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What we can learn from acting more like children

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Maybe it’s because they don’t have mortgages weighing them down, work deadlines or hungry mouths to feed, but when you examine it, children are having all the fun and we’ve got the bum deal. Before we all get caught up in the serious side of life, here’s some life lessons we can take by acting more like children.

1. Children forgive easily

They get really mad of course, but children are amazing at forgiveness. They can go from screaming and arguing one minute, to completing forgetting what they were angry about the next. Adults on the other hand have an extraordinary ability to hold a grudge. Holding a grudge is natural human behaviour, the problem is, they can be really hard to let go of.

Acting more like children can help – write down the reason you’re holding a grudge. (If you can’t remember, it’s definitely time to let it go), then look at what the grudge is doing to you. Does it eat away at your happiness or hinder your sleep? Does it stop you from seeing people you’d like to see? Is the negativity you harbour worth the grudge? A child would forgive at this point because they realise it’s more valuable to be playing, than being angry and on their own. Think about the times you made up with someone only to forge a stronger relationship with them. With this in mind, thank your inner child and do what it takes to forgive.

2 Try new things

“I took my kids to a Go Ape course and watched them balancing on ropes high up in the trees with just a carabiner holding them tight,” explains mum of two Alice. “I watched their fearless energy, their ability to throw themselves into every new situation and pure bravery and decided at that moment to stop talking about starting my own business and actually start it.” Alice has it spot on – if you’ve been meaning to make a change but are too scared to go ahead with it – grab the rope and swing off the ledge just like your inner child would.

3. Speak your mind/freely

One of the favourite things about my children is their ability to speak their minds, any place, anytime. This lends itself to embarrassing situations; my eldest once asked me on a bus, why people take the bus. I explained lots of people don’t have cars, so they take the bus. My child then said (loudly) ‘but why have none of these people got cars when we have TWO’. She had a point.

As adults we have learnt not to hurt people’s feelings by talking too freely, but how many times have you walked away from a situation wishing you’d spoken your mind? If you feel it’s time to ask for that pay rise, or voice your concerns about a family issue, the best advice is to prepare exactly what to say. If you do it ‘on the hoof’ you may end up saying the wrong thing. Try to predict the questions that will be fired back at you and have an answer ready. We can borrow the confidence to speak freely from children but plan what we say as adults.

4. Admit they don’t understand

If you’ve seen the scene in the film ‘Big’, where Tom Hank’s boy character says: ‘I don’t get it,’ numerous times in a business meeting, you’ll understand children’s ability to question everything.

As children we are programmed to think adults know everything, so once we become adults, it’s very hard to admit we actually fall short. Admitting we don’t understand comes with its own challenges – at work we worry it makes us look incompetent and our personal lives don’t come with any guidebooks; there’s plenty we don’t understand.

“I started a new project at work and felt completely out of my depth,” admits Amber, 38. “Everyone else seemed smarter and more clued up than me. I eventually plucked up the courage to admit I didn’t understand how it worked and was taken under the wing of my bosses’ boss, who became my mentor. Asking for help not only taught me what I needed; but empowered me in my career.”

5. Be adaptable

Being adaptable is a quality that makes children so carefree. They can change schools, move countries, swap friendship groups and start new sports; adapting very quickly to a whole new set of rules. The coronavirus pandemic is a good example – millions of schoolchildren all around the globe suddenly had to adapt to being taught at home by their parents – and they coped, shifted and found a new way to learn.

Making yourself as adaptable as the little people around you will give you the resilience to cope with the ever-shifting world we live in. Try these steps for starters:

  1. Be willing to learn – if you can see your business taking a different route, don’t be afraid to learn new skills to accommodate a new approach.
  2. Be open to new things – don’t push ‘new’ away just because it hasn’t been done before. No one thought the internet would catch on at first, because it was so different.
  3. Be flexible. Plans change, trains are late, people change their minds and the weather is unpredictable.

6. Let silliness in

Acting more like children means letting the silliness in. In fact, experts agree that one of the best things you can do as a parent is be silly with your kids. It teaches them life can be full of fun and joy and being an adult isn’t just about being serious and sensible.

Hannah, 29 says silliness saved her: “I was going through a horrible break-up and my flat mate began drawing faces on pieces of fruit before she left for work,” she explains. “At first it just made me giggle, but eventually I couldn’t wait to get up and discover whether a watermelon person was waiting for me.”

7. Wear what we like

We all have our uniforms; what we are supposed to wear in the office, what we should look like as women, what the other mums are wearing at the school gates or what women ‘our age’ are supposed to wear. Acting more like children and wearing exactly what we want is one of the most liberating things you can do for yourself. The poem, Warning by Jenny Joseph sums it up in the first two lines and the last three lines (but is worth reading the whole way through here):

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…

 

…But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old and I start to wear purple.

8. Have a good cry

Children have a huge cry, get it all out of their system and carry on with their games. Adults tend to bottle emotions up, which means frustrations, resentments and anger cause stress and anxiety instead. Turns out children are on to something with their crying. Not only has it been found to lower blood pressure and your heart rate, but also reduces the body’s manganese level (manganese is a mineral that adversely affects your mood, especially if levels are high). It’s also incredibly cathartic – you always feel much better after a good sob.

9. Distance yourself from friends

“My daughter came home from school one day and told me she didn’t want to play with her friend anymore because she made her feel rubbish,” explains mum-of-three Michelle. “It was such a wake-up call for me. One of my friends always put me down in front of others and I’d come away feeling miserable. I took a leaf out of my daughter’s book and put that friend at a distance.” Read 15 Things You Can Only Get from Good Friends to see what good friends should be like.

10. Take time to notice the small stuff

Admittedly it can take ages (hours even) to walk anywhere with a small child because they want to stop and examine every crack in the pavement. But in the fast-paced adult world, we can learn from acting like children by stopping and taking notice of what is around us. Put your phone away whilst you walk to work or through a familiar park and try to zone out the noise around you. Look around and find three things you’ve never noticed before. Borrow from your inner child and don’t forget the small stuff.

11. Love your scars

Remember when we were kids and having a huge scab on your knee was the height of cool, or you got stitches from falling over roller skating. We can all be more like children when it comes to excepting that the scars on our bodies (stretch marks, c-section scars, blemishes) are our badges of honour and make us who we are.

12. Climb a tree

When did you last climb a tree? Do you remember the thrill of climbing trees as a child and viewing the world from a different perspective?

Some studies have shown that phytoncides – a substance emitted by trees can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve concentration and immunity. No better excuse to search for your nearest Oak and start clambering. If you need some help read The Tree Climbers Guide: Harper: 2017, which is a guidebook which encourages adults to take more risks and learn how to climb trees again.

13. Make a mess

We live in a culture obsessed with clearing the clutter and having houses that are Instagram perfect. In reality living life, eating, seeing friends and having children creates a mess which in turn creates anxiety and hours of cleaning up. Child psychologists on the other hand have long since seen the benefits of ‘messy play’ for children. Children with behavioural or emotional problems often choose wet clay or paint pictures to get rid of anger and all children use messy play as a tool for expressing their emotions.

Acting more like children and giving in to the mess, be it painting on to a canvas, baking a cake or making a collage, all foster creativity, imagination and are brilliant for concentration. Just keep a hoover handy and invest in an apron.

14. Break the rules

We don’t mean robbing a bank, but once in a while breaking your own personal rules can be really liberating. Children push the boundaries to assert themselves, so they can learn about the world of adults. For adults, breaking personal rules that limit your enjoyment can work wonders for your freedom. If you only ever have one glass of wine, you’re in bed by 10.30pm every night and never eat bread – it’s time to have a drunken midnight feast with croissants.

When it comes to your career, look at history – every great invention or idea was spurned from somebody breaking the rules and doing something different – Steve Jobs is a case in point. Is it time to shake things up at work – we say YES!

15. Love fearlessly

Children love unconditionally and are unashamed about it. Have you ever said goodbye to a loved one at an airport and wanted to cling to their leg like a toddler? Sometimes the thought of loving someone fearlessly is scary – it comes with risks and can often end up with heartache and vulnerability. But sometimes taking a risk when it comes to love or jumping into a relationship with no thought for what you’ll get in return, can represent the strongest desires and union.

Taylor Swift sums it up nicely:

‘I think fearless is having fears but jumping in anyway.’

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