Childhood – More about presence than presents

Posted on: 8th April, 2014

Category: Health & Lifestyle

Contributor: West Cork People

By Freya Sherlock 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.

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

William Blake

The power of the eternal moment, unencumbered by adult concerns is perhaps one of the most precious gifts of childhood. There is much we can do as parents to honour and value this blessed state both for its power to nourish our children where it most matters, within themselves, but also to improve qualitatively, our rapport and relationship with them.

In child development terms, the early years (0-7) are about children growing thoroughly into themselves physically, learning to fully inhabit their body, discovering everything they can about themselves and their world through the senses and harnessing the limitless capacity of their imagination to see the ‘world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower’. They learn the laws of physics and chance their arm trying to bend them. They explore roles, relationships, hierarchy and natural order through play and in fact, in the process, start paving the road their future adult self will walk on. The more time they spend engaged in all that builds it, the stronger and surer that road will be and the more favourable its direction.

Being so absorbed by ‘The Now’ as to be lost to our world is in fact, very important for their wellbeing. Moreover, it’s mighty beneficial for our wellbeing too! For it is in the present moment that we meet ourselves. Suddenly we arrive fully in our environment; our senses come to life and enter our field of awareness so that, all of a sudden, we actually hear the birds that have been singing to Spring with operatic gusto all morning. In the process, the cortisol that courses through our veins in response to the stress and rush of everyday demands starts to ebb away, sensory perception begins to activate endorphins (‘the happy hormone’) instead and a sense of de-stressing inevitably follows. The mind and body are truly connected. When cortisol levels are high, we’re more likely to snap and bark irritably and impatiently at our kids simply because they’re not ‘up to speed’ with the illusion we hold around our hurried adult agenda being far more important than their childhood agenda – which is to simply ‘be’ absolutely and fabulously, a child.

Being lost to a TV programme or video game doesn’t have quite the same benefits. It’s a passive activity, one that requires little investment of self and energy but can require instead, periodic flooding of cortisol (try surviving war, zombies and car crashes for hours on end!). Distractions and being entertained are not the same as being deeply engaged with one’s experience of self and life.

Meanwhile, we frequently yank our youngsters from their eternal Now to join us in the frenzy of Tomorrow (aka anything beyond ‘now’). “Quick, get in the car or we’ll be late” – right there, cortisol floods in to enable a fast response to the stress of lateness. “Hurry up, I haven’t got all day” – and yet, having ‘all day’ is a gift to be shared and treasured. “If you don’t do ‘x’ then you can’t have ‘y’ for a week” – sure next week doesn’t exist, much less mean anything real for young children. Equally, how often are our children animatedly telling us enthusiastically about something that’s important to them while our mind is far, far away elsewhere? We are experts at nodding and agreeing in feigned comprehension whilst actually figuring out today’s plethora of ‘important’ problems.

If any of this rings true, try joining your child every once in a while in that most potent of places, the ‘Here and Now’. It’s just a matter of a subtle shift in attention, away from our literally endless adult agenda to pause for enough seconds to actually hear what our child is saying, to realise that they’re not yet in the car because they’re helping a centipede to get outside and that if we took a moment to understand why they haven’t yet done ‘x’, we might not feel the need to punitively deny them ‘y’.

So take the plunge and savour the moment with your child. It only takes a few seconds to shift from our habitual mode of living, in the past and future, to join them, however fleetingly, in all the wonder and simple pleasure of Now. It’s good for us, it’s good for our kids, it’s good for our relationship with them, and what’s more, it’s free! It’s a no-brainer really. So every time you slow down and savour the deliciousness of the moment, it’s a win: win all round. Happy days!




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