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When it’s OK to act like a child… and when it’s really not

Whether we’re parents, aunts, older sisters, teachers or just simply adults, we have a responsibility to teach future generations and provide them with good role models. But, every now and then, in some situations, it is the adult who can learn from the child.

For example, the way they struggle to contain their excitement. And why should they? It’s a delight to watch. Imagine this: what if someone was to offer you one of the following? How would you respond? A sugary treat, a trip to somewhere new, spending the afternoon with your friend or playing fetch with your neighbour’s dog. My guess is that the majority would happily accept most, if not all, of the above. It may even bring a smile to their face and give them something moderately exciting to look forward to. But an adult’s reaction to life’s small joys is nothing compared to that of a child. And, unlike adults who sometimes try to hide their excitement because they think they might appear silly otherwise, children will be blatantly obvious about it, literally jumping around with excitement and gleefully telling anyone in reach about their exciting news.

What we learn: Being excited about things that you find exciting, no matter how small it may seem to others, is nothing to be ashamed of. And happy, grateful people are attractive.

But: Lose the boasting

Another example is the way in which a child loves. When a child loves you, you will know about it. As children go through different stages, their relationships with their parents change – they cling to them when young, become too cool for them as teenagers, and realise what they’ve sacrificed for them as young adults. But it’s when we’re little that we first begin to realise the love and protection that our parents offer us, and they seem to us almost invincible. We attach ourselves to their legs when we don’t want a moment without them, wrap ourselves around their bodies when we’re scared and flee to their warm, protective arms when we’re sad. And seeing the smiles on parents’ and adults’ faces when children embrace them tightly as an expression of their love makes obvious the joy it gives them.

What we learn: Showing our loved ones how much they mean to us is a lovely thing to do, for both the giver and receiver

But: Overdoing it constantly (the ‘clingy phase’) can get annoying and should not be repeated as adults, especially if it leads to excessive PDA

Not only will a child actively express how much they love us, but they can also be unwaveringly loyal and protective. Repeating favourite phrases such as “my mommy says”, children can believe that adults are capable of anything and will happily brag about it at school. And when they see something happen to their loved ones, they are quick to come to the rescue in their own, little way, whether it’s an upset parent or their best friend being teased.

I remember from my own experience that I hardly ever saw my parents visibly upset or crying, even though they would have been doing so behind closed doors. But on one occasion, I opened that door. It was just after the death of one of our first pets, a beautiful Labrador called Lila. Still a young girl at that time, I was upset about her passing, of course, but, as children, we learn to move on more easily than we do as adults. So when I stumbled into the bathroom one afternoon to find my mother softly crying, I was instantly shocked, and a bit scared. I had never seen her this way. I nervously asked what was wrong, preparing for the worst (the ‘worst’ for a six-year-old that is). She patted her eyes and quickly recovered for my sake, telling me that she was just feeling a bit sad about saying goodbye to Lila. I vaguely remember breathing a sigh of relief at that point and instantly embracing her in my own, small way of comforting her. It was later in life that I realised how much my mother loved her pets and why Lila’s death affected her as it did. And I also see now how much the experience rocked me as a child (just for a few minutes of course). Because I had thought of my mom as invincible and slowly began to discover that, in fact, she wasn’t.

What we learn: Being loyal and protective towards our loved ones is endearing

Before children get to their ‘cool’ phase, where hanging out with friends trumps hanging out with family and public affection with their parents is a no-no, they love spending time with family. At this stage, their faces light up at just at the mention of day excursions or trips away with the family. When their teacher asks them about their weekends, they may mention a playdate or two, but the highlight will likely be something they did with their family.

What we learn: Family time is precious

Tell a child “I dare you to” or “I bet you can’t” or “do you think you can…” and they will be fiercely nodding their head and answering with a determined ‘yes’ before even grasping the question. Children love a challenge and genuinely think at the time of accepting it that they can successfully complete it. When they don’t achieve success, they may try again. And again. And again. And if they can’t complete it, or they give up, they will usually move on to the next fun thing rather than dwell on their failure.

What we can learn: Determination is key

But: Don’t throw a tantrum if you can’t complete goals, be a good sport

Last but not least: dancing. All children love dancing. Why? Because no one is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at it, they’re not thinking about what otherpeople are thinking about them and, well, it’s fun!

What we can learn: Dance like no-one’s watching, wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care

But: Personal space still exists on dance floors, even in London

However, while sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to act like a child, there are times when it’s just not. For example, temper tantrums. Picture the scene. Two adults who share a house are out shopping for their groceries. One suggests to the other: “Let’s get the smooth peanut butter” and puts it in the trolley since, after all, it’s just peanut butter. But her housemate is instantly hysterical. “Smooth peanut butter? Smooth?!”She’s down on the floor, banging her arms and hands with all the strength she can muster. “Why didn’t you get crunchy? Why can’t we have crunchy? What’s wrong with you? I hate you!” She screams with all her might. It sounds ridiculous, and I really hope that no adult has ever actually gone that far due to not getting their own way, whether it’s peanut butter or something slightly more serious. But when we become adults, we still have our temper tantrums; they just look a little different. Unfortunately, growing up means having to learn that we can’t always get our own way and we have to learn how to deal with it, rather than act like the child we once were who didn’t know any better, or did but didn’t care.

Another childish habit we need to grow out of is thanklessness. Ps and Qs are something children are taught, they won’t naturally thank people for things they do for them, and a lot of the time they may not even notice. Rather, it’s something they learn as they get older. Unfortunately, a lot of us could do with a bit more practise in the art of please and thank you. Perhaps we need to institute a refresher course?

‘Sweets’. Just the word is enough to make a child’s face light up instantly. I’m not sure whether it’s the actual sugary ‘goodness’ that children get so excited about or the fact that it (should be) a treat and therefore they regard it as some kind mysterious and wonderful phenomenon. Perhaps it’s a mixture. But the sweet stuff – cakes, lollies, fizzy drinks and all the rest – is often a weak spot for children and, offer them the opportunity to feast on a buffet of sweets to their hearts’ delight (please don’t), and they will do so with joyful abandon until they get to the point where they feel sick, and probably do get sick as a result. But becoming an adult goes hand in hand with learning self-control and we realise that overdoing the treats is actually us being greedy and it’s only going to have negative consequences for us.

Another way in which we grow up is learning that the world doesn’t revolve around us. When children throw tantrums, often their favourite phrases include “that’s not fair”, “but her mom…” and “but what about me?!” However, as we grow older we learn that we won’t always get our way and sometimes we just have to compromise.

I’ve read before that a child’s attention span for learning can be calculated by adding one to their number of years, e.g. an eight year old will be able to concentrate for nine minutes on a learning activity. Children struggle to listen well and are prone to blatantly looking around the room when being spoken to, interrupting people when they’re in conversation or casually running off because they’re just not interested. But if an adult were to respond in that same way, I can only imagine the frustration it would cause. As grown-ups, we learn that listening well is polite, important and a valuable character trait.

A final example of behaviour that we need to learn to leave behind along with our childhood years is lying. You’ve got to give it to the youngsters – the confidence they have in their white lies is impressive, and highly amusing. For example, my friend’s daughter when she says that no, she hasn’t had another cookie, with lips decorated by cookie crumbs, or when, no, she didn’t write on the wall that now bears the fresh pen marks spelling out her own name.

Although we may become better at hiding our lies as we get older, growing up means growing out of our lies too. It means admitting mistakes, owning up to the consequences and saying sorry.

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