Experiences vs Things

Daniel, aged 3, on the canal in Little Venice, London

Things do not make us happy. It’s experiences that make us happy. Going out, exploring the world. Interacting with the world. Doing things. THAT is what makes us happy. The same goes for our kids. We keep giving into their demands for more toys, and think that buying them more toys will keep them entertained and happy, and maybe give us a break. But no, what it does, is burn holes in our pockets, teaches them to value things over people and experiences. Teaches them that they constantly need that next fix or the next toy in order to feel happy. And worse, you then have to not only spend hours assembling the toy, but you then have to spend hours playing with them with this very toy that you thought would give you a break! Worse, they then become very controlling, as they have become so used to getting their own way, that they start telling you what to do, how you must play. What you must do and say so that they can feel a sense of power and control.

Far better it would be, if they could gain a sense of mastery over themselves and develop their own skills, which would give them their own inner sense of control, instead of having the need to feel control through controlling another. It is up to us to set them up with tasks, that will allow them to grow, and gain new skills, and a sense of empowerment and growth.

It is all to easy to fall into the materialistic notion of just buying them another toy to ‘keep them happy’. All this does is clutter your house and your life. Of course it’s nice to have nice things. But that is why it’s better to just have a few quality toys, and just get rid of the rest. Otherwise they become overwhelmed with stuff, and when they start whining and complaining that they are bored, you say ‘how can you bored when you have so many toys to play with.’

Human beings need constant change and stimulation. The only thing that can really provide that is the outside world. Getting out of the house is key to access that stimulation that both adults and kids need to feel stimulated and alive. Being at home with the same toys that a child sees day in and day out simply does not provide them with the kind of stimulation that they need. Even schools have a similar problem. Kids get bored at school because it’s always the same four walls, same place, same people. Yes the subject material might be different. But in my opinion, the best kind of school would be one where the kids are exposed to new experiences every day, with changing places, people and material.

Going to a different museum every day. Seeing different exhibitions. Going to different parks and playing different games there. I think such change is essencial for the child’s mind to expand.

When a child has too much control he feels insecure and unhappy. At the moment, Daniel is telling us what to do and getting his own way all the time. Whether it be with food, telling us what he will and will not eat, with what we do – from the second he wakes up, telling us we have to play with him. Saying he wants to stay at home. Saying that we mustn’t talk to each other, only to him. At the end of the day, he needs to know that we are the boss, not him, and we need to direct his day, not him. 

What has led to this is that we have always been scared for him to cry. You read all these books that say letting them get distressed is bad for them because then the brain gets wired for cortisol which primes them for stress later in life. But just crying a bit is very different to getting distressed. We must not be scared to let them cry. That was the first piece of advice that our cousin Martin gave us. His kids are the loveliest sweetest most well behaved kids I have ever come across. He said that the hardest part of being a parent is holding your child while they cry and not giving into them. Munchkin was only 6 months old and he said if we haven’t started disciplining already at 6 months old it’s already too late. These religious people know something that we don’t. They have so many kids that no one kid can be spoilt. They have to learn to fit in, and there is no way that one child can have all the control and power because they just have to fit into the hierarchy. 

We are giving Dani the best of everything. And giving him full control over everything. Doing everything for him. Even dressing and undressing him, brushing his teeth. Giving into his food whims. Doing what he wants all the time. Giving into him when he cries. Giving him no schedule or structure. Because we are displaying no control over his life, he feels like he needs to take control. And this is where the problems starts.

We need to provide him with routine and structure. He needs to start dressing and undressing himself. For the day he must have some sort of activity that we plan. He is feeling insecure because he has no structure or routine and has no idea what is coming next, and he has way too much power and control. He will only feel safe if we manage his day for him, while giving him some control and independence where he dresses himself. He also needs a consistent routine at night that includes and bath and story and consistent predictable bedtime. Their day needs to be so full and busy that they should literally fall into bed from exhaustion at the end of it.

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