Little children experience the greatest joy and the greatest suffering. Children have fewer worries, unaware as they are of the countless daily threats you and I can learn about by clicking a few links on the Internet or spending a few minutes on any headline news. They seek excitement from the moment they start their day. They also have much less imagined suffering. The world is novel for them—there’s so much to learn and explore. Their mind-wandering apparatus isn’t fully mature yet. Hence, they suffer less.
But the same attributes impair their ability to process adversity. With their less mature brain and relative inexperience, they have a limited ability to problem solve. Because they cannot project too far, they exaggerate the imperfections of the present moment. They are surrounded by phenomenal attractions over which they have little control. They lack the sophistication to express their innocence and often are disciplined when they should be understood. I can’t begin to imagine the suffering experienced by a three-year-old who gets a ten-minute time-out in a dark pantry for speaking out loud to an adult who could not understand the child’s desire to turn the water faucet on by him- or herself.
None of this is helped by the fact that the grown-ups who surround the children have all the power, all the access to resources, and five times their size. Some adults are unpredictable and unkind. For all of these reasons, children suffer.
The greatest threat to a child’s happiness is company of an adult or adults who aren’t kind to them. Research shows that the single most important variable in the resiliency among children is the company of an adult who loves them and knows how to show it. That adult doesn’t always have to be a parent—it can be a neighbor, friend’s parent, teacher, counselor, pastor, or anyone else who comes in contact with the child.
I believe the single most important thing we can do to compensate for our children’s neural limitations is to get them habituated to kindness. Let them grow in a world where kindness is the norm. Let them crave kindness. Raised voices and temper should surprise them. Children raised with kindness will emanate kindness. They will find kind partners. They will be healthier, more successful, and happier, and they will create a kind world. By being kind to the child next to you, you are truly paying it forward.
May every little one in your family be surrounded by a garland of love.