What children need

August 16, 2007 at 11:27 pm | Posted in The journey within | Leave a comment

I met up with an old buddy of mine whom i was best pals with in primary school. Despite our closeness in the past, we grew up with different values and walking towards different paths – me trying to fulfill my calling to help pple and develop spiritually; her trying to climb the corporate ladder and perhaps also developing spiritually in her own way.

I found it hard to connect with her at one point as we had such different attitudes towards so many things, including the importance of money and social success. So there was a time when i allowed both of us to drift apart, cos i found it difficult to talk to someone who often responds in a way that is totally opposite the way i think, and i guess at that time, i needed very much to be with people who thought the way i do so i cld get the affirmation i needed.

Anyway, things are still the same more or less, but today somehow, i lost that feeling of panic and struggle to defend my views against hers and feeling unable to do so. We had a pretty comfortable sharing, and when she asked me if i was thinking of sending little boy to childcare, i told her i was considering a few options, including homeschooling.

I expected her response, which was to consider childcare centres cos they wld prepare the children for P1 and from her experience from teaching in schools, she is aware that P1 registration wld take into acct the child’s childcare centre experience, as children who don’t attend childcare wld be thought of as not being able to keep up with their peers in P1.

I shrugged and said it doesn’t matter. If i wanted little boy to get gd grades in sch, then yup, i wld send him to a gd childcare centre where they wld train the kids for P1, so that he wld score well, get a gd degree, and next time get a gd job. And it’s interesting that just before we went on to this topic, she was sharing abt her expectations gone wry – that going to a gd sch meant that she wld have an easy life afterwards, and she realised ultimately, it’s all hard work (my inner reply, which i didn’t share cos i thought wld take the discussion way off track, was if it’s work that fulfills our life purpose, then it wld never be the kind of hard work that drains your spirit, but rather enriches it).

Continuing from what i was saying, what i want for little boy is for him to be happy. I didn’t want him to have to do endless assignments and homework like so many children have to, which is really sad. Children in Singapore are often not happy. And suddenly, this insight came out of my mouth, and i dunno where it came from, the following sentence which impressed my friend very much. Children nowadays, they can have everything they want, but they don’t have the things that they really need.

I guess this is hardly an original sentence and def have been said by others more than once, but i know i wasn’t repeating something i heard or read and it just came out almost like magic, bypassing the logical side of the brain. As my friend was struck by it so, it stayed in my head and i was pondering over my own words this evening. And the question came up. What do children need?

Here are the answers that followed in my head…

Autonomy – children don’t need to be told what to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say. They are not robots. They have a mind of their own and fully capable of making choices for themselves. Each time a decision is made on their behalf or something is done for them, they are robbed of the chance of asserting their own free will, which they have as much as any adult. (And the same goes for elderly who are supposed to be senile and helpless… as much as their ability allows, they shld also be given autonomy… something i learnt in my social work modules and struck me as something very impt and meaningful)

Respect – i imagine if an alien come and visit our earth, and observe the way we talk to children, he might wonder if children are supposed to be a lower-class species, the way some adults order children ard, belittle and tease them and thinking it’s fun (of cos, children can’t tell you otherwise cos they lack the vocab, and it’s convenient enough to overlook their obvious non-verbal cues indicating the absence of enjoyment). Children may be children, and they are also human beings, with feelings and pride, and hence the need for respect.

Acceptance – to be loved not because one has been a gd boy, or has finished his homework, or lunch, or was able to score A, or perform in front of pple and receive praise. But simply cos one is a special and unique being who deserves to be loved for just being who he or she is.

A listening ear – How many times do children try to tell adults things and the adults just tell them they are wrong, and they shldn’t think this way, and they shld think that way instead. If the adults are even listening at all, and not just going uh-huh and ok. Children do not need to be given advice, or get nagged and preached at. They have their own eyes to see how the world works, and their own feelings to know what their experiences makes them feel inside. All they need is to have someone that they can share their observations and feelings with and get affirmation, to know that it’s ok for them to think and feel this way, and there are no rights and wrongs. Eventually, they wld be able to come to their own understanding, learn to trust their own judgment and most importantly, feel that it’s safe to share their inner world and that their opinion and feelings count.

Time of their own –  Gone are the days when children cld spend all their hours daydreaming, creating their own fantasy worlds, going on magical adventures, or simply watch the world go by. Children these days have such busy schedules. Tuition and enrichment classes aside, there are all those sports, music and other kinds of classes to attend. With all their hours scheduled so tightly for them, and with activities whereby you just need to follow instructions, is it any wonder that when children get any free time at all, they wld complain of being bored? They have lost their ability to imagine and be creative, cos they are so used to being told what to do ALL THE TIME. Yet its during these times where one had no pressure to achieve anything, when the logical brain is given a rest, and the creative mind gets stirred up and comes up with all kinds of wondrous, exciting and totally useless stuff, but stuff that energises the child spiritually. It’s during these moments that one remembers how to be a human Being and not just a human Doing.

Appreciation – there is not a single one of us who wld like to be thought of as a troublemaker, nuisance, naughty/bad fella, destructor, and so on. Unfortunately, these are all names that little boy have been given and used on an almost daily basis by Mr Gua Gua and his grandparents. Most of the time they mean it in jest, but i can’t imagine that i wld like to be called those names in a joking way either. And i wonder if this carries on, what effect wld it have on little boy’s self-esteem and self-image. I was slightly put off by these labelling all this while but never took it seriously, and sometimes even joined in the “fun”. Until i started reading another John Holt book (Learning All The Time, which is another excellent reading, and prob influenced the tone of today’s entry quite a fair bit) and suddenly i realised what we are doing is extremely mean and unfair to little boy. If he does grow up to be a troublemaker and etc later on, the fault is ours for making him feel like one. Not that i advocate positive labels like “good boy”, etc either, cos i also don’t believe in teaching children to be motivated by praises and flattery. Appreciation is a completely different thing. It’s non-manipulative, honest, and comes straight from the heart. It’s simply seeing the good in the child, and feeling touched by it, and letting the child know that we are touched by the good we see in him, through a simple thank you or even just a smile on our face and in our eyes.

Positive company – I think many children these days spend too much time with strangers and TV/computers, neither of which make very good companions since they cannot relate to the child at all. Positive company is not about the child getting entertained but him getting engaged, and feeling a sense of connection. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of energy on the caregiver’s part. The caregiver doesn’t need to come up with all kinds of tricks and tactics to amuse the child. To me, it’s positive company even if the caregiver is doing something, and the child is doing his own thing, but knows that when he needs the caregiver, the latter wld be available and able to give attention. Of cos, if the caregiver has the time, it’s even better to be able to observe the child without interfering with his activities, so that the child feels the caregiver’s loving presence and yet still have the freedom and space to do what he likes without having to please another person. And if the child also wants to engage the caregiver, then the interaction wld be fun and enjoyable, not necessarily in a rowdy way, and can also be in a quiet pleasant way. One of my fave things to do with little boy is to go through books with him sitting on my lap, and he often asks for such moments so i think he def enjoys it too. It’s one of the things we have that i feel extremely grateful for.

I guess that’s all i can come up with for now. Of cos, it doesn’t mean that if i come up with this list, that i have fulfilled every one of them. A lot of these, i got from what i read and very much inspired to apply, so i guess blogging it here is like reminding myself to remember and follow them closely.

What else do you think children need? If you still rem what it was like to be a child, do you remember what you needed back then? Please share! 🙂

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