Our children are the country’s most precious natural resource. They will be our workforce, our consumers, our problem solvers and our policy makers. The quality of our future lifestyle and the state of our future economy is therefore dependent on the quality of children we raise. This does not mean only meeting their basic needs, putting them in school and managing bad behavior. Raising healthy humans is a long-term and complicated process and rearing children means making responsible choices every day. Daily neglect of these responsibilities can cause long term harm – and both child and country suffers. The food children are consuming affects their body and brain development. The behavior and television programs they are exposed to influences their morality and social skills. The way they play builds their physical capacity. The relationship they have with caregivers affects their ability to learn from others and their own sense of self worth. Regardless of our status we are all responsible, because any small interaction a child has with any one of us influences his concept of the human race.
We have little difficulty seeing a small baby as precious and they are usually showered with affection and focused attention. A baby does not KNOW what it needs, it FEELS what it needs and therefore it communicates through its feelings and its body. A nurturing caregiver tunes into this emotional language and responds with flexibility, trying to understand what it being communicated. This early relationship creates the blueprint for how a child will relate to people, and the world, for the rest of his life. But, once a child has learned to speak and can ask for what he wants, parents seem to lose touch with their natural skill of tuning in on the emotional frequency.
We are so in awe of the power of thought and what we can create with our minds that we have lost touch with how powerful feelings are. We mistakenly label thought as ‘logical, productive and positive’ and emotions as ‘irrational, weak and immature’. This has contributed to us losing touch with the true feelings expressed in human relationships and nowhere is this more visible than in the management of children. If a small infant was stressed and scared it would seem incredibly cruel to ignore the feelings and punish it for crying. Yet when parents and teachers interact with older children they largely ignore their feelings and focus on their behaviors and their thoughts. In many instances the child is punished for expressing their feelings. The whole child, not just his mind, is the future citizen. His body, feelings, self concept and imagination are just as precious and should be nurtured and polished like all facets of a gem.
Children are not that different from babies and don’t always know what they need and how to ask for it. They do know what they want and don’t hesitate to ask for new toys, clothes, technology and entertainment. They seem to be making increasing financial demands on parents who are working hard to satisfy these wishes – to give their child every gift and opportunity they feel they never had while growing up. But, in our classrooms teachers are reporting an increase in emotionally needy and disconnected youngsters. Modern youth are struggling to interact well with others and to show initiative when solving problems. Despite having more material goods than previous generations, many children seem to be entering school with emotional barriers to learning. Children need to be noticed and nurtured not just managed and provided for. They also need adults to set boundaries and say no sometimes so they can observe how to be assertive. But time is a very scarce resource and it takes time to tune in, notice and value a child as they really are. It’s almost easier to spend money and buy gifts with the illusion that we are being good to them. The sense that someone really sees you, values you and ‘gets you’ is perhaps the most important gift we can give another human as it builds self worth from the inside.
Being able to safely express their own emotions can help children to feel secure in their right to be themselves. It also helps them learn that feelings are transient and survivable. This will help them to deal with stress, to calm themselves during negative life events and to ‘bounce back’ after misfortune. Research shows that children learn best when the person they are observing or interacting with is a close and trusted relative. An emotionally connected relationship helps children to make sense of their lives through stories and positive memories. This helps strengthen sequential thought and memory. Children learn to stay tuned-in to the emotions others and to use and understand body language as form of communication. They learn to be compassionate and readily forgiving while able to set healthy personal boundaries. Experiencing the uninterrupted focus of a significant other can also strengthen a child’s ability to focus which is invaluable in a classroom setting.
I support planned parenting and reducing unwanted pregnancies. I also believe that each soul born is a precious gift to humanity. Newborns give us hope, a chance to do things differently. Try and spend some quality time with your children today. Resist spending money and tune-in on the little moments between you. Share a laugh, play a silly game together. Being present and showing interest in what children transmit through their words and feelings provides a healthy space for small souls to grow.Written by Sheryl Maastrecht. Educational Psychologist in private practice. EAST LONDON South Africa Published in Saturday Dispatch 2013-06-01