Remember the carefree days of childhood? The days were long, our imaginations were huge and our ideas were epic—and maybe a tiny bit dangerous. Every day was a new experience and adventure, full of learning and discovery.
Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, you’re no longer a child—you’re adulting.
Don’t get us wrong, being an adult is pretty awesome, but it’s also filled with lots of responsibilities and tough decisions. Slowly, but surely, that childlike wonder you had as a kid is put in a box and tucked away in the attic of your brain. We put down our toys; we stop playing. We become more jaded, structured and less open to new experiences.
But as we grow into adulthood, we might be letting go of a little more than we should.
While children often look to us as teachers, we often don’t consider what they could be teaching us. Kids can teach us so much about living life, about having hope and making the most out of any situation. We could actually relearn a thing or two from them.
“Rare is the child who truly ruminates on things,” said Kristine Goto, PhD, a psychologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “They act first, then think—which is a blessing and a curse, frankly.
“But as adults, we can help children learn to appreciate these impulses as strengths they may later build upon, and, in turn, we can find ourselves similarly sparked to remain connected to the exuberance of childhood that often escapes our otherwise structured and more contained adult lives.”
Four life lessons you can learn from children
The good news is that childlike wonder still lives inside you—no matter your age. It’s just a matter of embracing it. Dr. Goto shares four things we can learn from children to be better adults.
1. Feel your feelings
Children leave their emotions on their sleeves. When they’re happy, they smile and laugh. When they’re sad, they cry. As an adult, you may attempt to control your emotions without acknowledging how you feel. You may adapt compulsive behaviors around stuffing your emotions, denying them, suppressing your feelings and forcing them into something you think is more acceptable to the world and to others.
Of course, learning to manage our emotions is key to many positive things in our lives—but, we cannot proceed to that step without first acknowledging how we feel. Sad things are sad. Hard things are hard. Getting older doesn’t change that!
“If we approach our own feelings with a lack of overlying self-judgment and even the rigid restraint of a typical adult and give ourselves permission to feel what we feel before deciding how we intend to proceed in line with our values, then we can go a long way toward the kind of self-compassion that is necessary to function as a self-accepting, perfectly imperfect, wonderful and whole human being,” Dr. Goto said.
2. Be curious and excited
Being inquisitive is how children learn. They push buttons, turn knobs, open drawers and have a million questions and hypotheses about nearly everything as they take in the enormity of this world. They aren’t yet burdened with worry about what others may think about their offerings or efforts. Self-awareness isn’t their conscious driver. It’s more concerning when children don’t have an audience than it is to be scrutinized or shamed.
We also have a little person inside of us with novel ideas and an innate desire to share. Yet, somewhere along the way, we lose that curiosity and excitement to learn new things and discover new places. If we can relearn to be curious like a child, it may just lead us to greater self-fulfillment and joy.
“If we can surrender our grown-up desires to somehow change or affect others with our contributions and simply contribute out of excitement and curiosity, we can reconnect with the simplicity of collaboration that stands to reach the highest forms of human creativity,” Dr. Goto said.
3. Be fearless
Children jump, climb, fall and get right back up. As a kid, it’s almost expected rather than feared.
We too have the capacity to accept or surrender to fear and dive into something new, but we’ve adapted to self-handicap, perhaps out of collective years disliking the sting of failures. What would happen, though, if you tapped into those younger days when caution wasn’t relevant—the sparkling goal was much greater than the potential cost of reaching it? What if you simply acknowledged your reservations, made calculated assessments of the actual risks and jumped in with the confidence of a child learning something new?
“You can still be responsible; it’s not about being reckless but rather being willing to take risks,” Dr. Goto said. “Putting fear into perspective may just allow for more self-discovery and adult exhilaration.”
4. Grow a little every day (even when it’s hard)
“When we’re young, growth doesn’t take conscious effort; it’s a natural occurrence that pretty much won’t be stopped,” Dr. Goto said. “As we age, however, growth truly becomes a choice, and a hard one at that to embrace.”
Children show us that we will stumble, we may rage, we’ll have our feelings hurt at times, but if we allow ourselves to experience all these things, we may truly soar. If we fall down, mess up or make a mistake, we feel what we feel and we get right back up.
“Life is about learning, and age is a necessary yet not sufficient variable in the amount of growth that is possible for each of us,” Dr. Goto said. “Many of the most meaningful things we can learn come through a dose of adult humility in accepting that our adaptations to the social world aren’t always free from hindering the novel perspectives our children may regularly offer.”
It’s time to turn off that inner critic in your head and look around at a world beyond yourself. Take a stab at a new skill, be open to change and be better today than you were yesterday (even when it’s hard or scary). You could stumble, or you may just surprise yourself.