2016 was an interesting year to say the least.  Never before do I remember experiencing such a gamut of emotion as I read the headlines and watched the media.  The political scene brought a mixture of amusement and disgust.  At times it was like watching children in a schoolyard brawl.  I was horrified by the acts of racial violence, terrorism and reports of child abuse and neglect. 2017 has been ushered in with protests and marches in the streets, evidence of a deeply divided nation that has seemingly lost our way.

 

It is tempting to look out at the chaos of the world and respond with fear and wringing of hands for the future of our children and grandchildren.   But this will serve no purpose.  The current cultural landscape has convinced me more that ever that we need to focus our efforts on raising well-nurtured, “gritty” children.

 

“Well nurtured” and “gritty” used together may seem a little contradictory.  But in fact, it is not.  I sometimes get push back from dads who think that a “well nurtured” child is a mamby pamby mama’s boy who is scared of his own shadow.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  Well-nurtured children grow up to be strong, “gritty” adults who are confident in who they are and their place in the world.  They are aware of an “inner life” and value system that guides their thinking and behavior.  Gritty individuals are not easily tossed about by the latest trends and fads.  They live with purpose and are committed to making a positive contribution to the world and to the wellbeing of others.

 

What does it mean to “nurture” a child?  It means that we meet their developmental needs at optimum time frames as they grow and mature.  In the course of development there are certain experiences and interactions that children need at different “sensitive periods” in order for their body, mind, soul and spirit to grow and mature in healthy ways.   The problem is that we live in a culture that is essentially child illiterate and few have a clue as to what is meant by “developmental needs.” In the absence of knowledge we make assumptions and interpret their needs in light of our own.

 

For example, we need babies who sleep through the night when they are only weeks old so that mom and dad can rest.  We need infants and toddlers that can endure 40-50 hours a week in childcare.  We need children to adjust to multiple living arrangements to accommodate custody agreements of divorced parents.  We buy into the myth of quality over quantity and expect our children to interact with us on our terms and don’t bother us when we are busy.   We need children to sit still and bubble in answers to standardized tests in the name of school improvement.  We need perfect children to assuage our own self-doubt and reassure us that we are good parents.

 

Rarely are decisions made regarding the well being of children that are truly informed by developmental needs.  Educators and childcare providers can care for and teach children without any formal training in child development.  Judges, lawyers and caseworkers make life-changing decisions about the placement of children with little understanding of their attachment needs.  Legislators determine educational standards and expectations for children with no understanding of how children learn.

 

Could it be that we don’t really want to know?  To know something about the developmental needs of children means we have a moral obligation to do what is best for them and not cater to our own convenience, personal or political agenda, or do what is easy or most cost effective.

 

But if we are to raise gritty children we need to know in order to parent with intention and purpose.  So stay tuned for coming weeks as we take a look at the fascinating world of child development.