We were on a holiday. In a playground a little girl fell, hitting her shin bone on a on a wooden beam so hard, that I felt her pain in my own body. She cried and cried and I immediately wanted to comfort her. Her father was also around and in tears she stumbled towards him. “Ouch daddy, it hurts so much!”, she said. From a distance I saw him grabbing her arm and, visibly irritated, he took her with him with words like ‘You should have been more careful’, ‘Don’t be a crybaby’ and ‘Stop whining’. Her objections and the fact that it hurt so much couldn’t change his mind or bring him on compassionate thoughts.
At that moment my thoughts about this father were not that peaceful, so to say. A child should find a safe haven with parents, especially in the case of pain and sorrow. Where else should it find that safety and security? Also, if a child has done something wrong it should be able to count on the support of parents. Parents should be a shelter where they can go to for love and support. Always
Small but valuable
Some people think adults are worth more than children, I frequently notice that when I hear certain statements or see certain behavior. But I strongly disagree with that. A child is of equal worth in comparison to an adult. You might even state the opposite: that a child is in fact worth more. Because the younger a child, the more it is pure, without hidden motives and on the way to the ‘adult life’ with good intentions. In essence, all people are of equal worth, but many so-called grownups could learn a lot from little children. Yet, we keep on thinking that we know everything and that we’re being so clever. Personally, I see it this way: if I cannot learn from a child every child is much wiser.
Educators have the immense task to… well, to who knows what? I think the father who saw his daughter falling so hard has another view on that than I have. In my view parents should guide kids in their steps to independence, create conditions and space for an optimal development of the child. Children need the right skills to handle life. ‘Technical’ skills like talking and shoe lacing, but also ‘life skills’, in which their own life perception as well as relationships to other people are the central issues. These latter skills are unimaginably important for a growing human being and largely determine his future approach of life. What about the falling girl for example? How will she respond to an other persons pain in the future?
A child is like a sprouting flower; very delicate, but wondrous and magnificent in its smallness. A wonder of nature. It also needs proper care to flourish. For like no flower is the same every human being is different, with its own talents. In general, adults should step back more often and give more space to the child. Not to let it do whatever it wants to, but to discover its personal talents. Or is it that we try to shape them into a copy of ourselves? That would be unfortunate, because then our own fears and limitations will be added to this shaping. By the way, our fears and limitations would affect a child much lesser without our (too) tight control and interference.
Those of us who have the privilege to be a father or mother might have discovered that their children hold up a mirror. If you are open to this you are frequently faced with your own behavior. The things you want to adjust to the child perhaps might consider yourself likewise. Also, your own words sometimes look like a boomerang and suddenly seem to be a bit simplistic. Once, I came across a statement that said ‘Children do as you do, not what you say’. So our abundance of words is not the guiding factor, but how we put these words into practice; you can only be an example by living it.
Do as I say
Have you ever seen it happen, that children are being snapped at enormously? Or that they are being treated as inferior little persons, unequal to the bigger ones? Only because they are small, only because the person concerned believes that they do not belong to the world of adults yet. However, children often are more mature in their behavior than the ones that theoretically should be.
Apparently, an adult is allowed to be angry, a child usually isn’t. An adult is allowed to be unreasonable, a child usually isn’t. When being angry an adult is allowed to raise his voice or even to shout, a child usually isn’t.
Considering that a child is completely dependent. Dependent on the vagaries of the parents. Of course, in many families you can find a healthy balance, but in many you can’t. Thus it may occur that children are not being raised, but are more trained like a dog. Just do as your ‘owner’ says; the standard is listening and general obedience. And the consequence of doing otherwise inexorably means punishment. Not to mention situations of child abuse. Education purely based on power or authority is a sign of poverty – needless to say poverty of the educator.
A child isn’t naughty, it sometimes acts naughty. Is isn’t annoying, it sometimes does annoying things. What a child is and how it behaves are different things. And too often the behavior is an expression of how a child feels and how it is being treated (structurally).
Today’s children are substantially different from previous generations. They develop much earlier and easily participate in most substantial conversations and issues at a young age. The amount of children that is highly sensitive (also referred to as HSP – Highly Sensitive Person) is huge. Some even say that nowadays almost all children are born being highly sensitive. That wouldn’t surprise me, but – highly sensitive or not – it ought to be self-evident to take into account the feelings of children.
Critical readers will say that I am way too soft for children and that I would approve and accept everything. Of course I also think that a child should get to know limitations, so it’s not my intention to plead for a sort of society where freedom/happiness prevail. I do plead for increasing insight from adults and increasing understanding of a child’s world. To show understanding – no, to profoundly have understanding – is the key to interact with children in a great way. Understand them if they get angry when they have to stop playing and explain to them why it is necessary on that particular moment anyway. Understand them if they really do not want to go to bed and explain to them why it is needed (and that you didn’t want to go to bed either when you were little). Understand them if they are tired or when they simply are not feeling well. I suspect that all of us have had similar feelings. Enter the child’s world, use your empathy and sensitivity. And always be respectful.
Just be there for them! With heart and soul, nothing more and nothing less. Dare to place yourself in a vulnerable position and show that you also were a child once. Show that parents are people too, that they don’t know everything, not always behave well and make mistakes too. And please, show that parents are able to apologize to a child. Children often are being punished or have to say sorry if they did something wrong. What about adults?
Mistakes shouldn’t necessarily be punished for they are learning moments. They need to be discussed and forgiven. What went wrong and why? What did you feel when you did that? How could you act in this kind of situations the next time? It’s very good to learn to apologize, but adults should also apply that knowledge to themselves and show it in practice. Apologize sincerely if you yelled at a child just because you were cranky. Or if you blamed them of something that turned out to be not their fault at all. Try to be small, sometimes even smaller than the child itself. It will make you big.