I have recently had one of my usual emotionally trying get- togethers with my mother and I found myself attacking her whenever she complained about my sister or relatives’ behaviour towards her. I adamantly reminded her that when we were little, she did or said the same thing in her own way. Her response, as always, was ‘but you were just a child, it’s not the same.’ I feel like I should see her point but I don’t and I then feel guilty for a week or so after for bullying an elderly lady. Was it really not the same? What is the rationale behind treating children with, less respect, than we would, well anybody else?
A quote I once saw at a Dyslexia Centre I taught at said, ‘I don’t remember what you said but I remember how you made me feel.’ What do we want our children to feel when they are in our care? And how do we like them to feel about us? The youngest of children with little or no language from which to reason, experiences much more poignantly others’ response and treatment of her than an older child does. The child feels the most for she comprehends so little.
Because she comprehends less, our response and communication with her must be different from what we have with an adult. We speak more clearly, with fewer assumptions, and avoid laughing at their responses just as we would not laugh at anyone from a different culture when they misunderstand ours or make an accident joke. We do all these differently so as to include everyone present.- That includes the child.
Feeling included and a relevant part of her family is a vital experience in supporting the development of your child’s social being. Our identity is as much ‘us’ as it is what our world thinks of us.
Let’s consider the home. The home is the child’s first direct experience of the world. Is it a place where he feels welcomed, included and considered? How do we show him that? A personal space is important to the healthy development of the self. Montessori recommends a low mirror placed next to the child’s bed or a mat so she may see and observe herself as much as she sees you. A space that a child knows to be his, as you know your bedroom or that bottom drawer is yours and yours alone.
Then there is the common space. Do you remember first picking out pieces for that common space and deciding what went where and what colours things should be? How have we prepared this same space to be used for the entire family? Once I saw an advertisement for an interior design studio that boasted of being able to provide usable space for children without spoiling the view… Family-friendly spaces need not be unsightly but I’m sure you know that. It would also be useful to not buy many toys and use the library. Children love libraries. I live in Islington now and there is a wonderful toy library. The only thing you need do is to not buy stuff. Yes, sometimes I find that hard too…
Let’s also consider adult conservations. That is, our chats with other parents and carers. It seems to me we often feel the need to be more supportive of our fellow parent, than our child, either by mutually over-praising the other child or putting down our own. We can instead try speaking directly with the other child, rather than talk about him with his parent. I find when I do that, the other adults present quite naturally do the same to all the children. If there is a need to speak only with the adult and ignore the child, one can always try to steer clear from talking about children or at least the children present. If a question is directed at you about a child in your care and who is present, that is quite a convenient opportunity to support the child in responding for himself.
This can be very trying to do and our friends may not always respond as we hope. But a young child in society is very much a foreigner and the eternal other and sometimes our peers are just not very sure what to do.-We wouldn’t bring a blind friend to a silent movie and expect him to just get on with it or for others to know how to be supportive. The first time I pushed someone in wheelchair down a slope, I did it with him facing forwards. I only found out much later watching someone else do it backwards had I realised how dangerous what I did was. He was very polite and never said anything. When the environment is not so accessible, we must be our child’s link to it. We must not leave her to fend when she has not the means and we can help our friends and family realise that children are a part of all of our lives whether or not they are ours.
Our parental task to all children is great. Our love must be unconditional and our patience thick. We must make sacrifices and be silent about them and we must expect nothing in return. We must sleep little and look worse while they grow robust and wise. The nature of our love can only come through our actions and our words. How will we show our love?