Championing children as tiny teachers (rather than bearers of naughty bottoms that need a smack)

8 April, 2013

I don’t think I told you much about the disasterous holiday we had a couple of weeks ago- we went down to the coast for a few days in the campervan. The van broke down (notice how I have moved on from first-name terms here. She normally gets to be Betty) and after spending a day in the derelict car park of Margate’s not-so-dreamy Dreamland had to come home. Oh, also, while Tim had his head in the broken bonnet we had a phone call saying the offer on our house had fallen through. *cries*Welcome to dreamland baby(Hey *trying to be positive* I at least got this cool posey bump shot though. Yeah. Not worth it.)

Before we came home we went out for a Thai meal, we were the only ones in the restaurant and Ramona gobbled up nearly a whole bowl of Pad-thai noodles. As we went to leave, Ramona walked past the solo waitress who had bent down to wave good-bye to her, and stopped. Ramona threw her arms around her neck and gave her the biggest, longest cuddle I have EVER seen. Ramona doesn’t give out cuddles willy nilly. She is quite picky. It got to the point where Tim and I were almost being awkward about it, like “Wow, they are still cuddling…” The waitress was absolutely made up, overjoyed.

Could it be that Ramona was picking up on something throughout our meal, that we were missing? Sometimes, even when I am trying my very best to hide it, Ramona will look at me with her open little face and enquire “Mummy, why are you sad?”

I am convinced Ramona just knew this lady needed a cuddle. That it was more than just a whopping big thank you for her succulent bowl of noodles!

Children are in tune in a way that us adults lost long ago. Their sensitive hearts and inquisitive minds are to be admired and aspired to.

I think we often take it for granted that our children add SO much to society, to life. It seems rare to see them authentically celebrated and treated with awe.

celebrating childrenWe went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery at the weekend, to see the Murillo exhibition. Such beautiful paintings that are just now being clawed back from vintage confectionary tin world. I was struck by the beauty and sensitivity with which the children were portrayed. The painter’s adoration of children emanated from the canvas- even the filthy, rapscallion orphans were somehow painted with dignity and love.

Others have found this too-

“… you begin to see how compassionate these pictures are, how each youngster, including one black boy who was presumably a slave, is accorded the painter’s absolute respect as a Christian soul, a child of God.”

As we were leaving one room Ramona felt the door needed to be shut (she wasn’t born in a barn, ha!) so she closed it gently. One of the employees of the gallery was clearly alarmed by this action and swiftly tugged it open and abruptly told Ramona, much more crossly then I would tend to ever speak, to leave it alone and stay with Mummy. I was so shocked. After spending an hour in Murillo’s enchanted world it seemed like such a crashingly disrespectful way to treat a tiny tot. Children as our teachers

Of course, this is nothing, really. Just last week a mother was in Boots when her toddler knocked some bottles from the shelf and broke a nozzle. A staff member approached, told the child she was naughty and SMACKED HER BOTTOM. (Read the original news article here.) Lots of older people possibly think “Disciplining other people’s kids was all the rage when I was a nipper!” and others maybe think it isn’t that much of a big deal – the comments on the piece mostly suggested readers felt she got what she deserved.

However, once you begin perceiving children as fully human, abundant with gifts and abilities, full of curiosity and sensitivity and traits that are lost to adults, this story becomes outrageous! It becomes a story about ‘well-intended’ physical assault.

When people shout and undermine and mock children we are treating them as less than human, as innately naughty and as deserving of emotional or physical pain. At least once a day I hear something, either in the street, at the park or in a film, which tells me that our views on children are utterly upside down and inside out.

(A little shout out from me to all the parents who, well, shout out sometimes… I’m not saying we don’t all slip up. When we are trying, with every minute of the day, to nurture and love it can be tiring and sometimes we fail to show that respect. But we are trying, right?)

We ARE getting better, I do believe that. Knowledge about child developmental stages is helping us become increasingly understanding of kids and their needs and the ways they express themselves. The idea that kids need aggressive discipline in order to fit to our expectations is becoming less prominent. Hopefully we are on a journey of children being seen less as wandering bottoms wanting a smack and more tiny teachers who could enlighten us a whole lot.

Bring on the day when admonishing and shaming children in public a thing of the past. When we champion children as our teachers in love and curiosity. When we strive to be as sensitive and intuitive as they are. When we admire their abandon rather than quash it.

YEAH! You with me?!

*does fierce Hulk pose*

PS I’d hate for you to miss a post… enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I won’t be spamalot, promise!

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  • Janine 8 April, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    OH MY, if a stranger laid a hand on my child, I guarantee I would go to jail. I would have trouble handling it if I saw someone spank their own child in public. When I see parents yelling at their tots, I have to WALK AWAY. Too much heartbreak.

    I have to disagree that culture is improving. I mean, look at kids now being shamed ON THE INTERNET just for being kids. One dad posted an image of his toddler, disparaging her for wetting the bed or something. Unfit to parent. And that’s the bad ones. Even the well-meaning parents don’t really respect their kids as separate people. For instance, the blogger (who I otherwise like) who has posted repeatedly about her son’s fear of pooping. With his name and photo. She means it with love, and to help other people, but you would NEVER post something that personal about, say, your spouse.

    On the upside, the painting you show here is beautiful, and it’s lovely that your daughter is so exposed to culture. =) Also, that bump shot is nice – LOVE those floral pants/leggings. Close-up please!

    • Lucy 8 April, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      I know, I feel so sad too. Like I want to advocate for the child. I am not sure this can ever be done in a good way though, maybe only if intervener is the most sensitive adult on the planet!!

    • Lucy 8 April, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Also, I think we are still learning ways to combine parenting with social media in a way that honours our kids- we’ll get through it eventually. But things are better, I’m sure, when my parents were kids corporal punishment was still the norm in schools….

  • ummYahya 8 April, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Great post! I am horrified that somepne would just walk up and smack someones child (or their own for that matter). I would have smacked her bottom right back, see how she like it lol… Also at the guy in the gallery, that’s just not on. I agree we can learn so much from our children!!! Love

    • Lucy 8 April, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      Thank you. I don’t know how I would have responded, almost certainly would have had to walk away and come back the next day with a more effective, determined response!
      (I deleted your other comments- I hate when I post repeats on other people’s blogs and they all go up!!)

  • HM 8 April, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    That’s a lovely post, thank you.
    I was thinking, maybe Ramona was picking up on the disappointment having to return from a holiday that never started? Maybe Ramona felt that the waitress with her kindness helped relief those emotions, and being an outsider to your family situation, it meant that it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on and good people make you feel better.
    I totally agree with your approach in understanding children, I believe it’s the key to most of the problems in our world.

    • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 9:53 am

      I love that interpretation of it. I’m sure there was something going on that she was perceiving and we were missing!
      I love your last sentence – I think if children are honoured then they will honour others for the rest of their lives and the world’s ills will be solved!

  • Carolyn 8 April, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    A similar thing happen to me in an art gallery.. when my little girl touched one of the displays (imagine, giant pieces of duck tape stuck to the wall kind of modern art… so not exactly a fragile piece!). She was initially fascinated by it all, and showed real enthusiasm whilst we were there, but as soon as he told her off she got all embarrassed and then bottled up and wanted to leave. I was pretty cross at him, what was the point in bulking over something so small and therefore stealing her joy in it.

    And yes, i completely agree with you and you’ve put it so well. I have learnt so much from my children, there natural intuition is more often kind, curious & thoughtful (not manipulative & stubborn as so many people like to suggest!). I only hope I can somehow preserve those qualities & strengths for as long as possible….

    • Lucy 8 April, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      It is really hard in galleries, I can understand how other visitors might feel their experience is being impeded, especially if they paid big bucks to get in. But on the other hand, that is such a specific cultural attitude. If we shifted and saw kids as mysteriously wonderful, even their giggling in quiet places like this would enhance rather than destroy it.

  • Janni Roy 8 April, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I am so fed up with the constant criticism which our generation gets about the way we brought up our children. It is true that we thought it the right thing to smack them when they were .”naughty” (something it seems that children can never be these days) but apart from that most of us loved, cherished, enjoyed and he’s respected our children. And most of them have turned out ok. I don’t like the way you knock down straw men – after all, whoever really sees or has ever seen children merely as bottoms needing to be smacked. It is true that things are being learnt all the time about child development etc as I’m all areas, but please give us a break – we did our best

    • Lucy 8 April, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      Oh 🙁 Did you read the post? The two stories in it were examples from the last week, rather than criticising a generation.
      I was bought up on smacked bottoms, and was also parented in the most creative, loving and empowering way ever. It was just part of the culture then. I think we now know better though, and have more support/ tools for helping kids along.
      I feel fairly confident that when Ramona grows up there will be things she says “You DID THAT TO US?!!” – because as we learn more, we change. Every parent just does their best, eh?
      There’s your break 🙂

  • Janni Roy 8 April, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks Lucy
    Yes I did read it, but I get the impression that most of the stuff out there is directed at us grandparents. The two examples are pretty extreme and I guess what I feel is that although there are some terrible parents out there, most of them are doing ok. I heard an AP parent recently tell someone else that the “norm” these days is for parents to yell at and disrespect their kids, and it really concerned me that she had been taught that. To be honest I think a lot of it is about the language being used, for,instance we did not talk about respecting our kids, but we did respect themi
    Thanks for giving me the break!

    • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 9:24 am

      I feel sad that grandparents would feel personally attacked by AP. I can understand it though- when someone does something different to you it can feel like a judgement on the way you did things.
      I feel like we have a lot more info to hand now, about what is appropriate behavior for kids, and this is helping parents to change expectations, perceptions on little ones.
      I can see how that comment about AP parent would have been hard to listen too, it is one of the hardest things to observe in AP world, an almost self righteousness judgementalism. I think it’s a defence mechanism…

  • Kate 8 April, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Thank you for this Just what I needed today after struggling with a tantruming 2 year old on an airport bus. I felt the collective eyes of the passengers admonishing me for not disciplining her (I was talking to her quietly and trying to let her know I was listening). This is a daily occurrence for me and the tiny teacher bit rings true. I am so much more patient and understanding since my daughter has been around…even if I do question her methods a bit.

    • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 9:27 am

      So glad it helped…. it is so good being reminded of the reasons you follow this way of parenting, particularly when going through a tough time. Some times the punitive way might seem easier – especially on the bus!!!- but I’m pretty sure, over all, it’s more hard work for parent and child!

  • Lady Demelza 9 April, 2013 at 4:39 am

    I do that terrible thing that no-one should ever do. I discipline other people’s kids, in public, complete strangers even.
    I should point out that this does not include any smacking! If I see a child behaving in a way that’s inappropriate for the social setting, I will first try to tell them very nicely about how their behaviour is affecting others. And of course, this usually does the trick – surprise! If the disrespectful or perhaps dangerous behaviour continues, I will yell or speak crossly to the child.
    The thing is, contrary to what most people expect would be the case, most parents have actually appreciated my efforts to help their child understand appropriate behaviour. Most of them will actually thank me. Many parents say something like “He doesn’t listen to me, but if a stranger says it to him, he understands how important it is.” It’s only the very occasional parent who will ignore me or not appreciate my efforts. It’s this feedback that made me decide to continue with this approach to children’s behaviour in public.

    • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 9:33 am

      *shocked face* Lady D!!!!
      I have a few questions….
      What is appropriate behavior? How do you know your view on that is the same as the parents?
      Would you feel comfortable knowing it was just fright that bought the kid into line?
      Would you feel okay knowing you were the first person ever to shout at a child?
      Would you interact with a fellow adult in this way?
      If you did this to Ramona and I we’d probably both burst into tears and then things would probably get quite heated!!!
      I think intervening CAN be done successfully but only through play and distraction and only very sensitively. Xxv

      • Lady Demelza 9 April, 2013 at 11:21 am

        – Inappropriate behaviour is basically something that is hurtful to other people or physically dangerous. These factors depend on the situation, just like they do for adults. I used to wonder whether people agreed with me on these boundaries, and my experience has been that at least 90% of people I encounter do agree with me. That’s what I mean about the feedback.
        – Yes. I learn not to do certain dangerous things because I know it’s frightening for other people who are witnessing it. Other people have to deal with the consequences if I make a mistake. I’m fine with people letting me know if they feel threatened by my behaviour. If they told me nicely the first time and I didn’t listen to them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they yelled at me after that. I do modify my behaviour to not include things that I have learned might be perceived as threatening to other people in my immediate community, even if that was not at all my intention.
        – Yes. I know I won’t be the last. I had a few experiences being treated like this as a child, not a lot, but a choice few, and though it was a bit of a shock in the moment, I really valued the communication about the boundaries they were giving me. Even at the time. I saw these incidents as a short cut to learning how people are likely to behave as I was becoming older and more self-responsible. I never felt like these people were threatening or dangerous to me. I really felt that they were educating me for concern for my wellbeing. I still do. Strangely perhaps, those moments have become fond memories, for the sudden keen insight into myself and the people around me as indivuals that I gained.
        – absolutely. In fact I was just thinking about that since I wrote that comment. I realised that yep, that’s pretty much how I treat most people in my usual interactions.

        What if your child’s behaviour, though totally innocent and age-appropriate and play-oriented, is causing someone else who is a part of the social interaction to be so distressed that they might feel inclined to burst into tears? Should they just hide away and cry in private? Is it still more important to protect the child’s play instincts even when it hurtful to someone else? No, I think this is where learning boundaries comes in. This is my definition of inappropriate behaviour.
        I really do start with the friendly approach. Like I do when meeting anybody. And usually, that’s all that’s needed, because human interaction is usually that simple. But not always, especially if some kind of physical danger is looming and needs to be quickly averted.

        • Lady Demelza 9 April, 2013 at 12:48 pm

          And Lucy, I’m sure I would never be so cross with you or Ramona.
          But I live in a rather unpleasant town. There are gangs of 10 and 11 year old boys and girls roaming about the city. Several security guards have been seriously assaulted in the night hours, and as they are not legally allowed to physically defend themselves, they just have to roll up and take it. Some have been seriously injured and could face permanent disability.
          I often see these kids myself when I go into town. Often there are adults who appear to be their parents sitting nearby drinking coffee and completely ignoring the children’s behaviour. They are aged between about five and thirteen, and they pass their time by physically threatening each other and fighting amongst themselves, openly and viciously, and verbally abusing passers-by with extremely offensive language. I’ve often seen bus drivers the target of abuse and harassment by children aged as young as about 5 while they are driving the public bus. The local papers are all full of pleas from bus drivers for some kind of protection. Several times now I have felt so endangered by this behaviour that I have gotten off the bus then and there, and then had to work out how to get the next bus or whatever way home. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I yell at these kids. And I find that they usually then shut up and leave me alone. It works. I find these experiences so distressing that I now avoid public transport and my own town centre, travelling 7km to a suburban centre for access to services in a centre that simply doesn’t have any room for kids to hang out in and so doesn’t attract them. I hate all this so much that I am moving out of this town to an area where I am less likely to encounter that kind of behaviour. Well, it might not be the only reason for moving, but it’s a big part of the need for a change.
          I wonder what you think is the best way to respond to this kind of extreme situation.

          • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 7:47 pm

            Hey Lady,
            Well, actually your further explanations make me less *shocked face* and more *understanding nod*!!!
            I completely agree that there is a red line around hurting people and danger and that action needs to be taken right there and then.

            In the extreme situations you mention, of children of an older age (so fully aware of their impact) hurting and upsetting members of the public I would absolutely intervene quite sternly! In fact, I have on the bus once when some youngsters were being incredibly rude about one or two people sitting there.

            I’m sorry your town is like this. I live in a pretty ghettoey part of London but it is still mostly a lovely place to live. I feel pretty sad for you. And agree that people need to stick up for other people!

  • Mammasaurus 9 April, 2013 at 10:08 am

    What a brilliant post, not to mention awesome photos – welcome to Dreamland baby!

    There’s a lot to be said for treating children as we would another adult in some respects. I really think that there’s a real increase of criticism of children in the past few years. Programs like SuperNanny and those one’s that compare children who don’t sleep well, while being very well intentioned I feel are in some degree also damaging. It’s the whole ‘happy children should sleep well’ ‘play nicely’ and so on which puts the pressure on the little children that just want to enjoy childhood – explore the world around them and yes, sometimes stay up bit later.

    I’ve totally twanged off on a tangent there so apologies! What I mean to say is woudln’t it be lovely if more strangers stopped to praise children then to just butt in when a child is doing something that they don’t like? The few times I’ve been out and people have come up to us and told me what well behaved children I have (like I said, few!) has been wonderfully re-affirming to both myself and the children x

    • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 10:20 am

      I’ve never even thought about the unfairness/ indignity of putting kids under the microscope on telly- that’s a whole post on it’s own. Loved your twang.
      What a different world it would be if strangers did just what you say *vows to do that more*

  • Mamadidn'ttell 9 April, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I find this post interesting. Also, your views on the lady who says she disciplines other people’s children. I’m not saying I agree with what she’s saying but she did say if she saw a child doing something dangerous? I am constantly told what well behaved children we have. I am out and about every weekend with 3 of them and one on the way, they are so well behaved people comment all the time. I would never dream of smacking them and to be fair we never really even raise our voices (unless they are in danger), but they are definitely disciplined and have treats taken away if they are misbehaving. I agree children see a lot in the world that we don’t, that’s why even Jesus said we were to be like little children ‘the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these’. I also think they pick up negative traits very easily too if that is what is portrayed to them and this needs correcting. I discipline firmly for every lie, every manipulative whisper. I want them to know there is nothing in life I don’t want to give them if they open their mouths and ask for it, and if we can’t give it them we would talk about why. Communication is key, I struggle mostly with our 3 year old as she is unable to communicate her emotions to me. I just have to trust that by my actions and boundaries they know they are loved. Also, that they will have a less miserable life if they’ve learnt to be honest and open rather than sneaky and manipulative. Slight deviation I guess but I know people often find me harsh by refusing desserts or treats cos they’ve told a little lie (as many children do). They are learning though that they get in far less trouble if they say what they’ve done rather than lieing about it.

    • Lucy 9 April, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks for your lovely big comment. What a delight children are eh?
      I guess I struggle with the idea of “well behaved” because I really believe that kids are so very often misunderstood. Their curiosity is taken as an annoyance, their exuberance as an interference. So when a child wants to keep mushing her food in her hands this isn’t welcomed as a perfect developmental stage but as a defiant gesture of naughtiness.

      (Ramona is currently doing this. I don’t celebrate it like “Wow look how wonderful!” but I accept that this is what she wants to do, remove the food explaining “it makes mummy a bit sad when the food she spent time cooking for you gets wasted, let’s find you something else to mush” and will then do exactly that.)

      Understanding that “good behaviour” is a very cultural/ subjective thing, allows me to be more patient and find better ways of helping her learn and grow.

      The book “Playful Parenting” – which is an absolute MUST READ has some awesome things to say about lieing.


  • Lady Demelza 9 April, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks Lucy. I wouldn’t want you to think of me as an ogre. I’m not generally, but willing to be when it comes to sticking up for myself or others. I just love the mental picture I now have of you sternly intervening with the rude youngsters on a London bus.

    • Lucy 10 April, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      🙂 I so know you are not an ogre 🙂 xx