Sheltering Childhood Nurtures Your Child

Mom and son playing outdoors

So far this week I’ve focused on how you can support your child’s healthiest brain development. I thought I might spend today’s post discussing the brain-draining effects of Time-Out, but I’m reconsidering.

(By the way, my position on Time-Out aligns with Dan Siegel’s, one of the architects of the field of attachment neurobiology. Spoiler alert: neither of us recommends it.)

As I tell my clients and community of parents-in-progress, I don’t like to use up my time with you discussing stuff you can find in many other places from many other experts. (An increasing number of parenting pundits agree with Dan and me on Time-Out.) Instead, I like to devote our time together to insights you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.

The Epidemic of TMTS

The media-saturated screen technologies I discussed yesterday are just one way our culture seems hell-bent on saddling children’s lives with adult things. I think we do it out of genuinely good intentions — to prepare our children for what they’ll face in the “real world.” But a child’s brain and psyche are very different from those of an adult, and treating children as miniature adults is counterproductive to our goals of raising healthy, informed, engaged citizens.

Instead, it can result in a nasty case of TMTS — Too Much Too Soon. You can see its effects in many middle- and high-school children who have become jaded; they do not seem to find in school, in learning, or in life, anything about which to be excited, enthused, or inspired. They exude a weary “been there, done that” attitude.

If you think you might have a budding case of TMTS in your home, take heart. You are not alone! But just because everyone’s doing it (an excuse you surely will not let your teen get away with, am I right?!) is no reason for you to get sucked into the collective anxiousness to rush your child out of childhood. I mean, just think of it: he or she will have many decades of being an adult — but only a few precious years of being a child. It is a time to be cherished, respected and protected!

Here are some ways to prevent and even inoculate your child against TMTS.

Shielding Your Child from TMTS

Be media-wise — Media in general tends to fall into the “adultifying” category: not only does focusing on screens undermine healthy development in anything beyond the smallest doses, but much of its content isn’t age-appropriate for kids — even so-called children’s programming. Social critic Neil Postman was prescient about today’s TMTS epidemic in his 1994 book The Disappearance of Childhood:

“To a certain extent curiosity comes naturally to the young, but its development depends upon a growing awareness of the power of well-ordered questions to expose secrets. The world of the known and the not yet known is bridged by wonderment. But wonderment happens largely in a situation where the child’s world is separate from the adult world, where children must seek entry, through their questions, into the adult world. As media merge the two worlds, as the tension created by secrets to be unraveled is diminished, the calculus of wonderment changes. Curiosity is replaced by cynicism or, even worse, arrogance. We are left with children who rely not on authoritative adults but on news from nowhere. We are left with children who are given answers to questions they never asked. We are left, in short, without children.”

Be wonder-full — Sheltering your child’s natural sense of wonder (and reawakening your own if it has atrophied over the years) is a gift of lasting wellbeing for you both. An inoculation against ennui. That sense of “Wow, water out of the tap!” or “Wow, a perfectly round bird’s nest!” is a route to vast inner horizons. When we lose that, we need ever more stimulation — more shopping, more drama, more drugs and alcohol, more thrillers, more sexual excess, and so on — to fill the void of disenchantment.

A helpful way to approach this is to imagine looking out at the world through your child’s eyes. The more we can live, as Joseph Chilton Pearce puts it, “in constant astonishment,” the more we can attune to the aspect of our children that craves wonderment and beauty.

Having a child by your side gives you permission to be especially exuberant in expressing delight in a world in which everything can be magically alive. “Hello, leaves… hello, pebbles… hello, wind!”

Shelter your child from adult concerns — Even in homes where media and other popular culture is curbed, one way children can suffer from TMTS is through being inadvertently overexposed to adult life in general. This can happen simply by discussing everyday stuff with your spouse within earshot of your child.

I’m not talking about buffering your child from the normal vagaries of childhood — the daily frustrations inherent in being a child, the disappointments with parental restrictions, the spats with friends, the famous skinned knees. These are all essential for developing resilience. I’m talking about sheltering your child from the vagaries of adulthood, one of which is simply a flood of too much information: family politics, marital discord, political intrigue, intriguing reality shows, community gossip, and the like.

This is one of the many good reasons for including an early bedtime in your child’s daily rhythm — to preserve enough adult-only time during which you can engage in data-rich discussions to your mind’s content!

Be your child’s unshakeable leader — Cultivate calm, loving authority and your child will thrive. Unlike in so many families these days, where parents seem to have become allergic to their children’s upset or displeasure, your child needs to know that you will not be shaken by her crying, whining, or protests. It allows her to feel secure, and when she’s secure, her brain development can continue to optimally unfold — rather than being curtailed by cortisol and other stress hormones that flow when she’s unsure of your leadership.

Gird yourself for near-constant pressure from your school-aged child, your tween, and your teen — and from the wider culture — wanting to accelerate his or her participation in adult themes of fashion, materialism, general sophistication and even sexuality. Become fluent with this handy response: “Not yet.” You can tailor many personalized variations on this excellent alternative to “No” — such as “Not right now,” “Not quite yet,” “Not until I think it’s time,” and so on.

Do you have any ideas of ways you might begin to bring more shelter to your child’s childhood? I would love to hear about them!

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Marcy Axness, PhD, is an early development specialist, parent coach, and author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers. She believes we need to raise a generation who are "hardwired" with the brain-based capacities of peacemakers. Marcy is offering Dr. Greene's readers a free copy of her "7-Step Guide: Helping Your Child Release Stuck Behaviors eBooklet, a unique, powerful tool for parents to use with children of all ages.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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