Posted on June 29, 2015
Lessons from children
A lot of what we do as parents is teaching. And I see a real focus on that in society – you need to teach, they need to learn. But I see very little about how much our children teach us, how much we can learn from them.
I have learned so much from my children. It seems like every day my son is teaching me some new lesson, he’s teaching me how to see the world a different way. Quite frankly, a better way.
I get kind of bummed at how people treat children. I’ve written about it before. One of the things that annoys me is the constant “teaching” that children have to deal with. And how adults often don’t ever consider that they could learn just as much (if not more) from children as children can from them.
To explain that with just one micro-aggression: I really hate it when people spend all their time correcting children. I loathe adults who correct adults. You know, those people who pompously say “It’s to whom, not to who” or “you mean fewer not less” like the world will implode because someone used the wrong term in an every day conversation. As if language doesn’t ever evolve. As if the mistakes we make are more important than the fact that we are trying to communicate with each other as people. It’s just about making sure everyone knows your status. You’re a clever person. And being clever is important apparently. It puts you ahead of me. Ahead of others. You get to be at the top of the pile, to whoming and fewering everyone you come into contact with so that they remember you’re just so clever.
When people do it to children – it irritates me so much. And they do it all the time. Eddie used to confuse words like “hot” and “cold” and “up” and “down”. He would say ‘Can put me up?’ instead of ‘can you put me down’. It was clear what he was saying, but people always said NO YOU MEAN PICK ME UP. PICK ME UP NOT PUT ME DOWN. Never mind that he meant put me down. It was condescending and patronising and they weren’t even listening to him. And here’s the thing – people think you can’t be condescending or patronising to kids. They think that’s just not possible. As if children are some subset of humanity immune to being talked down to, unworthy of basic respect.
This isn’t about talking to children like they’re adults. It’s about giving them some credit because they’re learning a damn language and they’re learning to communicate (all at the same time!) It’s like when some people who only speak English speak to someone whose first language isn’t English – THEY SPEAK LOUDER. As if yelling will somehow work. Because if you can’t understand what someone is saying, surely yelling in their face will help? Right?
Children are learning how to function in a new world. There’s all this random stuff going on that they have no idea about. Every day I will say something and then catch myself and think – oh wow, he doesn’t know what that is! He saw an emu at the zoo and I could *see* his internal monologue like OH OH NO NO NO NO WHAT IS THAT THING?!?!? IS IT A BIRD?!?! IS IT A GIRAFFE?!?! THE NECK IS LONG BUT IT HAS FEATHERS?!? IT LOOKS LIKE A DINOSAUR?!?! IS IT GOING TO EAT ME?!?! WHAT THE HELL IS IT?!?! IS IT DANGEROUS?!?! IT LOOKS TERRIFYING!?! Can you imagine that? Cruising along and seeing a creature you’ve never seen before and it’s just right there and you don’t know what it’s called or what it is? And you’re tiny? That’s the shit kids are grappling with daily. Except it’s not just an emu it’s tin foil or sand or earrings.
When Eddie bursts into tears when he hears a hand dryer it takes him a full minute to truly believe me when I say hand dryers can’t hurt him. Can you even comprehend what it must be like to be afraid of hand dryers? To not have the cognitive ability to wrap your head around their actual use? To you they’re just boxed death attached to a wall that will go off at any time?
And yet – some people feel they just have to say to toddlers all the time “No it’s 1 2 3 4 5. Not 1 3 4 5” as if they’re never going to ever be able to count unless they’re corrected when they’re two years old. Or “It’s a clothes LINE not a close lion” because so many adults can’t say clothes line. Or “You said princess but you meant prince” – leaving aside the fact that you’re clearly trying to say boys can’t be princesses, what if he really just means princess? When have you ever said princess and meant prince? Never? So maybe consider that he knows exactly what he’s saying and what he’s saying is what he means?
You can actually almost see people closing themselves off to children in this way. My son stutters a bit when he’s excited or when he’s trying to get a word out and he doesn’t know what the word is. I see people not even bother to wait to hear what he’s trying to say. As if they’re so rushed and busy they can’t wait a second to hear him, to let him finish his sentence. It’s because they’ve decided what he has to say is unimportant.
Because children can’t teach us anything.
Well with that attitude these smart and clever and important people are losing out. Because kids are giving out gems for free! Kids are way smart. It’s just not necessarily the kind of smart that people value. That ‘I’m clever, you’re not, which means you’re at the bottom, and I’m on top’ kind of smart that has so much social currency.
Children are smart about life. About what matters. About treating people as they should be treated. To children, there is no Us and Them.
To my son there are about three or four jobs that are the greatest jobs there are available. Garbage man, digger man, petrol man, Bunnings man. As a grumpy old feminist it does my head in a bit to hear everything as man. But I’m not going to correct him. I’m just going to make sure that when I talk about these roles it’s “people who collect garbage” not garbage men. Every time he talks to anyone who has any of these jobs (a trip to Bunnings takes a really long time because he has to talk to every worker there) he simply cannot believe that they have the mind-blowing good fortune to be able to wake up every morning and do what they do. If he finds out we went to the petrol station without him we hear about it for weeks.
When he found out his dad worked at a petrol station he could hardly speak. His dad was already his hero and now he finds out he worked in a petrol station? Dear god, is there nothing this man can’t do??
And yet – my husband has had numerous people (many, many, many people) make comments to his face about how petrol station workers are morons. Society pumps out (yes pumps out) classist shit about petrol stations 24-7: Go to school or you’ll end up working at a petrol station. Forget about the bullies, they’ll be pumping your gas some day. Better work hard or one day you’ll end up working at a BP.
All of my husband’s jobs have been blue collar. He has heard people talking about their gardener and saying that they’re thick as two bricks and another person will chime in with “well what do you expect he’s a gardener?” or how road workers are lazy “they were there all day and didn’t even move” (umm it’s their job dickwad). Often with a bit of fun racism thrown in as well. People don’t think about how quick they are to (incorrectly I might add) separate people into smart and dumb. As if you can’t be intelligent if you have a particular job that doesn’t involve academic skills. Or you can’t find joy in a job like collecting garbage. Or you’re not doing a job correctly, as decided by someone who has never done that job! The point they’re making is that these jobs are low value and the people aren’t of value either. When nothing could be further from the truth.
Really, the sad people are those who have to put down people who work in services they can’t live without in order to feel just a little bit OK with themselves.
Eddie once got so excited that a man in a digger showed him how to use the controls that he burst into tears. He was so overcome at how wonderful a digger was that he lost it.
I can’t figure out what age people get to when they stop thinking “diggers are awesome and the people driving them are amazing and I’m so happy to see one I can’t control my emotions” and start thinking “what a dumbass that person is they drive a digger”.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all start tearing up over those mini-cranes at Bunnings. But maybe we could do better than to consider the world through our kids eyes and think about why they see life the way they do. And wonder, maybe that’s the way we should be operating. Not always rushing to insist we’re smarter. We know more. There’s them and us and we’re better.
Maybe we could try learning instead of always insisting we’re the teachers.