There’s a little magnolia tree at the top of the hill near our house (it’s spring in Australia). The only blossom that was low enough for Margo to smell, was one that was not fully open. She took a long deep sniff of the partially opened flower, and said, “I wish I could pull it open so we could see the whole thing.”
“Well, if we did that, what would happen?” I asked.
She paused for a few long seconds and considered. “If we pulled it open, we would break it. That would be really sad.“
Almost everywhere I see, raising kids seems to be a competition. It’s go, go, go. Faster, sooner, earlier. Earlier pushes for independence. Earlier pushes for learning. Getting kids ‘used‘ to things earlier because people are afriad that if you don’t get a child used to something early, they’ll never get used to something at all. Unfortunately, for kids, it doesn’t work that way. Earlier does not always mean better.
A few years ago, I was teaching a year 10 high school physic’s class and we were learning about optics. What these kids were being taught in year 10 (at the age of about 15) was the same stuff I had been taught when I was in my second semester of physics at university! The kids were baffled. The content went over 95% of the their heads. After a few lessons, most of the kids had turned their confusion into apathy. Their confidence had been smashed and I heard many a bright student saying, “I’m so stupid, I just don’t get this.”
My dear children, you are not stupid! It’s just stupid people who teach things to children too early! The same thing is true for babies and young children. Tell me, why does a 6 month old baby need to learn independence when 6 month old babies are nothing but DEPENDENT?
You actually CAN’T force a child to learn anything. You can try, but it will sometimes come at a cost. If they’re not ready and we push them, they’ll usually dig in their heels. They may loose confidence or self esteem. If someone does succeed in teaching a child something before he or she is ready, you’ll also see that it requires a lot more effort than it’s worth.
Letting kids learn and develop at their pace is not going to create a world full of soft pansies who can’t stick up for themselves or do anything on their own! In fact, it will create the opposite. When a child is given the right dose of nurturing and respect and opportunities to learn through playing, they will blossom.
I’ll never forget when Margo was 2 years old and I thought I had to get her used to the ocean. So, rather than let her play in the sand, near the water’s edge, I stupidly took her straight into the waves, even though she was kicking and complaining. She was terrified afterwards and it’s taken her a long time to overcome her fear of the ocean. I learned my lesson well. With my second daughter, I’ve never forced her into the water and now I can barely keep her on dry land! There’s a fine line between encouraging and forcing something.
This is not to say that we get lazy and ignore our child’s requests for interaction and learning either, because parenting is a dynamic job. We need to dance a little. We move in when our children need guidance, and back off when they don’t.
In case anyone has forgotten, childhood is damn short. It’s not ours to be rushed. Our children’s journey is their own, and we are simply here to facilitate their growth as best we can. People have written books on how to let a child blossom, but NOBODY has written a book on how to let YOUR child blossom. Every child has a unique requirement for a certain combination of space, encouragement, loving boundaries and guidance, in order for them to grow to his or her maximum potential.
Like anything, when we go on feverishly working towards some goal, the fruit of the action may happen, but the journey will have been spoiled. And, there’s no reason to spoil a childhood just for the sake of ticking off boxes of achievements!
This post is not to say that we ignore milestones for the sake of letting children ‘be’. If you believe that your child is truly not meeting physical or emotional milestones, it’s important to check with your health care provider.