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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

What is a Child? 115

If I were to illustrate what it is like to be a child in an adult world, it would be an image of being surrounded by lots and lots of legs, the legs of adults that stand and move around you, seemingly without giving any regard to your existence. Theirs is the ‘real world’, up there in the clouds, among their important heads and animated arms and talking mouths, and you are like a little bug that buzzes around them, an annoying little bug that is easily pushed aside and squashed because it is so unimportant.

Adults are always so busy, so preoccupied with “important things that children don’t understand” that it is as though every moment becomes a ‘life or death crisis’ that requires the full and undivided attention of the adult. It doesn’t matter whether this is a moment of shopping groceries or some other trivial everyday activity or an actual real crisis situation; adults always seem like soldiers marching into war and whatever they are busy with is always more important than the child, even when it is not in fact.

It is as though we as adults perceive children as a form of disturbance or nuisance in our (very important and busy) lives. As a child I noticed this and I noticed how adults, because of how they perceive children and how they perceive themselves and their time, often do not listen to children or hear them out but make snap judgments and assumptions – often coming to the (wrong) conclusion that the child is being ‘wasteful’ or ‘spiteful’ or ‘whining’ when the child might simply be expressing a need or want in a moment that by the adult is perceived as ‘bad timing’.

As a child I often felt misunderstood and unfairly treated, especially in those moments where adults seemed so busy and preoccupied. When I spoke to them and they for a brief moment glanced at me, it was as though they saw straight through me, as though I were not really there, or as though I to them were more a theoretical concept than an actual living being. I was ‘a child’.

Adults also very often make promises that they then cannot or choose not to uphold when it comes to children as though a promise to a child is worth less than say, a promise to another adult like a co-worker, friend or boss. What is even worse is that we tend to find a way to blame the child so as to not admit that we have been untrustworthy and unreliable and not only does it make the child distrust us, it also makes them distrust themselves and their own perception of reality. After all, adults are supposed to be the guides of this earth that welcomes the new generation into life and shows them the way.

But what way is it really we are showing them?

It is imperative that we as a society, and especially as parents and in fields working with children start discussing how we define the word ‘child’, not only in a literal sense but also through the hidden judgments and assumptions that makes us not see the person standing in front of us (although only half our size) but instead only see an abstract concept that we call ‘child’.

There is no way of truly getting a child to respect you unless you respect them first. When children are met with equal respect as we would give another adult or that we would have wanted to be met with ourselves, when we actually stop up and listen and even when we are busy give them a moment of our time, they meet this respect with honor and a genuine wish to reciprocate this respect.

If we on the other hand continue to approach children with judgments and preconceived assumptions where we have already before they speak, made up our minds about who they are, they will continue to perpetuate the image we have of them. There are so many instances where we as adults can misunderstand a child’s intentions or requests because we are honestly too preoccupied in our own minds to even really care. The consequence is often that the child end up making mistakes or doing things that we consider to be ‘wrong’ because WE were not clear in our communication with them or because WE didn’t listen properly and what is even worse: when we then haphazardly scold them (because we are again too busy and see them as a disturbance) they do not learn how to practically correct their mistakes or see how they could have been prevented but instead learn that THEY are ‘wrong’, that THEY are ‘bad’ – when nothing could be further from the truth.

A child coming into this world is the potential of a new beginning, a way of doing things differently, better, learning from our mistakes – isn’t that what evolution is supposed to be all about; humanity as a species evolving and adapting to become stronger and more resilient?

Then why do we keep creating the same mistakes over and over through insisting on children being and becoming the spit images of the very worst parts of ourselves?

When I was around 10 years old, I made a promise to myself: That I would never forget what it is like to be a child. I saw so many adults around me that had completely forgotten what it was like to be a child and because of this, they treated children with callous distance, always assuming the worst from the child. So I decided that I would always keep my childhood with me and that when I became an adult, I would treat children as I would have wanted to be treated when I was a child. This promise is the foundation of everything I do in my work today.

Anyone can do the same.

It is really quite simple: all we need to do is to practice meeting children with respect and dignity and each time they come to us, take a moment to stop up and really consider what they are saying, asking or showing – without preempted contempt or judgment. And if we truly are too busy, we can arrange for a time to take or say that we will come back to them with a proper answer. Let’s see the highest and most utmost potential our children can be and become and let’s treat them accordingly, with dignity, honor and respect. How else are they going to become future adults who embody these qualities?

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