How Are the Children? They are developing alongside others in their community — babies to giants!
Thu, Jan 13th, 2022
by DCP Staff
Written by Mary Logue and Sandra Phoenix
Posted by DCP Staff
Conversation with Sam (age 3). Who are the youngest people?
Sam: big boys.
Sam: grownups. Anybody else?
Young children think growing is simply a matter of getting bigger. Anyone reading this knows that growth and development involves changes in many different ways and while we all age, few of us become giants!
As we look at supporting the growth and wellbeing of all of the Peninsula’s citizens, it’s helpful to look at a how we develop. Reaching our full potential means growing deeper within ourselves, not just growing bigger and stronger like Sam’s giants. Reaching our full potential as individuals, and as a community, involves mutual aid from everyone, not just our families.
Each stage of human development contains a conflict or turning point, and the success of each stage depends on how, and if, the previous stage was completed. If the stages are met successfully, those life experiences will serve us well for the rest of our lives. If stages are blocked, those blocks, or barriers, can affect positive life choices and future challenges for the rest of our lives.
Not meeting a developmental challenge is not a moral failure. Often, a child’s needs may not be met by family, school, or community through no fault of the child. Every stage is critical though, and if one is missed, it is important to get support to fill in the gaps. Healthy communities provide opportunity for mutual aid at every age. Let’s look at the challenges throughout the lifespan:
Infancy: Is the world a safe place? Will others take care of me when I need help? Loving responsive care tells a baby they are worthy and they can rely on help when they need it. Not having this foundation can lead one to be fiercely independent, resisting help from others or living in deep mistrust of others.
Early Childhood: Can I take some control of my body and desires? What some call “the terrible twos” is really a child saying “no” to having adults do everything for them. The desire to try feeding oneself, toileting, and exploring on their own leads to a sense of mastering important skills and having some control. When children are not allowed to have some independence, they may feel shame and guilt about feeling dependent or lettings others down.
Childhood: Can I play with others, explore my interests, learn from my mistakes, and develop new skills? Can I set goals and meet them? If a child does not meet this challenge or is unfairly compared to others, they may feel inferior and withdraw from activities where they feel judged. They may also not develop the confidence and mastery that is important at this stage.
Adolescence: Can I figure out who I am and what I want on my own, apart from who others think I am or expect me to be? When this challenged is not met, kids can assume negative identities or struggle with identifying goals that are worth working toward.
Late adolescence/early adulthood: Can I be a loyal and loving friend and partner? Can I recover from failed relationships, learn from them, and go on to be a dependable person? Those who do not master this challenge risk isolation and loneliness.
Adulthood: Can I create and nurture a community that will outlast me? Some adults will meet this challenge by supporting children (their own or others) while others will work on environmental or social issues improving their communities. Those who do not look beyond their own needs for security and recognition may look “successful” but risk stagnation—being stuck in needing “things” to prove their worth.
Elderhood: In my final years, can I accept my life with all of its accomplishments and disappointments? Can I feel gratitude? Can I maintain relationships with others and care about them as I let them care for me? Those unable to master this challenge may face their final years with bitterness, resentment, blame, and despair.
Filling in the gaps when developmental challenges were unmet. Life is not a checklist of accomplishments. None of us gets through life perfectly, even though some people may look emotionally undamaged or in one piece. Learning to “look good” is not the same as developing the inner confidence that comes from making mistakes and learning from them. Sometimes, the most competent adults in our communities may have had some trouble earlier in life and had gotten a second chance. Second chances can come in the form of caring teachers, therapists, structured workplaces with mentoring, recovery programs, parent education, or support from a healthier family than one’s family of origin.
New research suggests that humans evolved to have long lifespans so that older people can pass on their knowledge to young ones, especially practical and cultural knowledge. Alison Gopnik, who studies children and families all over the world, asks the question, “Do we care for our children and elders because we love them—OR do we love them because we care for them?”
Let us care for one another and become the communities where our citizens grow from infants to giants! Here are some ideas.
Find ways to support young families, especially during COVID. Drop off a hot evening meal. Take your neighbors’ kids for walks in the forest and let them safely explore. Offer a ‘scholarship’ to your local childcare center for parents who are struggling financially.
Talk to the principal or PTA at your local elementary school for ways to help support their most vulnerable students, both around the holidays, but also year-round. Many churches have a volunteer coordinator who can offer ideas and activities.
Adolescents need role models and some schools have job shadowing opportunities. The high school offices can give you names of people to contact and ways to volunteer.
Adults are typically working and busy with their own families, but volunteering for family friendly activities where your own children can be involved can lead to new friendships and set your kids on the road to learning how to help others.
Older people still have much to offer, but can also suffer from “terminal independence”. Coming to terms with diminishing physical or cognitive (thinking) abilities teaches us how to accept help gracefully, while giving the younger generations the gift of learning how to be good neighbors and community members.
Sandra Phoenix APRN-C, MPH is a family nurse practitioner and Healthy Peninsula Board member. Mary Ellin Logue, EdD is Professor Emerita, Early Childhood Education, University of Maine. The How Are the Children? campaign is funded through a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to Healthy Peninsula, in partnership with School Unions 76 and 93, early child educators, health providers, and community organizations and services. Your Health Matters is a health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital.