“You know my two year old, touches everything she sees, plays in the mud, puts toys in the mouth, puts her finger into plug points or into any hole! I am so worried that she will get sick or hurt herself. I get so exhausted!”Preeti vents out to her friends.
They nod empathetically.
Sharda replies,”As they grow their exploratory nature just changes in different ways, they keep trying new things which can drive us crazy! My son loved to play with his favourite truck. It went up, slid down, on a bumpy ride on the cushions and on my arm too! Now at the age of ten, you should see the mess he makes with games and puzzles.”
Amal chips in,” Children are curious to know everything. See how my teenager wants to try new hairstyles, dressing, makeup, tattoo and tending to explore sexuality too.”
These observations of their children are valid. From the time they are born, children want to make sense of their surroundings, as for them the whole world is new. Dr. Matthews, paediatric neurologist, CMC, Vellore, says that children are driven by the need to touch and explore. As they grow they continue to explore in different ways.
They have an inner need to develop and their brain sends messages that direct them in their quest for knowledge. Every exploration using the fives senses is making new neural connections in the child’s brain. The more connections made, the more development of the brain and consequently, the overall optimal development of the child.
Amal acknowledges,“We think what they are doing is a waste of time but they are learning from it. Like your son learnt about different surfaces, about friction, force and speed when he pushed his truck. These are concepts of basic physics which got stored in his memory.”
“Oh! I scold my child when she touches breakable or expensive items. I slap her hand and say, ’No’! or I just pull her away. Is that wrong?”
When we ask a small child not to touch they are unable to listen to us as their brain is telling them to touch and feel it. They are not being stubborn or disobedient, only confused, as we are telling them to do one thing and their brain is asking them to do another thing. Since the brain is not fully developed (it continues to develop from six years till twenty-five!), the younger children do not understand when we give reasons. We are actually limiting brain development if we constantly stop them from doing things.
When we see our children exploring we could first observe and understand their needs, respond empathetically and find ways to support them in their learning rather than stop them.
Within boundaries of safety we allow children to explore - A two year old to play with clay or water, a ten year old to cycle on a safe road or a teenager to try a new hairstyle after a discussion on what could be appropriate, like at school.
We could also look into our own needs at that time and decide what is suitable for both parent and child - if parent is tired and needs rest, then the child could be engaged in doing something quietly like colouring rather than noisy play.
Let us focus on how the child benefits from this exploration- gaining knowledge, feeling competent and confident and not fearful to try new possibilities.
Author: Sujata Dewaji is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.