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Life is for living

I first published this post two years ago. I am sharing it again as I continue to hear of similar things happening. I apologise to those who may have read it the first time around. 🙂

Many would agree that to enjoy life to the full we must live in the present moment, appreciating what we have and being mindful of our surroundings and others.

Most would also agree that a certain amount of preparation for the future is necessary to both enjoy and deal with what lies ahead.

marshmallow 5

In previous posts I have referred to related ideas including The importance of emotional intelligence and the ability to delay gratification, for example when studying towards a degree or saving to purchase a car. Recently I wrote about future-proofing kids by preparing them to embrace the future. Schooling is often considered a preparation for the future, for ‘what you want to be when you grow up’.

firefighter and nurse

Are the concepts of living in the present moment and preparing for the future contradictory?

Generally I would say that a balance is needed. We need to live in the present while making some preparation for the future. Hopefully the choices made can still be appreciated now and enjoyment is not all delayed until the future “When I . . .”

Recently I read an article that caused me some concern because, it seemed to me, there was little balance between appreciating the present and preparation for the future. Of greater concern was that the one for whom balance was lacking was not the one making the choice.

 

The article described a situation in which a 3½ year old was being taught to use scissors by an occupational therapist. The teaching, which had been occurring in regular sessions for over seven months, began before the child was three years of age.

Like I did, you might assume the child had a developmental delay which required regular sessions with the occupational therapist (OT). However no mention of that was made in the article.

The parent, writing the article, described feeling sad while watching the child experience difficulty in using the scissors.  Additionally, it was mentioned that the child had not been requested by the parent to use scissors at home as it just made the child miserable.

After seven months the parent finally broached the subject with the OT, asking why the use of scissors was being pushed at this time.

It was the reported response of the OT that caused me greatest concern.

The OT explained that when the child entered kindergarten at age five, the ability to use scissors appropriately would be expected. The lessons in learning to use scissors were being given to avoid the child being behind when beginning kindergarten. The OT went on to further explain that the use of scissors was not developmentally appropriate until age five!

The OT, presumably a trained professional, who believed it was not developmentally appropriate for a child to be using scissors until age five, began teaching a child to use scissors before that child was even three years of age!

The child was miserable when using scissors and the parent was saddened when viewing the attempts!

If using scissors is developmentally appropriate at age five, then when the child is entering kindergarten, unless there is a development delay, coordination or muscular problem, that child will easily learn to use scissors appropriately, without the need for lessons from an OT. Forcing a child to practice a skill before developmentally ready is definitely not in the child’s best interests.

Think of the wonderful things about a child of two or three years of age; the things they are learning and doing. I am always amazed at how quickly children learn and progress. They grow up so quickly and are only little for such a short time. Why try to pressure them through to stages beyond their current development? These years of enormous growth and potential are precious. We are adults for most of our lives. What is wrong with appreciating the special two-ness or three-ness of a child? It will not matter in the future if scissors can be used at age three, age five or age seven.

If the child is constantly pressured to perform in ways that are not developmentally appropriate then feelings of inadequacy, loss of confidence and self-esteem may ensue, resulting in an ‘I can’t do it attitude’, a fear of failure and unwillingness to have a go. I believe many perceived behaviour problems are problems only because the expectations are not relevant to a child’s stage of development.

When adults strive for a child to achieve beyond the age expected norms they are not appreciating, but rather showing a lack of respect for, who the child is and for the stage of development. This is not living in the present. It is attempting to live in the future, which can become very scary if one does not feel it can approached with confidence.

One may hope this scissors example is an extreme and isolated incident, but sadly pressure placed upon children by expectations that are not developmentally appropriate is far too common.

Teaching colleagues here in Australia often express their dismay that children in the first three years of school are crying every day because they find the expectations upon their learning and behaviour too great.

I hear similar stories about trying to rush the children through from the UK, Canada and the USA. Maybe it is happening in other places too. Sadly the pressure of unrealistic expectations doesn’t achieve anything positive for the students, the teachers or the parents.

How different would schools be if, instead of being considered a preparation for life, they were focused on living life now? If three year olds were appreciated and respected as three year olds, five year olds as five year olds, and eight year olds as 8 year olds, rather than as apprentices for the adult they will one day be, how different would their school situation be?

An affirmation song I used to sing with my classes is one by Anne Infante called Just the way I am.

The song is made up of a series of verses about appreciating oneself just as one is – now, not in the future – including characteristics such as responsible,  lovable, confident and friendly; for example:

I am beautiful and I like me,

I am beautiful and I like me,

I am beautiful and I like me,

Just the way I am.

I have written about using Anne’s songs of affirmation in previous posts, here and here.

What do you think? How have you seen developmentally appropriate programs in action? How have you seen them disregarded? What have been the effects?

Further reading: The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

18 thoughts on “Life is for living

  1. roughwighting

    Trying to make children ‘grow up’ too quickly only says a lot about the parent, certainly not the child. When I think about my year in kindergarten (and amazingly, I remember much of it – it was all PLAY and socialization and helped me develop a love of school early on) compared to my grandkids’ experience in kindergarten, in which so much more is expected, I’m surprised and a bit saddened. My young grandson was pushed to start too soon (in my mind) and he hated the entire year of kindergarten. Urgh.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Pam. I’m amazed that you remember most of your year in kindergarten. It sounds like they are good memories of a very special year. The changes that have been made to kindergarten, putting pressure on children to perform abstract tasks too soon is very distressing. It concerns me for their futures. Play and socialisation are so important to an individual’s development, and to a happy and balanced society.

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  2. Bec

    Your description of the OT’s attitude sounds alarming I agree. I have no experience with child development as you do, but what you have written makes me think of the push from marketers to rush children through childhood and into a consumer demographic. The way supermarkets strategically place consumer items at child height, junk food is advertised during children’s television shows and so on. But at this stage the children are just tools for the marketers to use – the children are used to make the parents (the actual consumers) purchase more. But recently there was the creation of a new age group: the tweens. This came directly from the marketers to give a new demographic, the pre-teens, their own consumer identity. This involved selling clothes to children which looked more suitable for tasteless adults… As you know I am no social conservative, but it sickens me. Wow, I’m really on a tangent now, but I suppose the sentiment that we don’t allow children to enjoy their childhood resonated with me. And so many of your other articles too – children are just herded toward becoming obedient economic units to contribute to the pathological race-to-the-bottom of materialism and consumption. Sigh. The scissors story sounds like just another piece in the puzzle.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Bec. It’s interesting to see the path down which the post took your thoughts. Yes. I guess it is just another piece of the puzzle. If only we could put all the pieces back in the box and shake out the ones that don’t fit before we make it again! I agree with you about the tweens. Little ones just aren’t allowed to be little ones any more. Now I’ll sigh too!

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  3. Pingback: Booking a vacation | TanGental

  4. Lisa Reiter

    Totally agree Norah – what a distressing and (I hope) extreme situation to read of. Poor child wouldn’t have any chance of learning scissor skills at three and all that wasted time when he/she should have been learning age appropriate skills through play. I agree with Anne’s assessment as this being “child cruelty” – destruction of self esteem etc – what a nightmare.
    It’s bad enough we can all fall prey to these ‘milestones’ assuming the age given should mean a skill is in place but as Geoff illustrates, we all develop different skills at our own pace. And being ‘behind’ at some points doesn’t mean you won’t overtake the field either. Of course it’s important to keep an eye out for delays suggesting a need for additional input and support but this is best done in the context of a ‘whole’ child’s development not a single skill.
    .. Not sure M will ever get there with scissors, honestly! Fine motor skills never to be his forte but hardly matters in the context of a raft of other abilities.
    I love your affirmation song! We’re too busy looking for what’s wrong in small children and should focus, like you do, on what’s right!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I agree entirely with your comment. Thanks for adding clarity to the issue. I love that you recognize the importance of Max’s raft of abilities rather than focusing on one inability. I would hate to be judged solely on my ‘disabilities’; if they were the focus of my work I’d never make any progress! Focusing on what one can do is more important than the ‘can’t’. Isn’t that why we are all good at different things. So that we will have to work together and cooperate?

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  5. Annecdotist

    Aargh! The sooner this is recognised as child abuse the better for everyone. The mother clearly doubted her own parenting skills that she let it go on so long. The OT should’ve been supporting her to do ordinary things with her child including, as mentioned by writesideup, reading and chatting. And playing. Totally bonkers and so sad.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Anne, for telling like it is! Sad indeed. Even if the child suffered a development delay that required support of an OT, I think there would be more appropriate tasks than ones not even expected of children making ‘normal’ progress.

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  6. writersideup

    Oh, Norah, I found this very upsetting to hear–not that the concept of “pushing too early” is new. It’s upset me for years! This constant focus on making sure your kid is “ahead” or “the best” or “can’t miss out” or ANY of these things is evident in this ever-increasing competitiveness in EVERYthing. Meanwhile, these kids are totally overloaded and so are the parents who want their kids to BE overloaded. It deeply saddens me as does much of what goes on in this world 😦

    Just yesterday, on the “ItsyBitsyMom” blog about reading to your child, she posted a link in the comments (http :// itsybitsymom. wordpress. com/2014/07/16/15-ways-to-find-15-minutes-to-read/?replytocom=422) to an article about the importance of language to children from birth to 3 years old. It’s not saying a child has to learn HOW to read to themselves, but needs to be read and spoken to a lot because it has an impact on them for the rest of their lives. So many people have lost sight of what should be priorities 😦

    I love the content you put up, Norah 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      We are in total agreement about expecting too much of children, or each other, or ourselves for that matter. Reading to and talking with children is the best way of encouraging children’s language development and learning ability, of preparing them for success in life. Not only that, it’s fun! Just ten to fifteen minutes daily would make a huge difference to a child’s life. As you say, there is no pressure to learn, just joy in learning and sharing.
      Thank you for sharing. I’m pleased you enjoy reading my posts. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

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  7. TanGental

    Couldn’t agree more, Norah. Especially as children develop at different speeds anyway why corral them into a box marked ‘to be ticked at five’ or whatever. I failed my 11 plus, scraped through a ridiculous interview to get to an ok school, piggybacked on the archaeologists skill set at 13 when we moved and changed school district and ended up with a pretty decent degree in law. If they’d gone with age based expectations I may not have come through.
    And the little lyrics remind me of the early 1970s. My dad worked for an American company who introduced training courses, much to the amusement of management cynics like my dad. On one they (classic pale male mid management) were told to stand, imagine the mirror first thing in the morning and chant ‘i am beautiful today’ three times before they did anything else – that way they would approach the world with confidence. Result? The family would all chant the mantra and break into fits of laughter. It worked a treat in that it sent us off to work and school happy and united as a family.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Congratulations on the path you found to success. A law degree doesn’t come lightly so it shows how ineffectual the 11 plus was at sorting out ‘the wheat from the chaff’, as it used to be called when I was at school.
      The story you tell of the company’s direction to stand in front of the mirror reminds me of another of Anne Infante’s songs: “When I look in the mirror, I see someone beautiful, I see me!” It does sound corny, I know, but I think it’s important to make the positive self-talk outweigh the negative by a long way. Chants such as that or singing songs like Anne’s help to make it habitual. I love that you chanted the mantra together as a family and went off to school and work happy. That’s a pretty powerful effect.
      Thanks for sharing your personal story. 🙂

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      1. writersideup

        “…I think it’s important to make the positive self-talk outweigh the negative by a long way.” This is so true, and I believe it needs to be done effectively. Undue praise can be just as harmful, in my opinion. When parents are constantly telling their children they are wonderful in EVERY way and EVERYthing they do is AMAZING, this doesn’t build self-esteem and confidence—it can create harmful delusion. As we know, we all have strengths and flaws. The strengths need to be encouraged and complimented (it’s not good to say “can’t” unless it REALLY needs to be said) while the flaws (depending on the flaw) need to be addressed. If it’s something that the child can learn to see is a bad thing—say something like a bad temper—they have more of a chance of trying to change or at least control it as they go through life. Even things they don’t like physically or some lack of something they wish they had, there always needs to be that positive spin on it. (Steve Martin in “Roxanne” comes to mind! lol) There is usually–though sometimes hard to find–positives to be found in negative things or circumstances. Developing clear, balanced thinking while still encouraging children to reach for the stars is what gives them the foundation to handle the future, right? (Sorry, this actually ended up on the topic you brought up LAST post! lol)

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for popping back. It’s interesting how the issue of praise keeps coming back. It is such an important issue and one that needs considerable fine tuning, a balance that encourages growth rather than complacency. Anne Goodwin and I have together led quite a discussion on my blog and hers earlier this year. You could connect back to it via this link: http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-cm The topic has popped up in other posts also, and on other blogs. I’m certain I will write about it again. And again. Thank you very much for your comments. I certainly agree that we don’t want to create delusions. I love that you also linked your comment back to my previous post. That’s just life isn’t it? All interconnected. (I like Steve Martin too!) Thanks for extending the value of this post. 🙂

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