Normal and Novel

Oct 17, 2013

It’s one of those enigmas of child-rearing: In order to flourish, children need a complex mix of events that are both normal and novel.

Normal events include reliable routines which structure a child’s day.  Going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday may sound a bit boring.  And yet, this predictable pattern helps children develop healthy sleep habits.

Likewise, a consistent daytime schedule builds a child’s feeling of competence as he anticipates what comes next throughout the day.  This regularity breeds trust and reduces stress for kids.

Contrast this with a lifestyle in which children never know when their next meal is coming or who will be caring for them.  This chaos creates anxiety in kids who remain hypervigilant to figure out what to expect.  It’s hard to relax when you don’t know the game plan.

So a life that feels “normal” is key to a child’s optimal development.  When he doesn’t have to wonder what happens next, he can devote energy to learning new things.

On the other hand, children habituate to familiar sights and sounds.  A barking dog is ignored by a sleeping preschooler who’s lived with this pet over time.  Sometimes, “normal” things stop inspiring growth and learning.  A toy sitting on the same shelf for months becomes invisible to a child looking for fun.  Oddly, however, if you move that toy to a new location, it may elicit interest.

Kids pay attention to novel experiences, which is why they often have a developmental burst on vacation or when they visit grandma’s house. 

And while they love the familiar sights on their evening stroll, they learn much from your pointing out a new weed in the sidewalk crack or a new cat in a neighbor’s yard.  Learning to notice unexpected surprises is encouraged by parents who join kids in celebrating novelty.

Novel occurrences within the framework of a solid routine provide the best of both worlds for children.  Kids can afford to embrace new experiences when they know who’s going to tuck them in at night.