academic life and she was incapable of seizing the moment.
When did children learn to dismiss joy? What has taught them to ignore the natural surges of excitement that are part of being a child? Where has their wonder gone?
The rejection of Wonder
There is no simple answer and the truth lies in your home and wider community. However from what I have seen there are two main causes.
The first lies in modern childhood. Children are entering the adult world before they are ready. They have tough schedules of school, homework and extracurricular activities and the academic demands are higher every graduation. Now more than every your child is expected be a good all-rounder. On top of this they are also under extreme social pressure thanks to social media and have adopted a ‘performative’ approach to life with a constant score of likes and loves measuring their worth.
The second fault lies with us, with parents and educators. With distracted parents who have half a mind on work and the other on getting dinner made, shopping ordered, the dog groomed and all the other things that ‘matter’ more than laughter. It also lies with pressured teachers who have targets and standards to meet. Teachers who have to say things like “That’s a silly thing to do,” and “That’s not very sensible,” if they’re going to get to assembly on time. The fault lies with adults who no longer value wonder.
Childhood Is More Than A Trial of Adulthood
We need to show children that enthusiasm matters, passion matters and curiosity matters, because these are the things that make adulthood worthwhile. They matter far more than the standard lesson attributed to childhood time fillers like learning to work as a team, managing a work load, being responsible, meeting deadlines and whatever other life skill an adult can spend their career pursuing.
We show our children these things matters by joining in, by clapping our hands, by squealing with delight, by laughing out loud, by never telling them “That’s silly”, by entering their childhood world on their terms. And we need to do it for much longer than just the infant and toddler years. I often feel sorry for tiny kids entering first class, having spent their first years giggling and engaged in trendy ‘free-play’ being confronted by classrooms with desks and star charts and uniforms must be a confusing shock.
When we are with our children wether at home or at school we HAVE TO TREAT THEM LIKE CHILDREN. Anecdotally I cannot see how replicating the demands of adulthood in our children’s lives is doing them any good and statistically I cannot see it either; study after study is sounding alarm bells about mental health, obesity, addiction and sexual misbehaviour which we cannot keep ignoring.
None of this is intended as Mum Bashing or Teacher Bashing (I hold both of those roles) but merely a reminder that there is more to a child’s life than good behaviour and good achievements.
Yes there’s a time for being sensible and yes there’s (a lot!) of time for discipline but in world that is full of so much hurt there should be more time for joy.