Can you remember what sort of person you were at the age of 5?
During an interview, Roald Dahl, the great children’s author (among many other accolades) said “Most adults have forgotten what’s it’s like to think like a child.” He was explaining his creative process for storytelling. It struck me that beneath his insightful observation lay some interesting questions for those of us concerned with health and wellbeing.
According to experts, by the time we reach our teens most of us will have lost the mass of memories, experiences, and emotions that once defined our 5 year old world. They will have become locked away in the subcutaneous layers of our mind. Yet, like a ghostly echo the voice of our inner child haunts the vast corridors of our subconscious.
Yet, our “inner child” is always there, forever committed to making sense of the world around us; in the only way it knows how. Perhaps we’d do well to acknowledge its existence and influence on who we are as adults.
We promised to outline the science behind an amazing App we are piloted in Birmingham and the West Midlands. We will shortly publish an article on Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACES) and also share our thoughts on a field of science called Cognitive Bias Modification. These being key elements of the underlying science on which the App was designed.
We regard such Apps as heralding a new era in wellbeing therapies. They could put us firmly at the centre and in control of our wellbeing by “training” us to be mindful of our habits. They also help us to make decisions and take personal action when we feel we are starting to drift out of control. It just might be that the person who will most benefit from the App is the 5 year child inside the adult.
So why might our ability to think like a 5 year old be important for wellbeing? Perhaps a more interesting question for carers and professionals is, could these Apps boost our personal capacity to support the wellbeing of the people we care for?
So before we get into the science of it, here are 5 things the 5 year version of yourself might be trying to tell you:
Be Infinitely Curious
Somewhere between the ages of 2 and 5 children will discover the power of questions. Woes betide the parents who are not prepared for this explosive stage in their child’s development. It’s almost as if from the moment the child is born it has been looking for, yearning for that one tool it needs to supercharge its journey of self-discovery. Then suddenly one day it finds it, and the world changes forever. The child has discovered the ultimate learning tool – the question! In particular, the question “Why?”
There is a 3 year old pocket-rocket of a nephew in my life right now, who has made this amazing discovery. I note with some trepidation that he has recently taken to offering a hearty high-five to anyone who satisfactorily answers any of his endless tirade of questions. If he is particularly pleased with an answer, he accompanies the gesture with a loud shout of “Bam!” As if to say, “well done for getting that one right, don’t worry there’s plenty more where that came from!”
Seriously, it’s quite scary. Who among us is not familiar with the following conversation with the 5 year old child:
- “Ok, Honey, time for bed.”
- “Because it’s bedtime?”
- “It’s late and you need to get your beauty sleep?”
We’ve all been there. The point is, our ability to ask questions; to be permanently fueled by curiosity; to allow our imagination to constantly frame and re-frame the way we see the world; is a tool we should cling to for the duration of our life.
Be Unburdened by a Fear of Failure
The 5 year old within us has not yet been hard-wired to fear failure. He or she does not have that constant, nagging feeling that we may stumble and fall from a great height. At the age of 5 we did not worry about being found out. It was OK to sometimes feel that we do not know what we’re doing.
In fact, that feeling of not knowing everything all the time could actually be quite fun when you’re 5. Why is that important? Well, it makes us unconditionally open to new ideas; to new possibilities. To the mind of a child, the unknown is a mouth-watering feast of an adventure. It’s a positive dream-like landscape packed with all sorts of exciting discoveries. For a 5 year old, their whole life course unfolds ahead of them as a succession of uncertain circumstances. Do they fear it? Not in the slightest. Life is simply an adventure.
Say What You Mean
5 year olds have very low filtration between what is going on inside their head and what comes out as speech. It comes with the territory when you’re endlessly curious and life is an adventure. So in addition to asking questions, 5 year olds tend to say what they mean.
Saying what you mean is part and parcel of the growth journey for any human being. It’s something that many grown-ups still struggle with and can lead to all sorts of anxieties and frazzled perceptions. That said, there is an even more powerful skill being practised by the 5 year old who is going through this developmental stage. That skill is saying what you feel, or emotional expression.
A child’s desire to say what they feel provides the adult with a most compelling lesson. A 5 year old is neither afraid nor embarrassed to express emotions through language, or by any other means. The “duel-tool” of saying what we mean and expressing how we feel is one of the most effective ways of managing our wellbeing. We recommend a cup of tea and a chat with someone you trust. We recognise this is for some more easily said than done, and do not make the statement lightly. We will explore the idea of a “simple chat” in more detail in the coming months. We will also share our work on the sociological phenomenon we call “Rings of Confidence”.
Don’t Hold Grudges
A 5 year doesn’t yet know how to hold a grudge for long periods of time. One day Suzie or Tom is no longer the best friend. The next it’s back on and life is all good again. The following day, Suzie and Tom are out of favour once more. All this because of a dispute over an incident in the playground or a treacherous act involving a bar of chocolate of a packet of potato chips.
The thing is, for our 5 year old, this “on – off”, “yes – no” state of affairs is normal because they are comfortable changing their mind as the facts change or new data becomes available. Which adult wouldn’t benefit from having the skill to absorb new data quickly and accurately, and adjust their point of view and actions accordingly?
By the time we reach adulthood our capacity to change our mind has become replaced by a tendency to rely on routines and repetition of the behaviour patterns we perceive have served us well thus far. The truth is, it is unlikely that the actions of any one individual are driving systemic outcomes. Yet, unlike the 5 year old we have learned to take everything personally and judge our own success through external structures rather than internal purpose. Reciprocally, we make sense of perceived failures by attributing them to other people. In other words, we find comfort in blame, and seek solace in the familiar.
During the course of our work we often find this dynamic at the root of organisational and community tensions. The most effective resolution is usually based on agreement that entrenched systemic problems are never solved by finding a person or group to blame. In fact, it has the opposite effect because it distracts attention and resources away from the real need to find common ground and address system issues. So here, once again, the 5 five year old child is our role model – grudges kill progress.
Love to Have Fun
It has almost become a cliché to talk about having fun in the serious world of adults. Sure, it’s a statement of the obvious to say that the 5 year old loves to have fun. So our take on it (you won’t be surprised to hear) boils down to a simple question: What is fun? Well, two actually, “Why is fun important for our wellbeing?”
So let’s clarify a few things straight off the bat. We don’t regard drinking oneself into a stupor; falling flat on your face and throwing up in a corner as fun. Not saying, we didn’t at some point in the journey of life but that’s for a different article! A great party is fun. Dancing all night is fun. Watching or playing a wonderful game of rugby, soccer or tennis? Making something. Expressing something. Sharing something. All good fun.
But none of the above is the kind of fun we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the kind of fun the 5 year old understands and loves. We’re talking about a profoundly deep sense of fun that can’t be created artificially through external stimulation.
Think about it
What’s happening in the mind of the 5 year old when they experience and express a sense of fun? Isn’t it the deep joy of momentarily letting go of everything you know; plunging into the vacuum of uncertainty and emerging clutching a huge bundle of amazing new ideas; possibilities; experiences and friendships?
Now, that’s what we call fun!