I began to register that for the past decade, teachers of our youngest children had been telling me about this diminishing world of inner emotion. Decades ago, psychologist Selma Faiberg in her seminal work The Magic Years, wrote about the vital importance of an almost otherworldly childhood era – between toddlerhood and early elementary school – filled with rich fantasy and imagination, unrestrained by time pressures or the constraints of everyday reality. I realized that magic was being assaulted in children of all ages, seeking to keep up with a world based on instant interaction. (I am convinced that one of the little discussed reasons for the Harry Potter phenomenon is that J.K. Rowling tapped into this yearning in children, who had been made to leave behind their magic much too early in life). With little room for cumbersome emotion or playful fantasy or idiosyncratic passion they had better learn to move fast and to “Live Free or Die Tryin,” as the older kids might put it.
Why is the inner world of magic, play, and emotion so important? An internal world hits the “pause” button. It stops action and slows down time just long enough to nurture reflection and protect genuine passion. Connecting to one’s inner self helps a child learn to handle the ups and down of everyday life (a lot of conflict can happen during recess) through creative play, rather than instant acting-out. It helps a child learn empathy through the use of role-play and imaginative games (remember dolls and puppets?), rather than the lightning-sharp repartee of social cruelty. It helps a child regulate anxiety, anger, and frustration through a focus on passionate pursuits. Mastery of some interest, whether it’s comic books, guitar, or dance, requires kids to put off immediate gratification, and helps them deal with envy and a fear of failing. Without these skills, children tend toward explosions of raw, unprocessed emotion. An inner life also provides ballast, a strong sense of self that helps navigate the unfettered rush of the here and now.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.49