In our modern day lives, when everything is available anytime online and our panic to provide our children with all that we can afford is driven by smart marketing campaigns and idealistic social media facades, it is easy to think that “a lot” will be solution and “a little” is inadequate. Research and common sense might just call this false truth into question. Children are developmental creatures. Adults are too. As humans, we evolve into a state of being and, at any one time, we are on the spectrum of aging; or, more kindly, ‘maturing’. Think of a person as a physical, cognitive, socio-emotional being.
Physically, we accept developmental theory readily – it happens in front of our eyes. Babies walk at a certain age. Toddlers talk at certain milestones. Adolescents enter puberty quite apparently. Adults mature. Humans have distinct physical ability at certain times of their lives and this is seldom disputed (although at 40+ it may be reluctantly accepted).
The same developmental framework exists on a socio-emotional level. Theorists like Erik Erikson and, dare it be said, Sigmund Freud, have carefully spelled out stages of this development. Whilst this piece is not to bash out the nuances of the theories, there is some agreement that we start life quite egocentric, prioritizing our survival and only considering ourselves; then dawns an awareness of ‘the other’; we move on to establish our individual identity and thereafter relate with others for the rest of our days. We conclude our life either in a place of fulfillment and what Maslow calls ‘self-actualisation’ or in a state of what Erikson calls ‘despair’, unsettled and discontent with how we have lived our years. Every socio-emotional stage throughout a lifetime is described by Erikson as a ‘crisis’, and how we resolve each crisis determines how well we manage future demands on our emotional reserve. In layman’s terms: children must separate from their parents and feel secure; adolescents must find out who they are and what they believe; young adults must forge a sense of purpose; older folk must find contentment with the life they have lived.
Cognitively, we are developmental too. Infants and young children experience the world in a very concrete fashion. Objects exist or they don’t. Learning happens in a successive manner based on sensory input and concrete actions that form the output. As children enter the primary school years, their cognition becomes a little more abstract, but not entirely. They can accept, for example, that 250ml water is the same amount of water whether it is in a cup or poured in a bowl. They are able to conserve number. Only after the age of eleven or twelve years will a child begin to connect events and concepts more abstractly and so deal in hypotheses and scenarios that may not be visible before them. Think of the cognitive move in Mathematics from seeing parts of a pizza cut up as 1 or ½ or ¼ of a pizza to seeing the abstraction that is a number written in numerators and denominators to represent parts of a whole.
Why the theoretical lessons just as the school year ends? As you enter the holiday and reflect on the year past or plan the year ahead, consider that a lot doesn’t mean a lot when you place a child on a developmental framework. Growing up takes time. It happens progressively, with just the right amount of nurture and attention. Nothing more. Nothing less. Intervention can only be paced with the maturation of the child; neither more nor less will deliver the right outcome.
A lot of therapy won’t accelerate development; well-planned, regular intervention supports progress and addresses lags on a perceptual level.
A lot of sport won’t make a sports star; deliberate practice with proper periods of effort, nutrition and rest might.
A lot of awards and rewards won’t build esteem; but acknowledgement in just the right moment will.
A lot of supplements won’t address issues that are developmental in nature; the right routines and lifestyle might.
A lot of gifts and novelty won’t replace the need for nurturing in a child’s life; be it in toddler years or late adolescence, unconditional love will always deliver.
A lot of toys and technology won’t stimulate cognitive development better; natural experiences in the mud, getting wet, baking, laying the table, hearing debates, travel, grazing knees and building rocket ships out of cardboard might.
A lot of tutors can’t bridge the gap that needs to close developmentally.
A lot of opinions, tests and exploration might mean more confusion not less. Rather partner with someone you trust to return to basics and a careful look at the history and facts already known.
More counseling won’t produce the ethical child; consistent parenting might.
More discipline won’t shape the values of a young one more than good modeling of right and wrong, clear boundaries and fair, consistent correction.
A lot doesn’t mean a lot. Something might mean everything.
An incremental improvement on your child’s standardized scores for reading is the developmental step you are looking for. Progress means everything.
A kind word, a gentle smile, a gracious act and respectful greeting from your child indicate that he or she sees ‘the other’.
Quick eye contact, a nod or a ‘thumbs-up’ might make your child’s day.
Thirty minutes on a ‘date with dad’ once a week, could be all the quality time that your child is looking for.
A quick WhatsApp to your teenage daughter to wish her a great day might just help her feel supported as she ventures into her world.
A smart haircut and the correct polished shoes might be the something that means everything as your child presents himself at school.
A few small healthy snacks packed by a parent may mean more than the store’s vacuum packed offering.
Simply attending school as required and receiving regular affirmation builds a work ethic for life.
Telling a lie to bail your child out of a consequence might just model negotiable ethics for your child forever. One small indiscretion to avoid a moment of discomfort might mean everything later in life, for the worse.
Taking a risk and failing, and having this celebrated in and of itself, could be the support a parent needs to give to launch a successful entrepreneur later.
Children are developmental. Our world forces adult demands on children’s lives. We need to consider the framework, stop the bus, acknowledge the stages of development and let our children be children where something might mean everything and a lot doesn’t mean a lot.
Pledge yourself to use the upcoming holiday season to be – to be in the moment; to be parents; to relate with one another; to idle away the time; to read stories together not practice reading; to explore the environment; to care for other people. Children grow over the holidays. They will come back to school older, enriched, and with shared family experiences that become memories. Use the time to do something little that could mean a lot!