Freya Sherlock Lic. Ac, BSc hons level TCM/CHM is a practitioner of Chinese medicine in West Cork. She is equally passionate about the nourishment of childhood. She co-founded and co-managed The Little School 1995-2005, facilitates the Parent Plus programme in collaboration with HSE and Dunmanway Family Resource Centre, trained in Early Years Steiner education, Co. Clare and with Dr Tony Humphries at UCC. She has run several large summer camps in West Cork with Forest School Camps and is currently initiating WildChild Outdoor Education. For further info: 086 1273148.
Our calling to raise happy, healthy children is uniquely personal, with each parent’s own values, priorities, personal history and ambition shaping and informing their parenting style. But there are some universal truths that benefit children regardless of race, religion, economic status or education, simply because they are human. Simply because being human is both a genetic condition and a quest. There’s ‘being a human’ and then there’s ‘being Human’. It can start and stop with an acceptable mediocrity or transcend such limitations to deliver us extraordinary examples of extraordinary Humans whose extraordinary endeavours, triumphs and achievements continue to ripple their inspirational effects across the still waters of Time to us today.
So what exactly is it that makes an ordinary person become extraordinary? There’s no one easy answer to this, but there are perhaps two simple principles that can be worth bearing in mind while raising our kids:
1 Cultivate the capacity to see and experience The Extraordinary in The Ordinary. Young children have a talent for this in ample measure. Our job is simply to stand back and let them. Admire them even. Nurture this capacity in them most definitely. And perhaps join them in their wonderful ability to perceive the magic in the mundane, the possible in the impossible, the fun in work, the laughter in sadness and to make friends out of foes. For children, The Extraordinary lies a mere perception away.
2 Restore the balance of Head-Heart-Hands in childhood. Clearly, any school going in the western world will be engaging and developing their IQ and intellectual capabilities. But has our fascination with all that intrigues and stimulates the mind begun to overshadow its equally vital counterparts of EQ and PQ – Emotional and Practical Intelligence. Similarly, let’s be careful that being ‘child-centred’ doesn’t breed ‘self-centred’.
Being Human is so much more than being smart and successful. In Nelson Mandela’s immortal words:
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Perhaps what makes extraordinary people so extraordinary isn’t so much any one defining moment that became their legacy but their entire way of being. And perhaps what engendered their way of being was that exquisite combination of passion and/or compassion with wise intelligence infusing their actions: aka Heart, Head and Hands.
So how can we translate this to raising kids? In our global yen to live ever higher-octane and convenient lives, let’s not leave behind all that roots us in our Humanity. While our children will, by dint of our 21st century culture, enjoy the many delights of an ever sharper, chiselled mind Head), let’s be sure, as parents, that we also awaken the rich capacities of their Heart and Hands.
While we can of course buy new clothes for fairly cheap at Penny’s these days, why not occasionally teach your offspring to mend what they’ve got? It encourages care (Heart) and basic sewing (Hands). Just because we can buy a bag of ready-made kindling for a few euro, why not coach your age-appropriate child how to chop a neat stack for the evening fire each day? It teaches contributing to the household wellbeing (Heart) while fostering deft respect for tools (Hands). Sure we can razz past our neighbours at speed each day in the pursuit of Life, but why not slow down long enough one afternoon to bake a batch of brownies with your littley and take them round to visit an elderly neighbour living alone: they might just appreciate a visit. It will grow a sense of social conscience in the context of their community (Heart) and simple baking (Hands).
Better still, suggest to your youngster that they offer an hour or so’s help a week to the Old Timer and not for financial gain. They will benefit far more from developing a spirit of goodwill and kindness that will last far longer than the few quid in pocket money they might have received.
For sure we all feel short of cash these days but at some point, when you feel you can stretch to sparing €10/month, why not sponsor a child’s health and education for a while, somewhere truly impoverished? Then make a monthly ritual out of learning a little about your sponsee’s country and lifestyle with your child and help them write a newsy letter each month. It will grow a sense of global awareness and compassion (Heart) and in our age of emails, keep alive the art and delight of handwritten letters (Hands). Why not go to town and write it on a beautiful sheet of hand-crafted petal-strewn parchment? In fact, why not go all out and with the help of a simple paper-making kit, help your kid experiment and make a uniquely special sheet each month to write on?
Ok, so maybe that’s a little excessive for most people! The point is, we can open our eyes as parents to see the potential for The Extraordinary in the most ordinary of opportunities. Its acting on it that makes it Extraordinary. That is Head, Heart and Hands.
Freya’s column last month ‘Childhood – more about presence than presents’ was wrongly attributed to RollerCoaster.ie.