Our society is “full” and as adults, we are very good at being “preoccupied”. You only need to look around when you are at the shops, the park, the local café, on public transport – people are constantly on their smartphones, checking emails, replying to messages, checking social media (and I am guilty as charged with all of the above!). People rush from one place to the next, often with heads down, minds’ full and a mental list of “to do’s” that need to be ticked off. We live in a society that is so fast-paced and in a culture where our “work” follows us constantly as we can access emails and messages 24/7 on our hand-held devices. Social media fills our days as we upload photos, share posts, comment on other’s posts and keep our minds busy with scrolling through social media feeds. Each of these things vying for our attention, pulling us out of the present, out of “the moment” and perhaps away from the things that matter the most.
On the contrary to the world of “busy grown-ups”, young children are very good at being present in the moment. You only have to hold the hand of a two-year-old as you walk along a path to notice how physically, mentally and emotionally present they really are. They notice the tiny trail of ants crawling along, the leaves that are slowly changing colour in the trees, the small yellow flower growing beside the path. They aren’t afraid to stop and ponder, to take a closer look and to become completely consumed with what they are experiencing in that very moment, forgetting all that is ahead of them. In fact, when we attempt to rush a child from these moments, very often they grow confused or distressed (yes – definitely guilty of that as a parent as I try to keep up with my grown-up “to-do list”!). In these moments, a young child isn’t thinking about where they need to go next or what they need to achieve. They are simply and POWERFULLY in the moment!
The Internal Tug-of-War
As adults, particularly in our society, we are often guilty of thinking about the next thing. I know that whilst I focus on the task in front of me, the next thing I must tick off my to-do list, the next thing I must achieve, my day, is already flashing through my mind. For many of us, it is so easy to lose the art of being aware of what is around us as we are constantly lost in what is ahead of us. This is not something that we necessarily choose to do or even want to do! Unfortunately, the constant rushing is a consequence of lives that are so full, jobs that are so busy and “to-do lists” that are far too large for the number of hours we have in a day. It is just “normal” to be busy – and I know for myself, over the years it became my default.
Research tells us that, “1 in 7 children (aged 4-17 years) will experience a mental health condition in any given year.” (Beyond Blue, 2020). Statistics also show that “suicide is the leading cause of death in children aged 5-17 years.” (Beyond Blue, 2020). With high levels of ongoing stress being a risk factor for mental health conditions, could it be that our busy, full, pre-occupied, rushed society is infiltrating “childhood”? Childhood, that is all about being naturally curious, inquisitive, creative and having ample time to be “in the moment”, is becoming full with schedules and “agendas”, leaving less and less space for children just to “be children”. Although there are many contributing factors that can determine and impact mental health conditions, one does have to wonder if the rush of life is having some sort of impact on these statistics.
I have reflected a lot this past year about the complexity of parenting children who have a natural curiosity that continually pulls them into the moment, whilst I have a very pre-occupied grown-up mind and very large “grown-up to do list” that continually pulls me out of the moment. As I am sure many families can relate to, this complex problem is not an easy one to fix, and unfortunately, the result (in my personal experience at least) is meltdowns from children who need me to slow down and be present, “to-do lists” that aren’t ever completed and an ongoing tug of war within me where I am being pulled in opposite directions and yet end up feeling like I am not succeeding at anything! It’s hard work being a parent! But it also seems to me, that it can be quite hard being a child…
So, we all know and can agree that life is busy, complex and “full”. Then along comes 2020…. Throw into the mix a global pandemic, social distancing, COVID restrictions and an economic downturn and life doesn’t only feel very full with the internal tug of war still raging, it also feels overwhelmingly (and perhaps unbearably) heavy!
At The Core Of What We Do
Mother Duck as an Early Childhood community has always been dedicated to supporting children and families, understanding that the early years of a child’s life are pivotal to their life-long development. We have aspired for our Centres to provide a haven for children, families and our educators. A place that is less ruled by a clock that supports children, families and educators “to just be” together in community. A place where children, families and educators are all viewed as valuable and competent and all work together to build meaningful connections that are built on mutual respect, trust and strong relationships. A haven that truly supports children to experience the joy of childhood!
Whilst we still aspire to provide a safe place, free of the rush for children (as feeling safe and secure is key to learning and development), more recently, and particularly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we have developed an urgency to further consider what life may look like for our children in the future. As we have considered this “future”, we have been reflecting further through professional conversations and team meetings, the role we play in supporting children in not only “what they will do” but “who they will be”. As we consider the future society our children must navigate, we desire to partner with families to ask the following questions… what skills will our children need to gain in order to contribute to the future of our society? And more so, what kind of people do we want our children to be?
I know for myself, when I consider the question of WHO I want my children to be as they grow and develop, these words instantly come to mind – empathetic, resilient, compassionate, hopeful, self-aware and grateful. These are characteristics and skills that I value not only as a parent but as a person who is part of a community. This is because I experience how these characteristics directly impact my own life, how I view myself and deal with adversity as well as how I treat others. Furthermore, they are also characteristics and skills that are “protective factors” against mental illness and suicide. In a world that is ever-changing, with a future we cannot predict, these aspirations for my children come before any other goal I might have for their future academic success, studies, career or profession as I believe they provide the foundation for any other “life success”. (The list above is just a handful of examples of aspirations I have for my own children, and I am sure that each of you will have many more for your own children that capture the values that are important to you and your family, your family culture, beliefs and upbringing.)
Pausing To Focus On What Matters Most
As we continue to journey together as a community, as an organisation we view our role in early childhood education and care as an incredible privilege as we share in the life stories of each child and their family. So, as we continue to push forward through one of the craziest years we have experienced as a community, let’s prioritise finding moments to slow down. Let’s press the pause button long enough at times to consider the little people in our lives who are gently trying to remind us and to teach us to “be in the moment”. I’ll be honest, I find this really hard and fail at it more than I succeed at it- so this is not about passing judgement or heaping shame because life and parenting is complex. However, when we do press pause for long enough, as we sit with our children in the back garden, have a cuddle on the couch or watch them play at the park, let’s look at the little life (or lives) gifted to us and consider – “Who do I desire this little person to be?”, and, “How can I as one of the most trusted adults in their world first role model this in my own life?”.
We won’t get it right all of the time and we will make plenty of mistakes along the way. However, quite often our mistakes and how we deal with them as adults, provide the most powerful learning opportunities for children, and yet we are not the only teachers. Ironically, we are also being transformed by our children as they gift us “grownups” with the powerful lesson of learning to slow down, to press pause and to be fully present in the moments that truly matter….