Friday, 12 April 2013

A successful child is a happy child...?

Talking with a colleague at work today we got onto the topic that many people seem to view a happy child as a successful child - which then assumes that an unhappy child is unsuccessful.

One could say that my colleague, being considerably younger than myself, has been a child of this time - while it feels that I was a child of another time... (yikes, did I just write that!)
its OK not to get it right all the time...

Anyway it was VERY interesting to listen to her tell me about what it was like as a teenager, (her own experiences when she was one, as well as those of her younger siblings now)... that there is a feeling that you have to be happy, that you have to be able to be competent at everything and that its hard to acknowledge that you need help. Surely this is not what we want for our children as they grow up - having to wear a mask of happiness and success, and hiding their real feelings and insecurities.

This made me wonder about the focus we have on "the competent child" that maybe we as adults are misinterpreting it - that maybe it should not be so much about "I can" but "we can" - that our efforts to make children independent maybe is contributing to them feeling alone, unable to ask for help, unable to admit their feelings, as the need to prove they are successful by being competent and happy overrides  their need to seek and receive the help they need. Especially if everyone is going around as competent and independent individuals, who wants to admit that they are not. 
Where has the group feeling gone? 
Where has the sense of community gone? 
Has this contributed to free-play after school on the streets not existing now, as it did before - we are all a bunch of individuals that cannot ask for help, that does not trust each other - and always feels the need to be competent and therefore we do not need others to take care of our families unless we have paid a professional for their services...

Has acknowledging failure become taboo? Do we need to be competent and independent and outwardly happy all the time to be successful - 
do we really need to prove that we are successful all the time?

To help others is something we all need to learn... but we also need to learn how to ask for help and how to receive help? And that admitting that we cannot manage everything on our own is perfectly fine...

...and this is something we need to be helping our preschoolers with. Maybe then we can take another look at how we are supporting a child to be competent and independent - do we also give enough time to show them how to help - to offer help to the child, not because they NEED help, but just because you want to help (to allow them to practice receiving help), to give time for the children to help each other, and also to make helping more visible between adults; that even adults need help, that being an adult does not mean that you can do everything yourself...

Hopefully then we can provide the support for the children to develop into competent teenagers and adults, capable of asking for help, capable of knowing when to ask for help and capable of not feeling ashamed of needing help...

Maybe we need to be doing activities where the children, preschoolers and all through the school years, get to practice helping and receiving help. that they learn to understand that success does not require happiness ALL the time, that life is a roller coaster and that the lows can allow you to appreciate the highs when they come...

Maybe, just maybe, we are filling children's lives with so many activities and experiences that they do not know what being bored feels like, being still and just daydreaming - that it is experienced as sadness or loneliness instead when they get older and need to fill their time themselves... that children need to learn that spending time alone is OK, you do not NEED to be with friends ALL the time and that you can still be well liked even though you are not hanging out on "play-dates" (or part of the "in"-crowd)!

So I'm going to be thinking about the competent child this weekend... what exactly is a competent child?

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