Review: The Secret Life of Five Year Olds

Milyah and Tianno from The Secret Life of Five Year Olds on Channel 4. Picture: MARK JOHNSON

Milyah and Tianno from The Secret Life of Five Year Olds on Channel 4. Picture: MARK JOHNSON - Credit: C4

Review: Watch the heartwarming moment where a sad five-year-old is comforted by friends after saying her heart has “shrunk”

The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds, Channel 4, Tuesday

There will be few more heartwarming moments on TV this year than the group hug that five-year-olds offer a classmate after she admits that her heart has “shrunk” because she has no one to play with and feels lonely.

Milyah’s poetic outburst came after she and new best friend Tianno fell out over a border dispute involving a treehouse. Milyah settled the argument with a boot in Tianno’s face, Tianno responded by telling her that they were no longer friends, which seemed quite a restrained response, considering the crime.

As her teacher led a discussion about the meaning of friendship, she matter-of-factly explained that she didn’t have any friends: “Actually, I don’t have a heart anymore now I don’t play with anyone. I’ve shrunk my heart. There’s something wrong with me.”

I know so many adults who could benefit from being a bit more Milyah: who knows, maybe if you feel a bit broken, admitting it will bring forth a succession of cuddles from those around you – having said that, I’m not sure that would make me feel any better, but then again, I’m not five.

The Secret Life of Five Year-Olds is a fascinating glimpse into a world that we left behind a long time ago and which most of us remember only snapshots from. It’s also, according to the show’s psychologists Dr Sam Wass and Dr Laverne Antrobus, a time when children are “trying on a variety of identities” in order to choose which one suits them best.

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I wish I’d know this when I was five. I would definitely have chosen ‘lady of leisure’ or ‘international playgirl’.

This new series follows a similar path to those that preceded it: we meet a group of adorable children and then watch them interact through a series of fixed cameras which capture what they actually get up to when they’re left to their own devices. Interspersed with the footage of them booting each other from treehouses and breaking off precious four-day friendships the children are asked to take part in a number of psychological challenges.

One was particularly brilliant: the children were split into groups and taken into a room with an ice-cream machine and jars of hundreds and thousands. Having been told not to touch, the teacher left the room and a time-honoured battle of good versus bad began.

The first group were policed by Yash, the son of two dentists, who angrily chastised the rest of the group if they so much as glanced at the machine.

Yash is the kind of child that parents love, because he is goal-orientated, and behaves himself in the face of exceptional temptation: “I told them to stop and they wouldn’t listen. Sorry, I have got to tell because you were told not to touch,” he said.

The other group were eating ice-cream in massive fistfuls before you could say ‘but you were told not to’. The only abstainer was Jack, whose parents said he was a rebel but who was actually only a pretending, because when push came to shove, it was Jack who refused to break the rules.

Interestingly, when interviewed with a friend after the ice-cream related temptation fail by group two, he claimed that he had been at the forefront of the lawlessness: “I just helped myself without asking,” he preened, before claiming, “I think the best thing to do is break the rules.”

Apparently, bragging of this kind is actually a sign of sophistication: “Lying to protect a rebellious self-image is something we don’t see much at this age,” said Dr Sam, speaking about Jack, who we discovered is a bus spotter with an encyclopaedic knowledge of London routes (a true sign of a wild child).

I also loved the general knowledge quiz where two teams – the Legendary Heroes and Team Super – pitched their wits in a battle which turned nasty after the very first question – rebellious Jack knew Theresa May lived at 10 Downing Street and then jeered at the opposing team for being losers.

Questions and answers flew: we discovered the world is spear-shaped, humans have eyebrows so they can wear make-up, 100 people live in Britain, we have belly buttons to make us sit on the toilet and that stars are made of cheese. Yash’s team won the quiz in the end, beating Jack’s team. He was strangely silent.

This is, quite simply, a lovely way to spend 48 minutes or so, immersed in a world where arguments are ended with a hug, the biggest dilemma you face is whether or not to eat ice-cream, where a treehouse becomes your secret lair and where there are lovely teachers like Sharon and Simon whose only concern is to help you learn more about a world which is never really as good as it is when you’re five.

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