I have had a lot of parents ask me if it’s normal that their young children want to watch the same few movies over and over. To adults this behavior seems monotonous and even insanity making. Who in their right mind would want to watch ‘The Little Mermaid’ three hundred times? But it’s developmentally appropriate and healthy. Actually we can learn a lot from the attitude in our own lives and endeavors.
Little kids walk a precarious path. They are naturally curious little monkeys yet the world is a big, confusing place that can seem hostile and foreign. They live in an adult world with rules they can’t really understand. But they are trying desperately to make sense of their surroundings and they learn at a truly astounding rate.
Kids watch the same movies again and again because doing so provides a chance for mastery, efficacy, and a feeling of power. In the world of the movie they can understand everything perfectly, including the personalities of the various characters, how the events will unfold, and the meanings of social interactions. Within the framework of this repetition there is still plenty of learning going on that adults take for granted. Maybe it’s picking up a few new words, or understanding a conversational exchange in a whole new way, or suddenly understanding the full import of a joke, or any other tiny variable embedded that keeps it interesting for a child even though the movie lost its luster for the parent about a hundred viewings ago.
One reason I always love getting a chance to work with kids is that their curiosity and simple joy of learning has not been tinkered with yet. As adults, our egos and many of the failures we have experienced can hinder us from achieving mastery in the interests we pursue. Many feel it’s a sign of stupidity to have to drill an idea or a behavior over and over. They will give up and then rationalize quitting on the grounds that the activity wasn’t really for them, or that they just didn’t have the natural abilities.
This may well be the case, but natural abilities on their own usually aren’t enough and if you speak to a professional in any field who has achieved excellence you will invariably hear about the long hours of repetition and drilling that were an essential ingredient to success. It turns out that kids who want to watch the same shows over and over know what they’re about, let’s leave them to it.