Are These Children 'Ready'? Why It's Not The Question We Should Ask

This week is the final week that my nine year old is in year 4 and, although it’s nowhere near as profound as the primary-secondary transition, he’s going from the top – a mixed 3-4 class – to the bottom – a mixed 5-6 class.

This got me thinking about the subject of today’s post, and reminded me of a training session I was delivering for a in a school.
The head teacher said something that left a very deep imprint on me: “We are not really interested in whether our children are ready for school. We’re more concerned about whether our school is ready for children.”

Children’s readiness is often misunderstood because they have a wonderful capacity to adapt. The gift of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to shape itself according to the environment it finds itself in – means we sometimes assume, wrongly, that children are more ‘ready’ than they are.

As adults, our readiness for change of often guided by our own choices: changing jobs, moving house, taking on more responsibilities.
But with children, the role of their choice or agency or autonomy in the matter is rarely considered.
Instead, we may be thinking that, developmentally, they’re ready; an assumption that the child’s own anticipation and excitation can, sometimes inaccurately, suggest.

But there are many contradictions in the world about what a child’s readiness– their emotional readiness, in particular – should look like.

If you just think about babyhood for example, where did this idea come from that they should be ready to sleep alone and in their own bed from infancy? There isn’t a mammalian species on the planet, apart from humans, that births their young, and then doesn’t share sleeping space with them.

But, all the while they’re so reliant on that dependent relationship, the innate urge to become independent is also alive and kicking, right from those earliest days. Children wouldn’t develop beyond infancy if they weren’t hard-wired to exert influence in how they interact with the world.

And yet, as parents or practitioners, we’re very often expected to work and raise children in ways which, in effect, go completely against this neurodevelopmental process; there may be little room for them to make their own decisions, to think for themselves, to disagree, or choose their own course of action.

Far too many children in the education system are so tightly managed that they have no agency or autonomy at all.
Until, at the age of 13, they’re then expected to ‘be ready’ to decide what they want to do for the rest at their lives. How can we expect them to be equipped to make such important choices, with so little practice?

At whatever age they are, and whatever we might want or expect children to be ready for, the truth is that young brains don’t fully mature until between the ages of 28-31. (More info on the Adolescent Brain CPD on this page).

And even so, that doesn’t guarantee anything; as adults (i.e. 30+) there’s plenty of occasions when we get hijacked by a ‘badly behaved brain’ because we’re not ready to deal with a situation. We might curse behind the wheel, let our impulses get the better of us, or say something unkind or unhelpful because it feels good at the time.

It’s one of the numerous reasons I can’t endorse many systems of ‘behaviour management’ or ‘zero tolerance’ in schools and other settings.
The expectation that children – as soon as they start school, no less! – should be ready ‘make good choices’, to control their behaviours, to manage their relationships, to regulate their emotions – is wildly unrealistic.

And unfair, not just on the child, but the adult expected the manage the child who can’t manage themselves.

So in the spirit of us Being Ready For Children, and not the other way around, hold in mind that just because they look ready, and even feel ready, it does not mean they are ‘ready’.
Nor does being ready now assure that readiness will remain.

But we can -and must- be ready for them:

✅Ready to be the emotionally available adult that they still need to feel secure.

✅Ready to nurture and reassure, especially when they have a wobble, when friendships changes, or when the shine wears off, etc.

✅Ready to remind them that they’re still a competent, capable human being when the weight of others’ demands and expectations gets too heavy.

✅Ready to give them autonomy, agency and independence wherever we can, so we work with, and not against, how Mother Nature intended.

✅Ready to accept that adapting to change isn’t easy, and so they can (and should!) be forgiven for being a perfectly flawed human while they do.

If this resonates visit  this page  for info on related CDP, such as:

  • Re-empowering the Powerless Child
  • Ending Well: Supporting Children with Loss
  • The Turbulence of the Adolescent Brain
  • Ready To Fly: Building the Resilient Brain

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