The other day I was gazing idly out of my front window when a young family walked by - mum, dad and a little girl of around two. She was holding onto her mother’s hand and happily chattering away to her as they walked down the street. It hit me suddenly and strongly: this little girl has a total disregard for the fact that she’s a child.
I mean sure, she understands at a deep and empirical level that in adult society her status is lower and, obviously, her size smaller. But not in the way she conducts herself, in how she expects her opinions to be not only heard but listened to. It was easy to observe her seeing herself as of equal importance to anyone else within the family.
This charming sense of self-importance is naive, but acknowledging it is essential to comprehending how little ones think of themselves in the wider world. It can be amusing to us as we watch our children behave as if they are grown-ups. We laugh as they make mistakes trying to present themselves as on a par with our level of experience and conversational mores. But for them, it’s deadly serious.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be entertained by their efforts, or that we should always bend to their desires, I do however think we can be sensitive to how much young children want to be a part of our world - and on an equal footing.
Whilst we appreciate the reality of the situation more firmly than they are able, we can still allow them to hang onto some pride and also their dreams.
It may seem that this is an obvious point, and I realise that in the great scheme of things, it’s something we’re all aware of, but in familiarity we can get used to laughing off such behaviour and forget the import of our reactions on the vulnerable psyches of our children. So when you can, take a breath before you laugh aloud. As W.B. Yeats says, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
When I was a little girl, these were the words I dreaded hearing coming out of my mother’s mouth. They always heralded a difficult topic, and were a signal for me to be on my guard. Mostly, whatever it was Mum wanted to talk to me about was never as bad as I had imagined it might be.