Gavin Oattes: We need to help ‘tweenagers’ grow with joy

Children in a classroom
Children in a classroom
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I was sitting at breakfast on day 14 of my all-inclusive family holiday and twice heard the word ‘samey’.

All-inclusive is great. It’s there for the taking, literally, everything. You can have your pick of the starters, all the salads, mains, desserts, any drink you can imagine. Even ice-cream. In fact you can have it all. Twice if you want.

Gavin Oattes is co-author with Dr Andy Cope of Diary of a Brilliant Kid

Gavin Oattes is co-author with Dr Andy Cope of Diary of a Brilliant Kid

You take and take and take.

It’s great to begin with but soon it doesn’t matter what you choose, it becomes repetitive. Bland even? You’re eating chips. They’re someone else’s chips, you didn’t even make them. You feel fat, slow and bloated. You end up paying extra to escape. You eat out, something other than groundhog burgers. The dream became ‘samey’.

They have a word for everything in boffin-land. For ‘samey’ read ‘habituation’ or the over-complicated ‘hedonic treadmill’. Whatever you do in life eventually becomes ‘normal’, and therefore even the most exhilarating activities, after a while, can become a bit humdrum.

It’s not just all-inclusive holidays. A pay rise, roller coaster rides, your new car, your job, partner… even life itself. All these things are magnificent at first but then you kind-of get used to them.

Gavin Oattes is co-author with Dr Andy Cope of Diary of a Brilliant Kid

Gavin Oattes is co-author with Dr Andy Cope of Diary of a Brilliant Kid

So you need to crank things up, move, fidget, try something new, give up something that’s not working, buy some new knickers, learn to play the piano, change your thinking, read a book, go to St Petersberg.

But never settle for samey.

Think back to when you were seven years old and your teacher handed you a book you had read the year before.

How did it make you feel? Well, as an ex-primary school teacher, I’ll tell you exactly how it made the children feel the first time I made this mistake – furious, absolutely furious.

Why? Because at seven years of age we want nothing more than to be moved up a reading level. We want nothing more than for all of our classmates to see, hear and hopefully acknowledge that we’ve been moved up a reading level!

And of course the only thing we want more than that is to go home and tell our parents we’ve been moved up a reading level. We’re seeking that look of pride and approval. And if your mum was anything like mine, she’d wallpaper your new book for you with a cool poster of your favourite band (it’s a generation thing – some of you will have no idea what we’re talking about).

Another thing that amazed me as a teacher was when I would be sitting doing my work as all the kids were doing theirs, and this queue would form to my right.

We’ve all stood in that queue, we know what it’s like. It usually consists of a row of children with great big smiles on their faces, saying something along the lines of ‘I’m finished, what’s next?’.

It’s an absolute need at that age, a want and a desire to learn. To progress, to prove yourself and embrace the next challenge. We don’t care what others think. We’re ready, willing and more than able to take on the world, to be the best we can be, to dream and to think big. I often think we should put seven-year olds in charge of Brexit; it’d be sorted in less than an hour.

Every single day as a primary school teacher my mind was completely and utterly blown by the attitude those kids showed towards their daily learning adventure.

But there’s a problem with being that age and there’s a problem with being at primary school, and it’s this – we’re not seven forever. There’s a technical term for it; ‘growing up’.

I believe that in growing up too many of us lose something special. Very special. Some hold on to it forever, for others it comes and goes, but for many, it just disappears entirely. I’m going to refer to it as ‘that wee piece of magic’. It’s a natural thing that we’re all born with.

I’ve always wanted to write a book that is designed to help us never lose that wee piece of magic. I learned as a teacher and more recently as a parent that kids love to explore life, the universe and well, awesomeness. I recently heard the term “tweenager”. It’s the 7-12 age group that simply has no atlas for navigating life. But with an interactive collection of stories, quotes, theories and yes, science, we can guide young people through the difficult years between ages 7 and 107, helping them to make sense of themselves and the world around them.

Kids though don’t just want the same old same old. Brill Kid is more of a do-ary, than a diary. Kids can scribble in it, dribble on it, or nibble it. It’s all about reading, feeling, laughing and most of all doing.

Remember when you were young, everything is changing. And that’s OK. It’s actually more than OK – it’s exciting. These changes are the opening salvo of our gradual transition into “grown-up,” and it’s the perfect time to define who we are, how we think and how we choose to face the world. Is it a lot? Yes. But it’s our job as big kids to help young kids sort things out and come out the other side shining.

There is a huge spotlight on wellbeing, especially mental health currently. More and more we live in times where young people need to know that no matter how they feel, no matter what’s happening in their head right now, they are not broken. We are all a unique collection of talents and dreams and wants and surprises, and we have an entire lifetime ahead of us.

As a kid I would seek out books that took me inside my own head, out into the world and everywhere my dreams might take me. Like most others I craved something that made me feel alive. The hard part was the relationship building and dealing with all the tough stuff life throws at us. There’s a lot to learn in life, but one lesson needs to be clear to kids: never be afraid to shine. Stand up, stand out and be spectacular – whatever that means to you. Again, it’s our job as big kids to give young kids the map and compass so they can start their own journeys today.

Early feedback and reviews of Diary of a Brilliant Kid have blown us away. We’ve had parents get in touch to tell us that the book is allowing them to connect with their kids around all sorts of important topics and teachers are using it to stimulate discussion with their pupils. With this in mind, Brill Kid is the ideal Christmas gift. It’s the perfect time of year to reflect but more importantly to turn our attention to the here and now. The average person lives for 4,000 weeks. Life’s short. It’s a gift. Let’s not send it back unwrapped.

Gavin Oattes is co-author with Dr Andy Cope of Diary of a Brilliant Kid, a personal development book for 8-12s available now on Amazon. Find out more about Gavin at treeof.com/people/gavin-oattes