We teach our children everything we can think of, from tying shoelaces to crossing the street safely to how to ride a bike. But have you thought about the ways our kids can inspire us? Here are seven valuable lessons we can learn from our children—one to try out for every day of the week.
1. Nothing is Impossible
Recently, National Geographic reported on ocean explorer Robert Ballard’s plan to use deep-sea robots to paint the Titanic underwater (yes, you read that right). “Most adults are agog at the seemingly impossible plan,” read the article on the man who discovered the remains of the Titanic in 1985. “But when he talks about it with schoolchildren, he said, ‘their first question is, What color?’” Children are famously open-minded when it comes to absorbing big concepts and remaining unfailingly optimistic about ideas and projects that might seem impossible to adults. Imagine what we could accomplish if we adopted this ability to remain positive and confident about the daunting tasks in life, both big and small?
2. Forgive and Forget
Jack and Jill are playing. Jack bonks Jill over the head with a maraca; tears ensue. Jack gets scolded by his mother; more tears ensue. But minutes later, the tears have dried and Jack and Jill are playing happily together as if nothing happened. It’s a scenario that every mother who’s ever been on a playdate with her children can attest to, but it’s an attitude of forgiveness that we often don’t practice ourselves in our everyday life. Accepting that a difficult encounter can simply happen in the moment—a coworker snaps at you at the copy machine, a friend seems moody and self-absorbed over coffee—and moving on from it without holding a grudge not only means stronger relationships, but a mutual sense of understanding on those days when you’re the one to exhibit a little bad behavior.
3. Tell the Truth
The often-times brutal honesty exhibited by children can range from the benign (“That man has a moustache!”) to the cringe-inducing (“Mommy, you look fat in that dress!”). But as kids get older and learn to modify the honesty that once came naturally, we may find ourselves missing that incomparable candor. The truth about the truth is that that most of us could use a little more of it in our daily lives. Telling fibs, white lies, and outright whoppers diminishes both our relationships and our sense of self-worth. Mark Twain may have been channeling his inner child when he made his famous quote: “When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.” For some truth-telling encouragement (not to mention a catchy song for the whole family to sing together), check out kiddie rock band Princess Katie and Racer Steve’s musical homage to honesty, Tell the Truth (“Tell the truth/It’s the right thing to do/Tell the Truth/They’ll still love you.”)
4. Get Angry
As adults—especially women who are told they are “bitches” or “shrews” when they get angry—we may often find ourselves bottling up our anger or talking ourselves out of how we really feel. Children, on the other hand, don’t hold back. While their displays of anger can be dramatic (an unforgettable tantrum in the middle of Macy’s, say, or a full-fledged, screaming collapse on the sidewalk), you have to give them credit for allowing themselves to feel what they feel. Ever notice how a child will brighten up mere minutes after a blood-curdling meltdown? Now think about how you had a night’s worth of indigestion after you decided not to address the frustration you were feeling with your partner. Not only does expressing anger allow you to accept your feelings as being perfectly valid, but it gives the object of your irritation the opportunity to resolve things. (Expressing anger appropriately, that is. A kicking-and-screaming tantrum in your boss’s office is not likely to garner you the raise you were looking for, although you may score some mental-health leave.)
5. You Can Do Anything
In adult conversation, we hear it again and again: “I can’t draw.” “I don’t dance.” “I’m a terrible singer.” And sadly, kids can begin to mimic this self-conscious sentiment at a very early age. But very young children will happily and unhesitatingly throw themselves into a variety of activities with admirable gusto—unabashedly dancing when they hear music, finger-painting with total focus and enthusiasm, singing at the top of their lungs. Just look at what a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy did over the course of a summer with nothing more than space, art supplies, and his imagination: he built an amazing cardboard arcade in his father’s used car-parts store. When grown-ups say they “can’t” do something, what they’re really saying is that they’re afraid to try, lest they look foolish or come up short. Taking on a new challenge in an area outside of your comfort zone—a watercolor class, or a spot with the local choir—will not only liberate you from self-imposed feelings of limitation, but you may just discover a wealth of talents that you didn’t know you had.
6. Try, Try Again
Just as kids will throw themselves into singing or dancing or whatever it is that catches their fancy, they’ll also keep trying until they get it right without any sense of self-consciousness or self-criticism. Did the tower of blocks they just constructed topple? Watch as they immediately start building it back up. We grown-ups could use some of this attitude ourselves instead of looking for quick fixes or giving up on something when we hit a stumbling block. After all, if our children can patiently re-build that Lego® castle after the family dog deconstructed it, can’t we take the time—and have the confidence in ourselves—to master an hour of Zumba or rewrite the perfect term paper for that night class we’ve been taking?
7. Accept Yourself
“I like my hair! I like my haircuts! I like my pajamas!” These are the words not of a particularly exuberant motivational speaker, but an adorable 4-year-old girl named Jessica in a YouTube video called Jessica’s ‘Daily Affirmation. “I can do anything good! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” shouts Jessica, in front of her bathroom mirror. We could all use some of this cheerful, unselfconscious self-affirmation. I’ve never heard a child complain about having curly hair versus straight, or shoulders that are too big or small, or legs that are too chubby or too skinny. But I’ve heard all of my friends say these things (and more) about themselves—and unfortunately, children are quick to pick up on it and turn the same critical eye upon themselves. Imagine, if you possibly can, going a day without grimacing at the sight of your upper arms in the mirror, or obsessing over your cellulite, or wishing your feet were just a tad smaller. Imagine how liberating it would be not to worry about your pores, or the cost of that lotion that’s guaranteed to minimize under-eye circles. For one thing, you’d accomplish so much more in this new role as a woman who doesn’t care that her feet are a size eleven (who wears kitten heels, anyway?). And for another, you might just inspire that same self-confidence in your growing child, who might any day fall victim to this insidious kind of discontent with his or her self. And that’s reason enough right there.