I noticed something at my church the other day and it made me think, probably more than it should have, about the development of children. Of all things, I was in the bathroom and opened the door to a stall (relax, nothing bad or unhygienic) and saw a cute little potty seat insert resting in the adult-sized toilet. Oh, that’s right, the twins and a couple of other kids are at the potty training age, I thought to myself. I love that, even though there is no daycare here, we still make things accessible for the kids of the congregation. It also matched up with the stool for the sink and another stool for the water fountain in the Great Room (i.e. multipurpose room).
So what in the world would make me become so contemplative?
Let me try to break it down.
1. I know who and how many kids at church are of an age to be potty trained.
2. The potty seat was noticeable because of the lack of other child-oriented decorations.
3. I was reminded of all the little short toilets and water fountains in schools and day-care centers (to be fair in the nursery room at church which is only sporadically used).
In lower elementary schools and day care centers, it is practical to have child-sized everything to facilitate the kids being able to do things on their own since they outnumber the caretakers (sometimes to an alarming degree—but that’s a subject for another time). Everything is geared around the small students so they feel comfortable and capable.
But my thought, brought on by the difference in a potty seat insert and a tiny toilet, is how much better it is for kids in the broader world to not have everything set up to cater to them, even if the consequence is inconvenience.
Historically, children were treated as small adults. While they may have been smaller and weaker, they were still expected to do a proportionate amount of work for survival and were held accountable for decisions that they made, even to the point of punishing them as adults for crimes committed (see the first chapter of this interesting pamphlet) . As agricultural and industrial advances lessened the urgency of survival work, there has been more time for children to spend without the pressure of heavy-duty work and more time to spend on learning and leisure activities. Unfortunately, this has swung the other way.
Many children and young adults are no longer willing and able to do work that involves physicality or inconvenience. From the struggle of reaching a sink to wash hands (and needing to problem solve to do it) to taking out the trash to deciphering a difficult mathematical equation, many kids give up the attempt. Or look upon it with contempt (see this article published in the Wall Street Journal and another from a popular parenting magazine) [and, yes, I see the irony in this article as my own kids gripe about the chores that I assign them, minimal though they are].
So, how do we reconcile both of these views? For one thing, I think it is important that we (when I say “we” I am referring to all of us as parents, or teachers, or society in general) remind ourselves of what kind of adults to we want in the future? Do we want adults who cannot think beyond their own immediate wants? Do we want people who make decisions based on only their immediate surroundings and instantaneous fulfillment?
Do we want adults who can identify with another point of view? Do we want people who can think of others’ feelings as well as their own? Do we want grown ups who can plan ahead and consider the ramifications of their decisions? If that is the case, maybe we can remember that all of childhood and development happens through different stages. The best-known listing of these stages is from Piaget who did a lot of observational experiments. Take a look at this particular stage, outlined on an understandable psychology webpage If you have worked with small children before, do some of these things sound familiar? The concreteness of their thinking, the immediacy of their decision-making rationale, the me-oriented attitude are all things that we start out with but need to move beyond to achieve maturity. For those of you who are Biblically oriented, maybe this verse can illustrate the point (this is talking about Christian faith maturity but the parallels are there): “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
Where does that leave us? With the thought that it is good to find examples of things that will encourage the thought process of developing maturity and not letting children stagnate in the whirlpool of “me” culture surrounding them. As simple as it appears, the potty seat insert versus a tiny toilet is a good example. A stool instead of a lowered fountain is another. Using glass plates instead of plastic once children are school-aged is another. Be prepared for breakage and consider those dishes casualties in the war against ego-centrism. What other examples can you look around and find?