Remember long summer holidays and car journeys that felt like they’d never end? Time moves more slowly for children compared to grown-ups. This can be the source of all sorts of problems if you don’t recognise and account for it in your expectations, interactions and plans. Let me explain.
We move at a faster pace than children. This has two consequences. The first is around patience. We expect them to do things faster, and expect them to be capable of things earlier than they developmentally able to do them. When they don’t meet our expectations we get impatient, and maybe angry. Not good for anyone.
The second is around connection. We don’t properly appreciate the time they need to feel really connected to us, to learn about themselves and the world around them. To us things can be tedious, monotonous, a constant repetition of ‘why haven’t you done this?’ and ‘why did you do that again?’. The whats change as they age but our whys don’t. To them, we’re just impatient, naggy grown-ups. Not something we want to be.
In many nurseries, workers are now reporting more children are biting than ever before. They say parents aren’t able to put the time in to help their children learn to understand and express their emotions in ways that don’t hurt others.
I know working parents have it hard, but I think many can make the time if they choose to. It might mean sacrificing a few holidays, or putting the pension payments on hold for a few years, but it’s worth it because you only get one shot at raising each particular child.
Solving this out of sync challenge, and therefore becoming more patient and helping our children develop into better people, starts by getting a better understanding of time why we experience time so differently.
Why they view time differently
The simplest explanation centres on the proportion of life that’s passing. The older we are the smaller each hour is in relation to the sum of all the hours we’ve lived through. We’ve lived through more so know what it’s like and what’s likely to come. It’s a bit like the difference between your first and second child. Generally, you find the second easier because you’ve been through the stress, self-doubt and uncertainty with the first, and learn not to worry as much about so much of it.
There’s more to it though. Novel experiences act as markers for the passage of time. The more of them we have, the slower time seems to pass, which is why when you go away to somewhere new it feels like a proper break, even if it’s just been a weekend. Children are having far more novel experiences than us grown-ups, so for them time seems to pass more slowly. This goes for teenagers too, who, despite how worldly wise they aspire to be, are still having loads of new life experiences.
For children, all these novel experiences are building their understanding of themselves, the world around them and how best to work within it to get what they need and want. This isn’t a project that gets achieved in a year. It takes a lot of time, day-in-day-out for one and a half to two decades.
In the early years they need parental input, lots of it. It’s repetitive work constantly playing the same game, but they need it. As they develop, as their needs change, so does the type of involvement needed from you. It might not look like it, but they are always learning and developing, when they’re playing, when they’re at school, in their clubs, hanging out with mates, playing with toys and games and making up nonsense. Most of their work is invisible, we don’t see their brains growing and developing, but rest assured they are.
Why we do
Us grown-ups though are operating in a different time frame. Faster, more short term and increasingly more immediate.
We just have more things that need to be done in the short term. The daily to-do list, keeping fit, keeping in touch with friends, paying the bills, doing up the washing, watching the latest episode in the series, trying that new restaurant and hopefully reaching the weekend without dropping any balls. Modern working parental life can feel relentless.
It’s deeper than just the barrage of the day to day though. Most of our adult lives we’ve been trying to be, do and have more, because we’re constantly told that people who do and have more than us, have more social status.
Humans are hardwired to intuit and value social status, because it was essential for our survival as tribe-dwelling hunter gatherers. People who didn’t care and did what they wanted regardless of what was best for the tribe will have quickly been fending for themselves. In a world where homo sapiens were not the strongest, fastest or stealthiest of creatures, the chances of that lone human’s genes flourishing for generation after generation, were about nil. Today though, with so many things in society broken, playing the mainstream social status game is a road to mental ill health. But going against evolutionary design takes conscious thought and effort. It’s just not possible all the time, especially when we’re busy, tired or distracted, which is why we lapse back into the trap of wanting more.
There’s another force at work too. Society is speeding things up. Amazon and Uber have shown that, unchecked, people will choose instant and easy over fair and just. It’s basic human nature, but isn’t inevitable because we can operate above our basic functioning when we consciously choose to. Unfortunately, the meticulously engineered attention capturing machines of Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are all trying to keep us distracted. For decades brands and advertisers have been plying us with promises of quick rewards with little effort, wash board abs in a week, smooth skin with two squirts of cream, healthier guts with a few gulps of a sweet yoghurt substance.
Our evolutionary drives of yesterday in today’s world of mass media, constant connection and always accessible technology are speeding us up, when to getting in sync with the children we love, means slowing down.
How you get in sync
You can start simply by removing social media apps from your phone, and only using them from a laptop. This is a trick I picked up from Cal Newport’s Deep Work, and it does help. You have more space and think about things you want to, and to stay connected with your kids.
You can practice asking yourself ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’ to better understand how the stories in your head are making you do things. Like checking work emails when you’re on the loo at home, which will continue to distract you for a while after you’ve left the bathroom (there’s a hangover effect from checking messages that absorbs your focus for about 20 minutes after).
You can set boundaries, consciously choosing when to perform certain tasks e.g. I’ll check my messages after 8:30pm or in an hour, whatever.
Going back to the first article, you can practice catching and rewriting the story of what really matters to you in life when you find yourself slipping back into the default society keeps telling us.
And if you do that, you will have a better experience of life yourself. It’s just hard to do. I check facebook about once a week. Twitter is my poison though. I deleted from my phone for two weeks and had much better ideas and connections with the people around me, but it crept back on. Now I’ve just deleted it again.
Hitting the pace you want to move at is hard. You’re always getting pulled and pushed to speed up, but if you know what you’re aiming for there’s a much better chance you’ll hit it.