What is the difference between an adult and a child other than age and age related body differences. Mentally and emotionally we all are as same or different as we want to be. See the magic when we treat children as fellow being.
We’re making an assertion, not because it is right or wrong, but simply because it leads to some important thoughts and implications. The assertion is that child or more specifically childhood is a myth.
To us, our whole life is just a continuum, we are born and then we grow and grow on till at some time we just fall off and die. Hence the demarcation called childhood is an arbitrary notion. It’s almost like a country’s or a state’s boundary, a man-made division, which may be of some political and legal importance, but in itself it is quite arbitrary. In a global world today, we say, these boundaries are blurring and to good effect.
In our workshops with teachers and parents we often ask, “So at what age did you stop being a child?” And most “adults” are flummoxed, some even scurry to say, “I am still a child!”
The key problem with calling a child a ‘child’ is that it loads our mind with a multitude of assumptions and beliefs about the child. This can be very limiting to the child and constraining in the way we work with them. What if, every time we see a child, we say to ourselves, “Hey, there goes another fellow (very similar to me)”. How will that impact our thoughts, our responses, our interactions, our efforts, etc?
Children are innocent
Nothing can be more untrue than this. We confuse ignorance with innocence. At all ages we are manipulative, twisting and turning to get what we want. Also, children do not like being considered innocent. Just because they don’t know (some facts) does not mean that they can’t think or feel. Children think that they are smart and indeed they are.
The problem with considering children as innocent is that we think that they cannot take responsibility for their actions. Worse, we think that as parents or teachers we are responsible for their actions. However, when we start holding children accountable to their thoughts, emotions and actions, when they start taking onus of themselves, then the key education of being a responsible, sensitive person of integrity actually starts. In learning terms, they start taking onus of their learning.
Children are dependent
In Hindi they say, “Baccha hai”. Oh, what an alibi to snatch their independence and make them do what we want them to do; all in name of dependence. EXAMPLE: We want to feed them what we want, how much we want, at the time we want – just because they can’t cook themselves.
But the worst belief is that they are dependent on us to learn! And because we teach, they shy away from learning on their own. However, deep down they want to learn on their own. They actually only once in a while need some support. Watch how an infant is all too keen to learn how to walk, to talk, to explore. He is not looking for a teacher. But as children grow, gradually we make them believe that they need to depend on us to learn. We even feel important that they depend on us! But the more they depend on us to learn, the less is the rate of learning, quality of learning and even the desire to learn.
A child tries to reach a switch and immediately a parent reaches out to switch it on for him. A child tries to open a lock and promptly the parent says, “You can’t do this, give it to me”. A child struggles with math, the teacher says, “You need remedial classes”.
Almost all teachers and parents I have met want children to be confident self-believers. But at the same time through our communication and actions we are telling children that they are children and hence incapable. Intuitively, if I want children to feel capable, first I would need to believe that they are capable. Then through my actions show them that they are as capable as anyone of us!
When a child is appearing cute – he is most probably displaying qualities that are actually valuable qualities like energy, intent, passion, trust, forgiveness, etc. Example a toddler “intent” on eating a mango on his own, smearing it all over her face, which we exclaim as cute!John Holt (Escape from childhood)
When we think of the child as cute, we invalidate these qualities; make them seem like things children should “outgrow”. Worse, by responding to results as cute, we even teach them to hide such qualities. Example, often a child’s curiosity appears to adults as cute but silly behavior. In many ways considering children as cute makes us look down upon them, as love objects. We adopt condescending tones and behaviors; we respond to them sentimentally; we gain the authority to judge them and sadly we take away, slowly the deep act of living in the present moment.
Not as adult
By calling children “children” we are clearly saying that they are not adults. We end up believing that they cannot have the same qualities as adults. Also, whatever childish qualities they seem to have they need to outgrow them, only then they call be called mature adults! Qualities such as a sense of humor, joy of action, of achieving, etc. We are amazed that in workshop after workshop most adults believe that children are incapable of setting goals for themselves. May we remind you of a one year old – clear about her goal of wanting an ice cream and the kind of perseverance she shows? Also, how flexibly she moves from father to mother to grandmother in search of fulfillment of the goal (the ice cream). If you observe carefully, you will realize that children do almost nothing without a goal and do not like others interfering with their goals. Children seem to have this innate goal setting quality, which most adults think only they are capable of. In much the same way, when a child senses that the mother is upset over something, he either backs off (leaves her alone) or comes forward and hugs her, even though the child may not have any idea as to why the mother is upset. We hope the above two examples show you the amount of mental (in the first case) and emotional (in the later one) maturity children have and show. So isn’t a child also an adult and yes an adult a child?
Once we release children of this notion of ‘not being adults’, we gain two productive behaviors:
One, we start treating them with the respect they deserve. Two, we stop constraining them and eschew behaviors that undermine the very development we want to see in them.
Clearly if we want to be effective as teachers we need to release children from the prison of our perception. We need to re-look at children NOT as children but as respectable, responsible, independent, individuals whose dignity is defined not by what they do and how they do, but by valuing them as what they are.