I have turned over a new leaf. I have a new focus in my life. From my late 20s until recently, my primary focus in terms of humanitarian endeavors was the inequality of citizen rights as they relate to the LGBT community. I am excited to see, with Minnesota passing laws making it the 12th state to allow inclusive marriage, that this focus has paid off and LGBT people are beginning to be viewed as equal across the United States. I know it’s still got some growth to go, and I will always put my pom-poms on when necessary, however I have decided to shift my focus to a set of citizens that need a voice: children.
How did this come about? Well. I am glad you asked. Like most adolescents, I spent a grand portion of my teen years carefully scrutinizing every decision my parents ever made. I constantly added to the infinite list of “when I have kids, I am not going to do that.” Now in my thirties, I have a deeper understanding that the decisions my parents made were based on their own upbringing; they were making what they thought was the best choice for their child according to their family values. The title of my list is now: “I have learned from that experience.”
The original list was mostly responses to feelings of anger, betrayal, or just general observations from my barely logical brain about what didn’t work. Things like “Never read my kid’s diary” or “grounding is not the solution to EVERYTHING” or “if you are old enough to watch your siblings when I am gone, you are old enough to enjoy some autonomous activity external to home.” There was so much more but the list fades in my mind as the years wane on. The bitter observations shift as I gain a deeper understanding of what may have gone on behind those decisions.
The new list was built with the benefit of 15 years of life-experience and at least five years of introspection. I have come to understand that every experience is not only a chance to learn, but it IS learning. I have also come to understand that, in life, not every anticipated outcome immediately follows the prescribed actions. It took me 15 years of being obese to learn that there are ongoing “poisonous” effects to being obese for that long. Gallstones don’t happen overnight. Obesity didn’t cause that directly but poor eating habits did. Other possible complications from being obese can include high blood pressure, possibility of fertility issues, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Alternately, and this is the thought-birth of my new list, positive change doesn’t happen overnight, either. To correct undesirable behaviors, it sometimes takes weeks of practicing the new learned behavior. When helping an emotional seven year-old to find a non-violent way to express her stronger emotions, it takes months of discovering positive replacements, trying them out, failing, and trying again until it works.
Every experience results in learning. So how does this relate to children? I think this foundational belief would free children from the idea that I’ve heard people talk about with respect to their children that they are beings born with an innate need to control “animalistic” behaviors via manipulation, disrespectful attitudes and attention-seeking behaviors; a short list of the mechanism by which some people view children’s actions. By shifting your perspective from one with mal-intent to one with understanding— that children are born with a blank slate and develop their sense of the world every second of their growing lives, it is my hypothesis that you will begin to see things differently. With this perspective shift, every manipulation is now communication: every tantrum is now dealing with a world they barely understand with the added complication of being unable to express themselves adequately. Children are little scientists—putting out their hypotheses, creating theories and schemas for life, and seeking to understand a logical reality with no real grasp of logic. They learn from what they are modeled and try new things they learn elsewhere. Whatever works, works, and that is success for a child scientist.
Children deserve the utmost respect and understanding from us “grups”. They have the hardest task out of the whole family. They have to address each experience blindly, trusting only their vision and hypothesis, as well as their parent’s guidance on how to navigate the world around them. As adults, we have the privilege of inspiring new ways for children to not only survive but to create and build love, compassion, and self-confidence.
This changes things for me. It changes my entire perspective on childhood and adulthood. For me, this means children get more control over their lives and decisions. They are encouraged to try and fail or succeed. They are encouraged to explore every nook and cranny of every passion they discover and add as much as they can to their repertoire of life-knowledge.
The closest thing I’ve come across to what I am talking about is the concept of “radical unschooling” where children are partners in a family unit, and as early as possible, make their own path in life. Parents lovingly provide for them and create as many learning experiences as they can, understanding that every moment, no matter what the activity, is always a learning experience for their little scientist-children. Activities ranging from apple picking to watching cartoons are investigated, hypothesized about, and set into the child’s knowledge bank. The more naturally and passionately parents allow this to happen, the more powerful the experience for the children.
I think mixing this with a little bit of “Parenting with Love & Logic” and we may see a lot of progress in how children see the world around them. Maybe we can begin to relate to children in that critically important way to create a better tomorrow with less issues as adults… Adults who will be more focused on the real issues at hand… this present moment (or, the present moment of the future).
Photo Credit: Kitchen Science by Knitting Iris