7 Essential Life Lessons From My Kids

Forget self-help books and the advice of friends. If you really want to put life into perspective, look to the little ones, says mum of two, Time Out Kids Editor Claire Glasby
Tuesday , 25 October 2011

I used to think I knew it all. But then my two children arrived and, as well as turning my old life completely upside-down, they made me realise that I actually knew very little indeed. My daughter Zia was born in the summer of 2008, followed not far behind by my son Bobby in March last year. It means that I now have a household that revolves around the lives of two boisterous, fun-loving toddlers. I’m constantly amazed by how they’re soaking up life like a sponge as they grow into independent little people, with their constant chatter and inquisitive little fingers. But as I watch them learn, I’ve found that I’m learning too – whether it’s remembering to chill out and enjoy the moment once in a while, or rediscovering that sense of wonder about the world as seen through a child’s eyes. And the experts agree: “There’s a lot to gain from putting ourselves in their world,” says psychotherapist Sally Stubbs, author of If Life Gives You Lemons: How 10-Seconds A Day Will Bring You Happiness (Dhs30, amazon.com). “They need us for all manner of reasons, from keeping them safe, teaching them boundaries, showing them social skills and giving them emotional security. But at the same time they can teach us so much.” Here are just a few of the life lessons I’ve learned from my own kids. I have no doubt there’ll be many more to come…

1. Don’t cost a dirham
Whether it’s the tired old cliché, or the catchy Janet Jackson/Luther Vandross duet, the sentiment to the phrase, “The best things in life are free,” still rings true. “Children don’t ask for much,” says author Todd Outcalt in his (aptly named) book, The Best Things in Life Are Free (Dhs45, amazon. com). “They just want to know that they are loved. When we recall events from our childhood, we don’t just remember snippets, we remember people, happenings, movement. Memories are verbs, not nouns.” But living in a city like Dubai, there are so many material things that we can splash out on for our families, from pricey kids’ clubs to a wealth of toys, clothes and kid-friendly gadgetry, it’s easy to forget the simple things amid the spending frenzy. Yet if I were to measure things in terms of my own childrens’ happiness (the volume of giggles says it all), then the best things certainly don’t cost a dirham. Whether it’s rough and tumble with their Dad, doing dance routines with me in the living room (more on that later…) or popping to the local lake to feed the ducks, it’s that time spent making our own memories together as a family that really count so much more than forgettable material possessions. And a drool-soaked cuddle to greet you at the end of a long working day is truly worth its weight in gold.

2. Savour the moment
Psychologists say that realising our own “flow”, or living in the now, is the first step to achieving inner harmony. “The feeling of being rushed saturates our entire way of life,” says Richard Carlson in his book, Slowing Down to the Speed of Life (Dhs40, amazon. com). “Slow down and your perception of the world will change, helping us to set priorities in our lives in a more joyful and effective way.” I know all too well how easy it is to start obsessing about the stresses of everyday life and responsibilities, from unpaid bills and the nine-to-six grind, or the family car that’s broken down yet again. But it was an experience with my own children a couple of weeks ago that finally made me realise what Carlson is talking about. It was a usual morning at our house, with me and my husband dashing around like lunatics trying to get ready for work in time, tripping over discarded toys, trying to shovel down some cereal as we made ourselves vaguely presentable. And then I noticed in the midst of the carnage were Bobby and Zia, quietly sitting on the sofa, holding hands, smiling as they shared a piece of toast. It was a rare moment of calm that was over all too quickly before the usual mayhem resumed. But it certainly made going to work just that extra bit more difficult that day.

3. Never too old to learn
The world is a curious, awe-inspiring place through a toddler’s eyes, and it’s hard not to be motivated by their appetite for knowledge. “Children do not learn these behaviours,” says Stubbs.“They are instinctive. They’re born with these life skills, whether it’s a fascination with the movement of the sea, or the colours and scents of nature.” Just this week I’ve been asked by my own kids, “How does a fridge work?”, “Where does apple juice come from?”, and “Is there a baby growing in papa’s tummy?”, and the questions just keep on coming. While I try to answer most of them as best as I can (or send them to interrogate their father instead), it made me wonder, where did our own thirst for discovery go? From travelling to new places or just reading the sections in the newspaper that we’d usually avoid, learning shouldn’t halt the moment we stop studying. The world’s most successful man, Bill Gates’ mantra is famously “Never stop learning”, and with three kids of his own, I wonder who he learned that from?

4. Conquer that fear
It amazes and worries me in equal measure how utterly fearless young children can be. Take Bobby, for example, who learned to climb before he could walk – take your eyes off him for a split second and you’d find him smiling and wobbling precariously on the top of a bookshelf (not great for my blood pressure). Or Zia, who will happily have made friends with a roomful of new people while I’m still working out how to say hello. Scientists say that a certain level of fear is a natural instinct to protect us from harm, but it’s that unique ability that only kids seem to possess – where they can get back up and brush themselves down after every fall or disappointment – that we can learn from. “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom,” philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, and while I won’t be taking up base jumping or public speaking any time soon, there’s something to be said about forgetting the consequences and taking that risk, whether it’s in life, love or work.

5. Get creative
Creativity takes on many forms in my household: from the adorable paintings that adorn my fridge (or the less-adorable paintings that now adorn my once-white walls) to the ever more outlandish excuses that my daughter uses to avoid bedtime (“Mummy, there’s a lion in my room,” was a recent highlight). But researchers at George Washington University in the U.S. have found that creativity in adults can not only lead to greater levels of happiness and satisfaction, but can also keep us younger and healthier in the long run. So what better opportunity to nurture that creative side along with the kids? Which will be the excuse I’ll be giving to my husband when he realises that his beloved Liverpool FC magazines were accidentally cut up for arts and crafts. Sorry…

6. Lose those inhibitions
“Dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening, love like you’ve never been hurt,” wrote Mark Twain. That’s the philosophy we try to follow in our household, and if you were to pop by unannounced early on a Friday morning, you might just interrupt one of our impromptu weekend baby disco sessions in the living room. “Dad dancing” (as it’s officially called) isn’t just for the boys, says dance psychologist Dr Peter Lovatt. “When someone is really ‘Dad dancing’ in the true sense, they are completely in their own world; they are dancing for themselves and their movements are simply the external expression of what they feel inside.” There’s something very liberating about bobbing around like a loon to vintage Britney and Bon Jovi (just ask my kids, who like to boogie on down with gusto). Outside the safety of our four walls, however, there can’t be many adults you’d find throwing those kind of shapes on the dance floor – which begs the question, when did we all become so uptight? When did dancing become something we do to impress, rather than something that just feels good (no matter how many left feet we’ve got?). So, while I’m not quite ready to sing and dance my socks off in the middle of TopShop like my daughter regularly does, I might just start following her lead when it comes to losing those reservations, smiling at strangers on the metro, or making the effort to make the first move and chat to someone new – after all, what have I got to lose?”