Parenting young children — 23 March 2014
What Young Children Can Teach Us

Parents, grandparents, teachers and most adults are invested in helping children learn, expand their minds and participate in life’s experiences that excite them.  Observing youngsters’ enthusiasm and delight with new discoveries and experience life’s marvels with awe and wonder is enriching.

The thrill of learning and appreciating our world is not extinguished with age, but life’s responsibilities rob many adults of the freedom to take the time to appreciate day-to-day wonders of the world around them. Adults work hard, love their families and enjoy some recreational activities. But, as they become more emotionally stressed they tend to be less attuned to observing and appreciating nature or joyfully explore their world to attain reprieve from their burdens.

We are advised to get some rest, eat right and exercise for health and longevity. Perhaps we need to add to this formula the importance of learning from our children how to revive our sense of awe and wonder and spend more time in feeling and less time in thinking than we do.

Watching children play, run, or squeal with joy about the smallest natural wonders such as a caterpillar’s crawl or the hummingbird’s stationary pose as she extracts the nectar from a flower or becoming jubilant and triumphant when they solve a math problem or figure out some new information that thrills them, we may be prodded to re-awaken this enthusiasm in our lives.

Instead of labeling these behaviors as “childish, immature or fool-hearty”, we may choose to emulate our children’s joy of discovery and lavish in youthful exuberance when we experience the thrill of new sights or insights. These are the very skills that adults need to enhance their lives, creativity, productivity and longevity.

Psychologist Dasher Keltner found that “people who reported frequent experiences of awe, were less likely to crave hard-and-fast rules and more likely to “see both sides” of a conflict. In a more recent study, people who were asked to think about vast or expansive sights showed more creativity immediately afterwards.

Aaker Rudd and colleagues summarize their research findings: “Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being”

Even in cognitive and analytical areas children’s imagination and creativity enables them to surpass many adults in technical skills. Neela Sakaria, Senior Vice President of the research firm Latitude defines their research goals as “focusing on giving children a real voice in the broader, often very adult discussion of future technologies and real-world problem solving”. She adds, “Being a ‘digital native’ makes it easier for children to grasp the possibilities of new technologies, often quicker than adults.

It seems clear that the awe and wonder that enhances children’s joy, creativity and inventive power is also intellectually, emotionally and socially beneficial to adults throughout their lives.

Children can teach us:

  • To seek experiences that amaze and inspire us and can open our channels of creativity.
  • To experience awe and wonder around us and develop fair-mindedness towards others for a healthier life.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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