It is at this time of the year, with examinations upon us, that many children come to a dreadful and painful realisation — they discover how much they still have to learn in a very short period of time!
By Tim Middleton
For some, too many perhaps, it is a matter of too little, too late.
However, such a scenario is not limited to children writing examinations. All too often hospital visits or funerals remind us that we did too little, too late for loved ones.
Newspapers are often filled with stories of too little being done too late — laws being introduced to reduce air pollution or to prevent climate change; relief aid being sent to disaster-stricken areas; even sports teams making a late and bustling comeback (but not enough to win).
“Too little too late” is a sad story.
Perhaps indeed these are the saddest words we may ever hear: “Too little, too late”! Sentences beginning with the words “I wish I had” and “If only” are sure to end with a disappointingly final full stop. They tell of missed opportunities, of what-might-have-beens.
They contain stories symbolised by closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Regular readers of these articles might remember similar but equally diverse reflections in the article entitled “Too much, too soon, too bad” where it was not a matter of missed chances but misplaced choices.
Both expressions tell a sad story and serve as a strong warning to parents and teachers with regard to their children’s lives. Too much, too soon, too bad — too little, too late, too sad!
The most obvious area where we as adults are guilty of doing too little, too late is in instilling discipline in our children.
In the medical world, if we do not treat an ailment or illness quickly, it will degenerate and require even more extensive remedial attention; so, in a similar way, if we do not deal with our children’s behaviour early, we are ending up with serious and painful work at a later stage, if it is not too late.
The generally-accepted Jesuit maxim of “Give me the child for the first seven years and I’ll give you the man” shows much wisdom even if we might choose to argue over the specific age; the point is that if we do not deal with and discipline our children when they are young, it becomes extremely difficult to do so when they are older.
All too often, by the time the child has reached secondary school, the authorities dealing with discipline may be left able to do little more than trying to treat cancer with a sticky plaster. Too little, too late, too sad!
Equally, we may be left to rue missed opportunities or failed responses in the area of responsibility — we are left giving too little responsibility too late.
Many parents think their role is to do everything for their child; they drop everything at work to go back and take their child’s forgotten lunch or kit to school; they allow others to do simple chores that their child could so easily do.
We do not give them enough responsibility and as a result, the child is brought up with a false sense of entitlement and a limited sense of responsibility. By the time that responsibility is placed on him, the child often finds it so alien that he deals with it inappropriately. Too little, too late, too sad!
It is the same with relationships that parents and children have.
One day, far too quickly, parents wake up and find that their beloved little child has now left home, gone, an adult herself and we think of all the things we would have loved to have done with her, all the things we would have loved to have said and shared.
But, too little, too late, too sad! We show too little remorse too late; we express too little love too late. One day they are here, the next they are gone and we have not done what we might have done.
As parents and teachers, we must be deeply conscious that we have so little time with our children. As we considered in a previous article the importance and necessity of having balance in education, so we seriously need to understand the significance and urgency in finding balance between too little, too late and too much, too soon.
Time waits for no man and we must equip our children to face that reality. Too much, too soon brings too much freedom, pressure, leeway and choice for our children but too little, too late does not give them enough responsibility, discipline, relationship or reward.
We need to realise that truth before our own examination arrives in the release of our children to the bigger world; we need to respond to this challenge before too much damage has been done. Otherwise, it will be our own funeral and our own sad epitaph — too little, too late.
l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.