School is out. The last day. Of course, as with many transitions, changes can mean more work for mother — or father. The issue of child care is in the forefront with children not in school, and so the scramble for a summer plan that will keep children busy, safe and supervised.
Observing children — impossible not to do, as they were everywhere — what was apparent was their sense of freedom. It was impossible not to notice how many children were out, running ahead of a parent, skipping, jumping, riding scooters and generally expressing a sense of breaking loose. Sitting in the park, I noticed two girls off by themselves stretched out on a large towel. First order of business was kicking off their shoes. They were lying side-by-side, one head to the other’s feet, the other the reverse.
I guessed they were about 8 years of age, seemingly a little young to be alone. Then I noticed that at an enclosure a bit away there was a gathering of other children and parents. The girls were engaged in some game of their own which had no particular form that was clear. At one point, one of them jumped up and ran to where the larger group was sitting. The other girl seemed bewildered and at a loss for a few minutes. Then she returned to the towel, engaging in an exercise routine of her own. After a while, the first girl returned with an ice-cream pop for each of them
Middle childhood. It is when the parts of the brain most closely associated with being human finally come online: The ability to control impulses, to reason, to focus. It is useful to be reminded of the biological underpinnings of children’s maturation and development. In middle childhood, the brain is at its peak for learning, and physical development enables both large and fine motor skills to be applied in new ways.
Perhaps most important in terms of living with others, children develop an awareness that others have minds, ideas and wishes of their own. This is the basis for an ability to consider others, and that “you can’t always have what you want.” Compromise is necessary in order to live in a family and to have friends.
This really struck me as I watched these two girls, having guessed their ages as 8. The way in which one of the girls just suddenly departed was clearly puzzling and disturbing to the other. She did not return immediately and it was interesting to see how the deserted girl dealt with it. After a moment, seeming at a loss, she engaged in a play routine of her own seemingly oblivious to her friend’s departure.
The girl who left, obviously had not given notice that she was returning to her mother having left abruptly. Interestingly, having acted alone she returned with something for them both. Yet the “deserted girl” initially seemed disinterested and did not reach to accept the offering, which was then urged on her by her friend. Was that her expression of displeasure at what the other girl had done? Perhaps.
It was interesting to see how both of them handled this situation, one that might have caused an upset at an earlier age. The girl who left without warning returned with a treat for both. The girl who was left, although hurt, turned to her own inner resources and no overt confrontation occurred.
When I left I spoke to them briefly asking when school had ended. “Today,” they said as though it was obvious. Which it was.
— Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. And, she blogs at goodenoughmothering.com.