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What 6-Year-Olds Can Teach Us About Handling Adversity

Adults often look down upon children. Not in a mean-spirited type of way, but more so in holding the belief that kids are fragile and need of protection from the harshness of life. Yet, it’s often the other way around. It’s the kids who are adaptable and the adults who are fragile.

Facing a return to school during the pandemic, a conversation broke out nationwide (and beyond) on how to do so successfully. I’m not here to talk about politics, so bear with me, but what was fascinating is when the conversation turned to students and masks.

In the media, online, and in-person, a chorus of complaints rang out. “My child can’t wear a mask all day… She won’t be able to breathe… You can’t expect 7-year-olds to be able to wear a mask… They won’t be able to learn to read with a mask on…” and on and on it went.

Even today, over a year into the pandemic, some parents are in an uproar about mask policies, and seemingly educated doctors are still arguing over mask-wearing in youth, with one stating: “How do you teach a child to read with a face mask on?” before going on to say that masks for children must have “quite serious mental health consequences.”

Adults bickering. Freaking out. Concerned. As if the world is ending, and children are in danger.

But what about the kids? What did children do when forced to come face to face with the so-called perils of going to school with a mask on?

My wife teaches first grade in Texas. They’ve been in school since September. How did a bunch of 6-year-olds handle wearing a mask for 8 hours a day? Did they freak out, complain, throw tantrums, struggle to breathe, throw the mask away? Did the nightmares of adults worried about their fragile children come true?

Of course not. None of that occurred.

The truth is, for the kids it wasn’t a big deal. After a very short period of time, they adapted. There was no wholesale complaining, no weeks or months-long struggle. There were no cries of not being able to breathe or read. Big kids, small kids, children with ADHD, and asthma. They simply adapted and went about the process of learning how to read, write, and count for the next 8 months of the school year. They don’t even think about it anymore. My goal isn’t to debate the worthiness of masks, it’s to make a much simpler point:

Kids are adaptable. Adults are fragile.

As we grow older, our mental models tend to cement. The way in which we see the world tends to solidify. We join groups that solidify and reinforce our identity. It could be around your political party, religion, or even what baseball team you worship, since just about everything can become religion nowadays. There are advantages to this. We tend to feel more secure when we find our tribe, and we stop spending so much time searching. The downside, though, is obvious: we become rigid, inflexible, and incapable of imagining a world that is even ever so slightly different from what our tribe tells us it should be. We freak out over minute changes, rationalizing and justifying along the way. We see change as a threat.

Kids, on the other hand, may have an initial spark of worry or confusion, but then they largely move on. They get over it. They go about their school days, happy to be with friends and have their teacher there to guide and help them.

I’m painting with broad strokes here. Not all of us succumb to the rigidity of adulthood. But it takes work to maintain our adaptability. Life is simpler when you’re 6. You don’t spend your time fretting on Facebook. Maybe it’s time to relearn that vital lesson that somehow 6-year-olds all possess? Not everything is worth freaking out over. Adapt and grow

— Steve

 

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