The Robustness of Children

The old saw is that a man with one watch knows what time it is, but a man with two is never sure.  The same holds true for books on child development.  I’ve now read more books than I care to admit on childcare.  Each was written by an expert, generally with a tone that indicates any deviation from this plan will probably result in catastrophic events for you child.  But the first key takeaway that I’ve found is that kids thrive in spite of our best efforts.

This brings me back to the research that forms the foundation of this blog and website, resilience and robustness.  All of my work on resilience comes from the work on social-ecological systems instigated by the breakthroughs of Buzz Holling and his compatriots over the last (gasp) 40 years.  But there is a vast literature on “resilience” in childhood development.  Both research communities have very specific definitions and heaps of research that don’t necessarily speak anything close to the same language.  In the social-ecological community, there have been recent discussions on resilience (the ability to bounce back from disturbance) in contrast to robustness (system persistence when confronted by various types of disturbance or uncertainty).

Kids are robust to a huge variety of disturbances.  They prosper regardless of which child development program we follow.  The experts insist that raising healthy kids requires:

  • a regimented eating-activity-sleeping schedule, except for those that insist that this should be on demand with no schedule
  • co-sleeping, except for those that insist co-sleeping is evil
  • programmed activity and school starting by 2 years of age, except those that insist there should be no formal schooling
  • strict rules, except those that insist on levity and learning
  • pacifiers to satiate natural cravings, again, except by those that think this leads to poor nourishment

And the list goes on as long as we’d like, with phrases like nipple confusion, attachment dilemmas, and so on.

This leads me to Takeaway #2: Kids need three things and three things only:  food, love, and space to run.  This recipe works until at least the age of 3, but it probably holds until the age of 88.

Finally, everyone seems to have their favorite childcare book.  That’s great.  If you find one that works for you and (more importantly) your child, please use it.  However, let’s remember that you have a sample size of 1 (or 2 or 3), and let’s not assume that the same holds for anyone else, let alone everyone.  Now, back to the books.

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