I’ve been a parent for twelve years now. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for longer than that. But when I step back and think about watching my three girls grow up, I see many lessons I could take from them and apply to my mental illness. Kids haven’t been jaded by life, they haven’t known enough loss, they haven’t been ground down by repeated frustrations. They live their lives differently than most adults do, and I think they’re on to some things.
Be happy. Kids seem to naturally approach life from a place of happiness. They’re curious, they want to explore. When they’re not happy, they don’t dwell on it forever, they seek out something to make themselves happy again. They dance and sing and play easily, they love to laugh and smile and make other people do the same. They make the most of what they have when they have it. They’re present in the moment and they actively search out happiness.
Make time to play. I’m a big proponent of this one, although I find myself missing the boat more often than not. But kids love to play, and I think it’s a big part of why they’re so happy. They lose themselves in what they’re doing, whether it’s building with Lego blocks, playing with dolls or playing on the computer. They find things they enjoy and do them over and over again. Even when it’s time to clean their room, my kids will turn on music, dance and sing and make it fun. This is an aspect our lives often lose when we’re adults and we start taking ourselves so seriously. Play helps us relax and blow off some steam.
Be resilient. Kids fall down a lot. And when they do, they’re quick to hop back up and jump right back into what they were doing before. Even when they get hurt, as soon as they’re patched up and reassured that they’re all right, they want to get back at it. As adults, I think we dwell too much on the times we’ve been hurt and we don’t let ourselves bounce back as quickly as we should.
Have a short memory. Adults hang onto to the times we’ve been hurt. We become guarded and protective of ourselves. Kids have something bad happen and get upset. But they get it out of their systems and then they move onto something else. They don’t live their lives in fear of getting hurt. They don’t hold grudges. They learn to steer clear of things that can really, truly hurt them. Children don’t hang on to the things that hurt them, they don’t wear their scars as shields.
Be creative. Kids are constantly learning, continually drinking in the world around them. I think this makes their minds more flexible. They are always learning from their experiences, curious about the world around them and questioning what they don’t know. They want to draw in chalk on the driveway, they make crafts out of whatever they can find around the house. Adults who continue having this thirst for knowledge continue to live as creative people. This makes us more able to deal with unexpected challenges and solve problems in inventive ways.
Take care of yourself. Children often need guidance in learning this when it comes to things like brushing their teeth or combing their hair or taking a bath, but I think they do an excellent job of taking care of themselves on an emotional level. They are well aware of how they are feeling and they’re not afraid to ask for what they need. I don’t know how many times one of my daughters has come to me saying they felt sad or needed a hug or just felt tired. Sometimes, it’s an easy answer – we can give them a hug or tell them to take a nap or rest for a while. But other times, they need to talk, and they know it. Too many times as adults, we keep things to ourselves or don’t ask for the help we need for one of any number of reasons.
Love with all your heart. Kids don’t know any better and they will love someone or something with all the love their little hearts can hold. They love unconditionally and without expectations. I couldn’t tell you how many best friends my youngest daughter has, but she loves each of them actively and wholly and would do anything for any of them. As we get older, we become more protective of ourselves and often more selfish. We limit the amount of love we give out, we save ourselves. Kids just give and give and give. And when you give love, you get love. I think this makes a child’s life more full.
I’m grateful to my children for teaching me these lessons and I try hard to remember them and incorporate them into my life. Kids have a unique perspective on the world, and it’s one that we, as adults, would do well to bring back into our own lives.
Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at:https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf
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