We can all be guilty of losing sight of just how intensely our children take on board the troubles of the world.
I have been truly moved by how upset some of the children I have spoken to are regarding the plight facing Syrian refugee children. It’s so easy to forget how deeply our children absorb and react to world events.
In my childhood, we were encouraged to consider the starving children in Cambodia when we struggled to finish a meal we were less than enthusiastic about. It was repeated so often - as I’m sure it was for future generations prompted to be grateful they weren’t the starving ones in Ethiopia, Sudan, Haiti and other disaster zones - that we became immune to the emotional blackmail. However, I also remember lying awake at night, weeping for the children who were growing up in poverty, whilst I enjoyed a comparatively comfortable life, hunger free and with a roof over my head every night. I can still recall the depth of my sense of injustice and powerlessness to right the wrongs of the world.
It’s easy to imagine that the events of the day wash over our children, that they have other concerns, or that they don’t understand the workings of the adult world. I’m not so sure. And it’s not just the global events that have impact, closer to home our children may be trying to take on responsibility for situations that are out of their hands. It’s quite common for children to feel they are somehow to blame for a negative state of affairs at home, whether it’s a trivial issue, or a more major crisis.
We can easily underestimate how accountable children feel for their family’s well being. I was an asthmatic child who had flirted with death on more than one occasion, and who was more traumatised by the impact this had on my parents than I was by the illness itself. In order to keep an eye on my ability to continue breathing, my mother insisted my bedroom door was kept ajar and she and my father would listen outside before turning in for the night to reassure themselves that all was well. If I was wheezy at night, I would listen out for them coming upstairs, wait for when I knew they were listening at the door and then hold my breath so that they would think everything was okay. I felt responsible for their wellbeing and held a duty of care not to worry them unnecessarily, alerting their concern when I felt I could cope with the situation myself, without their intervention.
I don’t for one moment imagine that this is unusual. I think children take on board much more than we might give them credit for. We owe it to them to try and alleviate that pressure, to reassure them that we are the grown-ups, and the onus is on us, not them. They should be free to enjoy their childhood with as few burdens as possible, and those of us in the lucky part of the world should revel in our ability to deliver that to them.
It can be easy to underestimate young children’s ability to utilise memory, perhaps because as adults we find it so hard to remember the early days of our own lives. However research, and recent developments in neuroscience, show us that young children are laying down memories all the time.
Well when you stop and think about it, that’s no real surprise, they have to be, otherwise how would they be learning? And learning really is their thing!
When I started working in education I remember suddenly being struck by the question, “What is it that defines learning as opposed to mere recall…is there a difference?”
Last week I wrote about ‘praise’ - this week, I’d like to deal with it’s cousin ‘expectation’.
That voice that comes from inside us, telling us not to even bother trying, because we’re just no good at it; telling us we are and always have been hopeless at maths, spelling, art or whatever - that voice came from somewhere.
I bet that if you relate to that, you also know where and when that voice started for you. You know which teacher told you you couldn’t draw, which test you failed or what event exposed your weakness.
Are you on Facebook? How old are you and those you connect with most often? There has been a recent slew of press articles about the rise in the average age of Facebook users and the projected exodus of over 3 million under-25s in the UK and US this year.
Reading interviews with young people who are now turning to alternative platforms, I was reminded of a past experience whilst working in Scotland many years ago.