Until we adults recalibrate some long-held preconceptions we hold towards children, our youngest brethren will never fully flourish.
Take stress matters and the all too prevalent adult-held philosophy of children and stress, as set forth in a recent article by a self-described parenting expert.
Let’s take a look at her opening paragraph:
Children do not think, act, or manage stress like adults; the younger the child the smaller the stressors. Help children cope with stress by realizing you can empower your children. Arriving at school to find a rearranged classroom or a substitute teacher can be big stressors to kids.
Now let’s unpack it. She is right, “Children do not think, act, or manage stress like adults.” They have their own way of dealing with it.
But right after this, she is dead wrong: “the young the child, the smaller the stressors.”
The author, Lori Lite, uses adult criteria for determining what a ‘small stressor’ is for a child. For her, an example of a small stressor is one in which a child arrives “at school to find a rearranged classroom or a substitute teacher.”
But just because it’s a small stressor for adults doesn’t mean it should or has to be a small stressor for a child. What constitutes a big and small stressor can vary dramatically from one adult to another, from one child to another. To each her own.
What matters is helping those facing stress, at any age or stage of life, to learn to deal effectively with it — and a big part of doing so is at the outset having the empathy needed to recognize when a fellow human, young or old, is facing what that person considers to be a big stressor, regardless of whether anyone else would consider it so.
I know many adults who’d find facing a similar circumstance to the one described by this author not a small stressor at all, but rather one of the big variety. A for-instance: an adult arrives at work, only to find that his and his colleagues’ office space has been totally organized, despite their lack of input in in the matter. His beloved enclosed cubicle has been done away with an supplanted by an ‘open air’ model. No place to put family photos, no place to have a moment of private time. Or an adult employee suddenly finds she has a new supervisor, one ostensibly far less to her liking than the one to which she’d long been accustomed. Big stressor.
Lori Lite goes on to write:
Young children do not yet have the ability to identify or express their own feelings of stress. They struggle with their own emotions and they pick up on their parents tension.
I know many people who find it difficult and daunting, if not impossible, to identify and express their own feelings of stress.
Children do indeed often struggle with their emotions, as do adults; they just don’t do it in the way adults do.
As Lite goes on to say, and this time quite correctly, kids do pick up on tension between spouses or partners, who often are oblivious to this, or uncaring about how it affects their kids. Oh, how many clueless parents there are who fight in front of their children and believe it should have little if any impact. Just as much to the point, kids are expert at sensing the moods of their parents and other adult loved ones. And no one more than kids tries to reach out to the adult loved ones in their lives in an attempt to make things better. No one. If only they were appreciated for this, and we treated them accordingly.
Lite’s well-intentioned article, putatively chockfull of helpful hints for parents, needs more substance and some insight from our youngest. It should note, for instance, that kids (including infants and toddlers) can be, far more than parents and other adults, far more empathic. The latest cognitive science studies bear this out, and I make mention of a bunch of the most noted and respected among them in the Philosophy of Childing.
But as long as we peg kids in a distorted way, they’ll no more be able to flourish fully, and deal with optimal effectiveness with stress matters, than will their adult counterparts. What we need to is team up with them and share our singular strategies for dealing with stress, each modeling unique approaches. In order to do this, we’d have to see them as our equals — wonderfully different but equally human and singularly insightful.