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At Information Children we frequently hear from parents who are wistful for the day when their child can talk, or their child can walk, or from parents who can’t wait for the day when their child is toilet-trained or when their child can read to themself. Raising a young family today can be busy. Often both parents are working, frequently playing catch-up, desperately trying to manage their own personal overload plus seeking some personal time. Parents are in a constant rush-mode, and this is seeping into the lives of their children. Parents are often ready for the next developmental milestone to take place long before their children are ready. Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting (2009), describes our society brimming over with too much, too soon and we are creating a new phenomenon he coins “excess”.
Payne claims there are four pillars of excess: too much stuff, too many choices, too much information and too much speed. This excess is leading children and families into crises.
- Playrooms are filled with too many toys – toys with more buttons and lights to distract, and yet discouraging children from engaging deeply in the simplicity of a basic toy.
- Children are exposed to a constant flood of information they can’t process and make sense of.
- Parents are overscheduled , rushing themselves and children from place to place providing children with fewer opportunities for free play, and providing lost opportunities for parents to connect with their children.
- Children are pushed to grow up faster; we hurry their development by prematurely putting them into older roles and ages, while increasing expectations of them.
Children are no longer allowed to embrace the wonders of being a child. Rather than enjoying childhood they are skimming the surface, before being rushed into the next developmental stage. There is a belief that earlier is better, but in relation to early childhood it is a concept that may be untrue – sadly this belief seems to have caught on.
There is increased pressure and anxiety among parents to ensure children experience high levels of success in their academic and extra-curricular activities. This anxiety is contagious and increases stress on children, contributing to increasing incidents of anxiety and fearful behaviours. In the words of Tracy Gillet, “Normal personality quirks combined with the stress of “too much” can propel children into the realm of disorder.”
Today’s pressures on middle-class children to grow up fast are beginning in early childhood. Young children (two to eight years) tend to perceive hurrying as a rejection, as evidenced that their parents do not really care about them. Children are very emotionally astute in this regard and tune in to what is a partial truth. To a certain extent, hurrying children from one caretaker to another each day, or into academic achievement or into making decisions they are not really able to make is a rejection. It is a rejection of the children as they see themselves, of what they are capable of coping with and doing. Children find such rejection very threatening and often develop stress symptoms as a result (Elkind, 2007).
In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention defined “childhood as a separate space from adulthood and recognized that what is appropriate for an adult may not be suitable for a child”.
Childhood serves a very real purpose. It is not something to rush through. It is a precious time to enjoy and gain confidence. Young minds need time so they can grow into healthy and happy adults. When society messes too much with childhood, young brains react.
By restoring a sense of balance and actively protecting childhood, parents can give their children the greatest gift they’ll ever receive. It is a time to reduce excess – to slow down, to minimize distractions, and, in the words of Janet Lansbury, it is time to wait.
Childhood Under Threat, UNICEF, Retrieved August 3, 2016 from http://www.unicef.org/sowc05/english/childhooddefined.html
Elkind, David. The Hurried Child. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2007. Print.
Gillett, Tracy. Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues, 2016 Retrieved from http://raisedgood.com.
Lansbury, Janet. The Parenting Magic Word, 2011, Retrieved from http://www.janetlansbury.com
Payne, Kim, Simplicity Parenting, Ballantine Books, 2009.