Recently, at a dinner party, a young gentleman came up to me and asked what are you studying? And I replied politely, I’m working. And he instantly responded, oh these days people start working at such a young age. He didn’t stop to let me explain. I have often faced instances where people at first interaction think of me as a college student. Some have taken it a step further and thought I am in school. Weird. So yes I definitely I don’t look my age. I guess thanks to my genes – thanks mom and dad! But I think there is another important factor that makes me and helps me stay young, I get to relive my childhood everyday.
I’m a developmental psychologist, which in simple terms means, I work with very young children who might have certain neuro-developmental disorders, like Autism. And by young children I mean, kids from 3 to 8 years. So I help to develop an array of skills in these children – social language and communication and socio-emotional skills. But how do I help build these skills?
So contrary to popular notions about psychologists, I can’t make children lie down on a couch with me sitting across them with a notebook and pen in hand, asking them questions and reflecting on different issues. To be with a child and help him or her, you need to be a child. Everyday I play with these children – get my hands and feet dirty, jump on the trampoline, get into a ball pool, run around, paint, dance, sing and most importantly laugh a lot. How could I not love this job? Though don’t be fooled, these interactions are goal oriented, and not just mindless games. Through these modalities we achieve our different goals, by ensuring that the child is happy, secure, not threatened and motivated to explore, create and learn.
However, what strikes me on a regular basis is that how kids are so simple, and are just looking for love, encouragement and lots of hugs. And why has that become so difficult? Most kids that come to me look forward to my sessions because they have someone giving them individual attention and having fun with them. The sad part of having any form of disability or difficulty, we get so engrossed in compensating and building skills, that we forget that every child wants to play and have fun. Learning of any kind doesn’t need to be a task. So, the most important part of being a parent, psychologist, therapist, teacher, educator, doctor, or any person interacting with a child in a direct manner, has to be able to let down their hair and get down to the level of the child. Why would any child want to be in our company or be motivated to interact with us, if we are going to be talking, instructing or preaching?
When we were growing up, academics were all that everyone looked at. If you didn’t excel in school or college, you have no future ahead. Luckily times are changing, and more and more options are available to different individuals based on their skills, talent, and education. However in our fast paced world, it’s all about survival of the fittest. So as parents, educators and professionals, we start building skills and honing talents in our young ones at the earliest. So even in neuro-typical children we are looking at all round skill development, but are we tapping into emotional development of the child. Are our children growing up too fast?
My best memories from my childhood are running around and playing in the park with my friends; playing dress up with my sister; my dad tickling and swirling me around; making baby rotis while my mother cooked and bedtime stories by my grandparents. Helping our children reach their best in any field is as crucial as creating happy memories for a secure enriched socio-emotional development. They have their whole life to be adults, let them be children for some time. Let them roll around in the mud, scream and run around, create a mess, laugh, and cry and have fun. Let them be kids for a little while longer.
And sometimes even we need to embrace the child in us – relax, be carefree, laugh at the simple joys of life and have fun.
Written by: Soumini Menon, Developmental Psychologist, Children First