Have you ever walked right up to the television while it’s on, so that your nose almost touches the screen? I did as a young child, the picture before me would disappear and all I could see would be individual pixels of different shades of grey (this was in the 70s, before we had a colour TV). I only did it a few times though; it was too disconcerting to see a picture break up before me till it made no sense. Around the same time, I tried another way of looking at the world: I’d bend over and look at things upside-down from between my legs. Reflecting on these memories, I have realised that I had been experimenting with perspectives. By changing the place from where I looked at things, I viewed them differently; and by taking time to do this, I fully experienced this difference.
As children, we rely on our senses to learn about the world around us. Smelling, touching, tasting, listening to, and looking at all we encounter, allows us to directly explore whatever we want deeper access to. Even at a very young age, we seek to make sense of things, as this can lead us not only to gain understanding, but also to thrive through the blossoming of our creativity. Creativity is an attitude of openness to living fully all that we can be – it is a way to fulfil the promise of our potential. In so much of what we do as young children – stacking blocks, opening and shutting all kinds of doors, splashing in puddles, stomping in mud, dropping and picking things up, turning lights on and off, smiling or screaming – we’re like scientists and artists testing things out, and like explorers looking for boundaries. Our endless curiosity keeps us seeking to find out how things work (or don’t work) and see the effect that we can have on them. That is when we realise we have agency; in other words, we clearly see that the choices we make can bring about changes.
Can you remember the feeling of delight from this newly found power? Close your eyes and imagine it for a moment (if you can’t quite remember). I assure you it would have been there.
It’s not surprising that there are tantrums when limitations are enforced on young children. It is difficult to accept limitations having just discovered agency, and as such tantrums are an expression of varying degrees of children’s righteous outrage. I remember, at two or three, sneaking past my parents to do something they had specifically forbidden, like throwing things off our fourth-storey balcony (usually only socks, although I did experiment with spoons a few times) and being a little disappointed that they fell away so quickly from close view. Once, after being immaculately dressed in new clothes, my mother said not to sit on the floor and get dirty. The thought of doing that had not even crossed my mind, but as soon as she said it, I couldn’t wait for the chance to roll on the floor. Was I just a contrary and naughty child? Some adults might have thought so, but I still remember some of the thoughts and feelings I had then. The thoughts weren’t in words as such, but more in flowing pictures, almost like daydream sequences. What I know from those memories is that I loved my parents so much that I could lose myself in those feelings. And what’s more, I didn’t understand what being naughty meant.
To put it simply, the brain actually finds it difficult to carry out a “don’t” command, for when we say, “don’t do something,” we then immediately think of the specific thing (we have to, in order to understand what we’re being told not to do). In the case of children, if they’ve never done what they’re being commanded not to do, they’re likely to become instantly curious about it and want to try it out. What happens if I say, “Don’t think of pink elephants”? It’s rather impossible, isn’t it? And would it be fair for me to consider you ‘naughty’ if you thought of them? Mindful of my experiences, with my own children I made a point of saying what I wanted them to do, rather than what I didn’t. So when in shops they saw something they wanted to touch (like toys and other pretty things), I would let them touch, telling them to be very gentle and to then put them back and say goodbye, as we had to go. This worked extremely well and never resulted in tantrums.
In order to learn about ourselves, and the world we have been born in, as young children we seek to understand all that’s around us. Being given love, in the form of nurturing and safe spaces to conduct our creative exploration and experimentation, can help us enormously. As the more we’re allowed to ‘flex’ our creativity, the more we see ourselves as creative. Parents and loved ones can give this nurturing at the very beginning, but then it needs to be provided by many of the environments that we frequent, like playgroups, schools, and extracurricular groups, as well as from friends of the family, and ideally even from online and screen entertainment. This is also when, however, the more we are exposed to demands that we comply with what is expected of us as we grow up, then the more we shut our creativity away. Becoming as a result, adults who don’t often believe that we are, or can be, creative.
Whatever your childhood experience, and the degrees of nurturing you received, it is nonetheless possible to reclaim your creativity by reconnecting to the wonder that the child within you felt. It is this child you were who is your elder, as you were a child long before becoming an adult, and all that you’ve thought and felt as a child has led you to grow as you have grown. By recalling these thoughts and feelings, or by imagining what they might have been, especially those where you were carefree and happy, you can go back to the time before your innate creativity was halted. The child you were so long ago hasn’t gone anywhere; you are still you, so you must ‘have you’ somewhere. I know if I look deep within me, I can again get in touch with who I was back when I could lose myself in reverie for hours while observing the awesomeness of my own hand.
Although I can’t physically bend over and have a look at things from between my legs anymore, I can indeed do so metaphorically. This has led me to unravel years of forgetful living, away from creativity where I neglected to nurture myself, and instead get back to exploring and experimenting. Above all, it has reconnected me to being more open to life, in the sense of approaching living by viewing things through a big-picture perspective, which brings wonder and novelty to all that I see – a more child-like perspective. This reminds me of a well-known quote by Ron Wild: “Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.” This is something you can do. You’ve been a child, and that child you were is still and always will be within you, holding all the potential you’ve always had. It is never too late.