The Secret Life of …

This month is more of a review rather than a blog, but I wanted to share with you a programme I watched the other night, ‘The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds’, on Channel 4. I loved how this programme focuses on the individuality of children and the reasons behind their behaviour. It shows you how all children’s personalities are different, and how they begin to form friendships from a very young age.

It follows a group of 10 children and how they respond to both play that the children decide upon themselves and also a variety of activities that are set up in a preschool that they attend for 5 days. I am going to focus on one boy to give you an idea of a few things that were touched upon in this one-hour episode. Fabian found it very hard to resist a chunk of chocolate during an activity where the children were all given one chunk of chocolate, and as long as they all did not touch the chocolate when the adult left them, they would all be given a second piece on the adult’s return. Well, dear Fabian not only needed to touch his chunk of chocolate, but even went so far as putting it in his mouth before spitting it out, much to the disgust of others. It is safe to say the children did not get their second chunk of chocolate! What was interesting though, was the group dynamics, how some children stated how they hadn’t touched it, while others were quick to tell the adult that Fabian had touched his! Give Fabian credit though, he never lied when asked if he did. Did this make Fabian a naughty boy? Of course not! Thinking of others is a very hard skill to grasp, and as a child that lives alone with his parents, this can be an even harder skill to learn.

Later on in the programme Fabian was once again the object of examination. The children were all given a partner, and they had a paper chain attaching them to their partner by one wrist. Unfortunately, Fabian’s paper chain was the first to break. He found it difficult working with his partner, and thinking through how they needed to stay together. Although his partner was upset about this, she took it in her stride and started to play. Fabian on the other hand, then raced around and managed to break other children’s paper chains too. Did I feel though that Fabian was the target then of the programme highlighting unacceptable behaviour? No. It was interesting how further on in the programme a shot of him sitting by himself was focused on and scrutinized, with Fabian even saying to himself how he had no one to play with, which you could tell he was unhappy about.

By the end of the programme Fabian had found a friend to play with, and what I liked most about this insight into children’s behaviour was how it appeared that when left to mainly their own devices the children managed to sort out many problems, and children who initially may not have liked each other found a way to accept each other and play. I know that there will be many chunks of time when the children are together that are not shown in this programme, and maybe some adult intervention given that also was not given ‘telly time’, but it did highlight how children are able to make decisions at a young age and how easy children can ‘forgive and forget’. Children are supposed to make mistakes, and learn from what has happened.

Back in the summer I also watched ‘The Secret Life of Brothers and Sisters’, by the same team, and that too highlighted how making mistakes are a good thing for young children. I remember in one episode one little boy was given a big shove by his big brother that resulted in him falling down. There were tears and a lot of upset, but as the child development specialists pointed out, however hard it may be to watch, it actually is helping the children to learn life skills. Brothers and sisters will fight and argue and this is normal behaviour, but they will also have magical moments where some of their best memories are made.

This can also be said with the 4 year olds. No it wasn’t nice that Fabian licked the chocolate or broke the children’s paper chains, but the reactions of his peers and the result in not having children playing with him for some of the time can be a consequence in itself. Even adults like to be able to fit in with the group, and if we do not have the experience of this as a child, it can be even harder for adults to do this. Fabian was able to change his behaviour and find a friend, who he played well with.

During this programme I was introduced to the new idea of thinking of children as either ‘dandelions’ or ‘orchids’. Children that fall into the dandelion category are more robust children, who are willing to get hands on and keep on going however hard the challenge. Orchid children are more delicate children, that need the right conditions to flourish, just like an orchid does. It is not right or wrong to be in one or the other category, but with a thought to which group a child belongs it can be helpful to then think through what skills they need to learn or adapt to help them in future life. Of these 10 children it was easy to see how some of the children are easily identified as a dandelion, Fabian, or an orchid, Taysia. Taysia found it difficult in her new environment on the first day as she was more hesitant to get involved and quiet, but it was with her at the end of the week that Fabian found a friend.

If you go to there are many programmes in the ‘Secret Life’ series. The new series has just started, with episodes on Tuesday evenings at 8pm. Or watch it on demand from the website. It covers much more than what I have focused on, including the importance of tackling difficult subjects with children, including death. If you have the time, these programmes are really worth the view.

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