9th April 2020

Culture / Hattie Garlik

Be More Child by Hattie Garlik

4 7 mins 0

WWhy do we often ignore the simple and sound advice we give to children? Such as an early bedtime routine, switching off our electricals and spending time outdoors or doing something creative.

Hattie Garlick is a freelance journalist for newspapers such as the Telegraph and Guardian, she’s the author of two books: 100 Leading Ladies and Born to be Wild. Here she expertly explores this question.

Einstein once famously counselled: “Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

Easier said than done. How are we supposed to recapture our childhood curiosity when we’re perpetually exhausted, worn thin by the daily grind? I think I may have stumbled across the answer.
It struck me in the unlikeliest of circumstances – standing at the top of the stairs, shouting at the two children sitting on the sofa below: “turn that TV off and do something creative.” I began to think of the other injunctions I issue on autopilot. “Go outside and play,” “time for bath, then bed”, “eat your fruit and veg…” What if the words we repeat day in day out, without thinking, actually hold the secret to a life well lived?

What if we don’t really need meditation apps, self-help books, life coaching or jade eggs? What if what we really need is simply to listen to our own voice, the rules we lay down for our children day in, day out?

Hattie Garlick

For the next month, I have set myself a challenge. I am going to try to live by the decrees I issue to my children. I fully expect to cut some corners, break some rules and sneak in some screen time. But I think it could be a game changer. Do join me, if you like, and let me know what effect, if any, it has?

A good bedtime routine.

It’s the single point on which every baby book you ever read agreed: the vital importance of a bedtime routine. Warm bath, book, bed with the lights out. It works. So why do we abandon it as adults?

Last year, a survey suggested that nearly a quarter of adults struggle to sleep because we are glued to our phones at bedtime. Even when we put it down, the blue glow washing over us mimics daylight and stops our bodies from releasing the sleep hormone melatonin.

I may not start at seven pm, but come ten or eleven, I’ll be putting my phone away and submitting myself to a strict Gina Ford regime.

Try something new.

How many times a week do I badger by children to nibble on a new food, give swimming lessons a shot or try an after-school-club?

According to the global market researchers Neilson, UK children try a new activity every six months. When they do, 62% feel excited, 44% happy and 22% more confident. Meanwhile, the average UK adult hasn’t tried a new activity or hobby in five and a half years.

So every couple of days, I will try something new. Sometimes small and unadventurous (reaching for a different sandwich at Pret, perhaps) sometimes bigger and more daunting, for example…

Pick up some crayons.

Not a single day passes in our house without a child proudly pulling a pile of scrunched paper from a school bag. I go into raptures over their imperfect art works. Yet when did I last draw?

As adults, we have a bad habit of practicing only those creative activities in which we’re both practiced and skilled. We put our wonky stick men and wobbly animals away with our childhood memories. That’s a mistake. Studies have linked adult engagement in art with improved memory, reasoning, and resilience. Get out those colouring pens and have a daily doodle.

Turn the TV off and play.

Author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown has devoted his professional life to examining the power of play not only in children but also in prisoners, business people and more. In his book, the aptly titled Play, he compares the act to oxygen, powering and invigorating our entire lives, throughout their span.

Don’t worry, you needn’t dig out the Duplo (though you absolutely should, if the mood takes you). Brown points out that we can have more playful engagements with art, books, movies, music, comedy, daydreaming and flirting. And we should. Brown’s research suggests that playfulness boosts our romantic relationships, our productivity and our happiness.

Go out into the garden.

Heedless of moaning and heel dragging, I order my children outside and into the back garden every single day. But how often do I take my own advice? The average adult in the UK will spend 142 hours week in the office, at the shops, watching TV at home or in the car. That adds up to 53 years inside, compared to just ten outdoors.

Yet all the evidence points to nature’s efficacy in speeding recover from ill health, reducing blood pressure and generally lifting the spirts of adults. Researchers have even now quantified the exact dosage required to reap these benefits – 120 minutes a week.

Out you go.

Say thank you.

Of all the directives I issue to my own kids, this has to be the most regular. “Don’t forget to say thank you,” I pester as we leave playdates, get onto buses, pay for chocolate bars and treats. But how often do I stop to focus on my own gratitude? Embarrassingly rarely.

The science, however, is clear. Leading gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons had produced fairly conclusive proof that feeling grateful reduces depression and boosts happiness.

A 2012 study, meanwhile, suggested that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains. Remembering your ps and qs, in other words, may be even more important for us grown-ups than for our kids.

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Hattie Garlik

Hattie Garlick is a freelance journalist for newspapers such as the Telegraph and Guardian, she’s the author of two books: 100 Leading Ladies and Born to be Wild.

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