Many children today live extremely busy lives. Term time, especially, is often a blur of activities. After a taxing day at school, many children then have hours of after school and weekend activities. I hear many parents talk about their children ‘hanging on in there’ or ‘just about holding it together’ as they near the end of a term at school. We seem to live in a society where ‘doing’ is valued and ‘being’ is not. Children often grow up deriving their self-esteem from their external achievements. So, unless they are busy achieving out in the world, they do not know how to feel good about themselves. This drives them to do more and more.
But does this matter? Many people would say that children today are lucky to have so many opportunities to play different sports, learn instruments, do martial arts, learn extra languages, take dance classes or pretty much anything that takes their fancy. And, of course, on one level they are. However, as with most things in life, balance and timing are the key.
One of the most influential Chinese doctors of all time was Sun Simiao, who lived approximately 1500 years ago. He wrote:
‘The way of nurturing life is to constantly strive for minor exertion but never become greatly fatigued and force what you cannot endure.’
Ironically, in the 21st century, many of us feel that unless we are greatly fatigued and really ‘digging deep’ that we are simply not working hard enough! Sun Simiao’s words, however, are especially important for children.
Children’s yin is said to be ‘immature’. It is still in a state of development until a child stops growing which, for most children, is some time in the mid-teens. Yin is essential for the physical body to become strong and for stamina. Yin also underpins good mental health. Without it, it is hard for us to feel calm and to be resilient against life’s challenges. Too much activity depletes the yin energy of the body. And because children’s yin is not yet fully developed anyway, lots of activity is especially detrimental for them.
Pushing a young child to become proficient in mandarin, an Olympic gymnast or a highly-skilled musician when they cannot endure it*, is like decorating a house before building strong foundations. Childhood should be about building the foundations so that they are as strong and robust as possible. A child then has the rest of their lives to develop refined skills or, as it were, to put the decorations on their house.
So, if as a parent you feel that your child is constantly tired, or that they have very little opportunity to just ‘be’, it might be worth reflecting on how their schedule can be reduced. Not only might it help them to grow up physically and mentally strong, it will also teach them an important lifelong lesson. If, as children, we do not learn how to be still, quiet and reflective at times, we have little hope of doing this as an adult.
*How to spot the signs that a child may not be enduring what is being asked of them will be the subject of my next blog post.