Having parked up in town, I was standing in a queue to pay before displaying, and the little girl in front of me was pestering her mother to be allowed to put the money into the machine. “Let me do it, mummy. Let me do it. Let me. Let me mummy, please.”
Now, I’m better than most at squeezing some fun out a tiny piece of blu-tac, but even I have to admit that the intrinsic entertainment value of putting some coins into a slot is pretty low - especially when all you get in return is a flimsy oblong of printed paper. But of course, that’s not the point.
The point is that young children have very little agency in the world. For them it’s always exciting to be the cause that makes the effect. You may be able to conjure up your own childhood memory that illustrates this. The one that springs to my mind - I must have been around five - is being on a fairground ride, in a trundling train carriage with a bell on the front. I gleaned so much pleasure from pulling on the cord that activated the bell. It wasn’t to do with the sound per se, it was being in control. I could ring that bell as much as I liked, there was no-one sitting next to me to tell me to stop, there were no rules that I was breaking. My train. My bell.
Children love to be given some responsibility, to hold a little power - if only for a short time and in a fairly inconsequential circumstance. It’s important developmentally. Every action has an equal an opposite reaction, and children need opportunities to test this out. No-one acquires faith in themselves and their own abilities without having learned the basics. Even if (especially if) it all goes horribly wrong for them, it’s valuable learning and taking the risk is always worth it.
So try to find something every day, a chance for your child to do it for themselves, to find out if they can, and to practice asking for help if they find they can’t - goodness knows, that’s something many of us could get a little better at. You may find your children are capable of much more than you thought, you may find yourself with a child who can take some of the load, if you’d only let them.
Things are starting to edge slowly towards something that feels akin to a kind of normality. The kids have been back in school and the adult population is gradually receiving vaccinations. But beneath the tentative positivity, many of us are wondering what the long term effects will be, especially on our children.
Those that I’ve spoken to over the last twelve months, through various stages of lockdown, have been doing their best to cope. They have mostly risen to the challenge, feeling strong sense of responsibility to support their parents and families through desperate times. But like all of us, they’ve also had the odd meltdown.
The other day I was gazing idly out of my front window when a young family walked by - mum, dad and a little girl of around two. She was holding onto her mother’s hand and happily chattering away to her as they walked down the street. It hit me suddenly and strongly: this little girl has a total disregard for the fact that she’s a child.
Not everyone has been disappointed about being unable to have the family over for Xmas. As part of a get together on Zoom over the festive season, where I knew only a few of the attendees, one woman was sounding-off about how thrilled she was to be able to avoid her in-laws this year.