Learning from Children

It’s been a VERY long time since I’ve published a blog update and I’m truly sad about that, but it’s been a busy year. I’ve switched jobs, among other things, and I am getting ready to test for my black belt in karate (Kenpo). As part of that journey, I was required to prepare a lesson of the week to share with my fellow students at Action Karate, and thought perhaps I’d share it here since a few people asked if they could have a copy. I’d love to hear your thoughts about lessons you’ve learned from the children in your life in the comments!

As adults, whether or not we are parents, we spend quite a bit of time and effort trying to teach our children important lessons we believe will help them get through life more successfully. But, actually, I believe that children come equipped with some important and poignant insight that, if we just listened carefully, could help us live happier more productive lives. Here are 6 of the key lessons I have learned from my children. I hope this will inspire you to both learn from their wisdom and also open your mind, eyes and ears to the gems the children in your life have to offer.

  1. Live in the moment:  Kids have a remarkable way of living in the present moment. While they’re doing that, they aren’t focusing on regrets about yesterday, worries about tomorrow, or anything that interferes with being the very happiest they can be right now. This is why a 1st grader can be excited to learn to add without thinking about how they will ever be able to do calculus or why an Asah shark can be completely delighted with every single stripe on their belt without concern for how far a road they have before they earn their junior black belt.  They enjoy the ride without concern for the destination. As adults we get overly focused on the outcome we desire that we forget to enjoy the process – and actually this is where the foundation of happiness truly lies.
  2. Life’s greatest pleasures are found in the smallest moments:  Have you ever heard a child say “This is the BEST DAY EVER!” or something similar? Yes, children tend to be hyperbolic, but they sincerely feel these feelings over and over again. Maybe it’s a big thing like a birthday party or special gift, but usually my kids’ “BEST DAYS EVER” come from little moments like a family movie, an unscheduled walk around the block, a special dessert or sharing a book together at bedtime. My son Zach is so good at enjoying the little moments in life. He could truly have fun alone with his thoughts if he conjures up something funny or exciting in his mind. He can make a toy of just about anything and laughs out loud even when nobody is around to hear him (so he thinks). Enjoying these small moments makes life a very happy experience for him and when I remember to follow his example, for me as well. My husband, David and I, quote the movie “Zombieland” (I’m not even kidding) often – and if you’ve seen it you’ll understand this – Rule #32 – remember the little things.
  3. Love perfectly:  When my children first started saying “I love you” they had no mental construct for defining a term like love. But I could tell by their full strength hugs, kisses with nothing held back, and the look in their eyes that they loved me perfectly and genuinely. Children don’t withhold affection, wait to see if someone loves them first, play any psychological games – they love from the heart, not the mind, and they do it perfectly. The way it should be.
  4. Give people a second chance:  Sometimes as adults we tend to make decisions about who people are based on what they do — and there those judgments sit, rigid in our minds. But sometimes when someone does something you feel is wrong or they’ve hurt you in some way, they’ve simply made a mistake or had a bad day. Even if the person is malicious in some way, there could be something going on in their lives you aren’t aware of. My son Jacob is particularly good at giving people a second chance. Kids who were once bullies are eligible to be friends in another school year. Kids who once wronged him get a chance in his mind to be a good person who just made a mistake, had a bad day, went through a bad time, or something else. He doesn’t hold onto negativity and I believe is happier than most people because he has such a big heart.
  5. It’s OK to make mistakes:  Everyone makes mistakes (there’s even a Sesame Street song about it, so I know it’s true). We tell children, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…” but they start off life do this naturally. When they are learning to walk, if they fall, they get up, dust off their hands, and keep going. When they are learning to talk, they find the best words they can to say what they need to say and if they don’t get through, they try another way. Why do we, as adults, believe we should be able to get everything right the first time? Think of yourself as a lifelong learner and take advantage of your mistakes as stepping stones to accomplishment.
  6. Try again: This is related to the idea of it being ok to make mistakes but with a slight twist. Sometimes we quit when something is too hard. I’m a perfect example. It took me 18 months to go from a white belt to a yellow belt. Really. A year and a half. Why? The first time I tried to take karate, I was completely intimidated by everyone and everything. I started in the middle of the cycle, didn’t understand the difference between a self-defense and a kata, was very introverted and started hearing about “testing” which was terrifying. I watched as my children and husband earned new belts and learned new material and decided to try again months later. And I quit again. This time it was because I saw how good my husband was at karate and felt like I couldn’t keep up. Sure, it was an excuse now that I look back, but it seemed like a good reason at the time. Finally I decided to try yet again. Why? Because my kids told me, “You can do this, Mom.” They believed in me and in the power of trying again. So I humbled myself, went back and committed to earning my black belt. I’m so glad I did.

Children give us a wonderful opportunity to learn from minds uncomplicated with life’s intricacies and subtleties and while sometimes these nuances matter, most of the time they clutter our judgment. I encourage you to humble yourself a bit today, tomorrow, and any time you have a chance — listen to a child –really listen—and you may find that life is truly a happier journey.

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