“Why do I have to learn to read?” a six-year-old asks her dad. “You can read to me,” she explained patiently. Her father asks what she will do as a grown-up if she can’t read. Her quick retort: “My husband will read to me.”
Children sometimes resist next steps in their development even though adults are avidly waiting for children to achieve them. Who doesn’t want a child to get potty trained, become a good reader, or start the writing project they’ve been assigned? One principle stands out: if we pressure children in an endeavor that they find difficult, they are apt to develop a long-term dislike for it.
The wise father in this story handles the situation lightheartedly and avoids saying “You have to learn to read or you’ll be behind everyone else.” He listens to her feelings, rather than flipping into a fear state, imagining her not even able to read street signs as an adult. If she has problems with reading, he knows he will find the help, and she won’t grow up illiterate. Above all, he wants her to love learning and have confidence in her own strengths.
We can empathize with areas of difficulty for children by reflecting on our own resistance to learning as children and even now in an area that doesn’t come easily to us. Do you love learning the latest technology? What about ballroom dancing? What areas of learning were hard for you growing up?
One of the messages of COVID may be to slow things down and pay attention to what children need in the moment, rather than viewing them as being on a timetable. Teachers at every level are reporting that children now seem younger in their development. Occasionally kindergarten-age children benefit from another year of preschool. As public schools lower the age for admission to transitional kindergarten programs, children are at risk for being thrust into structured programs prematurely, at a stage when they still need more play.
Preschools are reporting that new children who are chronologically two or sometimes even older have a hard time functioning in a busy classroom environment and may find it overstimulating. Socially they can seem young for their age and have a difficult time verbalizing needs to teachers and other children and may do better in a smaller setting. This doesn’t mean they will never catch up. If we don’t expect children to be on a fast track, we can simply love them and meet them where they are.
Children are sending us the message that we need to be patient with their development. The maturity of adulthood teaches us that it doesn’t matter what age we learn to do things, because life isn’t a race. The goal is to experience joy in the process.