Child’s play

Last weekend I spent an afternoon with a friend and her two young daughters (NB not the image above which is of my two nephews!). Having arrived just after they had returned from their respective gymnastics and dancing classes we were greeted with a display of handstands and cartwheels across the lawn and a rendition of ‘The Merry Old Land of OZ’ with accompanying dance moves. From their I found myself joining in with them, practising headstands, back bends and cartwheels for what was certainly the first time in a good number of years. Gymnastics in the garden turned into jumping rope, then tug of war, and then limbo. When drizzle forced us inside we started colouring, followed by Twister, then exploring dens, reading ‘The Secret Seven’, playing chess, doing kids yoga, and ending with a game of blind-mans-buff. Needless to say that by the end of the day I was exhausted (and aching in a number of long-forgotten muscles the next morning!), but feeling incredibly happy and satisfied all the same.

There is something so great about allowing yourself to let go and just play. You find yourself lost in the moment and go back to seeing the world through children’s eyes. Spaces under the bed become potential spots for dens, standing on your head becomes fun, as does scrabbling around on the floor under a rope, or bending and balancing your body in a game of Twister.

All of this put me in mind of an article by Oenone Crossley-Holland, which I read last week, about getting in touch with your ‘inner child’, and an episode of ‘Radio Headspace’ about reconnecting with yourself. In both instances the point was made that we often get so busy in life ‘trying to be a grown-up’ that we tend to forget what really matters to us; we lose sight of the small-wonders in the world and become out of touch with those things that ultimately make us happy.

In her article, Crossley-Holland poses a series of 20 questions, ranging from your ability to  relax and enjoy yourself to your relationships with your siblings, and from how you feel when you are alone to how you react in the company of children. For each question the reader is asked to respond ‘lots of the time’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘hardly ever’.

In considering each question (I’ve listed them in full below for those keen to quiz themselves) it really got me thinking about the values we hold close as children that get lost with adulthood and how to re-embrace these child-like tendencies – the joy of learning, awe and wonder at the little things in the world, taking time out to play and unwind.

The Headspace podcast reiterated these points. Here, the host Georgie Okell asked children and adults the same questions about what they had learned that day, whether they had felt bored at any point, what they liked doing with their friends, what they were afraid of, what they wanted to be when they were older and what the word ‘stress’ meant to them. Listening to their answers side-by-side it was easy to see how our values and expectations change into adulthood, but also how many of us have that inner-child vying for attention and just wanting to get out and express itself.

I loved listening to the kids as they proudly told Okell what they had learned that day about dinosaurs and reptiles. On the flip-side it was quite saddening to hear some of the adults respond that they hadn’t learned anything new. One respondent made the quite telling point: ‘As a kid that’s your entire goal just to learn and explore the world whereas as an adult it’s like you are meant to know everything and it’s almost looked down upon if you have to learn things.’

To the question, ‘do you ever get bored in work or in school?’ again the kids responded with over excitement and enthusiasm, even at things as basic as being able to ‘cut and draw on paper’, while one of the adults responded ‘yeah, of course I get bored, everyone gets bored’. Answers to questions about fears switched from spiders and monsters from the kids to inadequacy, letting people down and missed opportunities from the adults, while the content of dreams moved from adventures to anxieties.

My favourite response was when the kids were asked if they knew what it meant when people say that they are ‘stressed’. Not only was it a comfort to hear that many of them didn’t really know what it meant but one boy in particular made me smile with his answer: ‘I don’t really know about that [stress], but I know about Godzilla…and turtles’. (The same boy also wanted to be Godzilla when he grew up).

The adult responses weren’t all negative however. With the questions about what you like to do for fun, what do you like to do with your friends and what do your friends mean to you, the answers were more closely aligned between children and adults. Getting outside, playing games, sports, climbing trees, chatting, being silly and letting go with friends continued into adulthood, as did the fact that the best thing about your friends is that they stick with you no matter what.

play 2All of this made me think about my own approach to life. Despite years as an awkward and anxiety-filled teen, for one reason or another as an adult I find myself less uptight and more renowned amongst my friends for my nonsensical silliness than ever before. I credit this to a number of factors: my friends and family are all playful people who embrace life to the full and actively encourage pastimes from outdoor adventures, climbing and treasure hunts, to trampolining, going to water parks and buying inflatable swans (you know who you are).

I work in a job I love and one which allows me to learn something new almost everyday and fosters collaboration and growth amongst colleagues. Living in London there is never a shortage of things to discover or fun activities to engage in, from boating on the Serpentine to roof-top films and from dinosaur crazy golf to the outdoor swimming ponds and numerous lidos, everyday can be spent exploring, learning and in a sense of wonder.

play 3Finally, being more at peace with myself and not getting hung-up on all of those little things that tend to preoccupy you in the years when you are growing into yourself and your skin means that I’m more inclined to try out something where I might end up looking a little ridiculous.

As Crossley-Holland notes, allowing your adult self and inner child to walk hand-in-hand allows you to carry ‘adult responsibility without allowing it to bring you down’. You can use your inner child’s creativity and light-heartedness to get a fresh perspective and cultivate your awe for things around you.

Allowing yourself to embrace and enjoy the present moment is so important and kids are really good at doing just that without even trying. We can learn this from them and try to embrace their readiness to engage in and enjoy the world and their relationships with other people in it.

play 4The takeaway, this bank holiday weekend do something that you really enjoy, let go, be a bit silly and embrace your inner-child!

***

How in touch with your inner-child are you?

1. I have a playful side and know how to enjoy myself
2. My childhood memories are strong and I can remember how I felt when I was you young
3. I have a vivid imagination and enjoy creative pursuits
4. From time to time I look at old photographs of myself
5. I have a healthy relationship with my siblings
6. The people who knew me as a child say I haven’t changed much
7. I am comfortable in my own skin
8. In all of my friendships and intimate relationships I look for equal partnerships
9. I have found peace with my upbringing
10. Life’s small pleasures delight me and I am often in awe of the world
play 511. I am aware of my childhood wounds
12. My demeanour reflects who I really am inside
13. I have built a life that supports me
14. Being alone doesn’t worry me
15. I live in the present and have a curiosity for life
16. Sometimes I can be silly and I value laughter
17. Each day I take time out to unwind and switch off
18. I enjoy the company of children and I feel I can learn something from them
19. When I’m throwing my toys out the pram I can admit it
20. I feel a sense of freedom

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