Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Children: the Case for Light Touch Regulation

"Children are Representatives of Paradise" , wrote Walter Benjamin - thus placing himself in the opposite camp from those (and there are many) who think of children as the work of the Devil, creatures whose Will must be broken and Spirit cowed.

Children emerge into a world which is entirely new to them, and which they have to face all at once. It makes them a bit nervous and they need the reassurance of food and love, available on demand, if they are to be able to investigate their world with confidence.

Given the chance, they will explore in ways which to adult eyes will seem either charming or pointless. Children are not little adults and that which to the adult seems delightful or perverse may have a quite different significance for the child. They have their own world and it's not yours.

Children, of course, change and develop but not in a simple linear fashion: they go through phases and stages and sometimes they seem to go backwards as they make some internal readjustment to their understanding of the world. Relax, dear Adult, they are on target just as much as a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis is on target to becoming a butterfly.

In general, they should be allowed to get on with their lives with little interference. There are only a few rules needed ("Don't put it in your mouth"), very few penalties, but lots and lots of stimuli. The most important? The one-to-one bedtime routine of cuddle & spoken or sung lullaby turning into cuddle & bedtime story.

Children are easily interested in drawing, in singing, in learning to read, in numbers, in nature study and in other creatures, to which they seem to feel an affinity at least as strong as that to other children. But I think they lose interest if their interest is channeled and disciplined too soon. They should be free to do things their way until they grow bored and need fresh stimulus. This may involve putting up with a lot of their junk around the house.

I could go on, but just one more point: Babies like bath time, provided they are permitted to splash - and I mean splash, not pat the water politely.

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