I had my nineteenth birthday in hospital with my first born child. It was like a double Christmas! Flowers, balloons and cards for having my boy and goodies for my birthday. Including a cake in the hospital. Candles and all.
I remember when this child was around eighteen months old (I was only a couple of months away from the due birth date of number two) when my dad said to me “just because they can’t talk, doesn’t mean they’re stupid!”
This got me to thinking about how in tune these little ones are and what they are capable of learning. If we give them the chance. So, I taught my first born to select and load the video of his choice. Yes, video! Even in 1983, parents used technology to entertain their young. My friend, who was born in 1963 says he was raised by the television!
From the moment they are born, even before, babies are sponges. Absorbing all around them. Even in the womb, they respond to mother’s reactions and emotions and ‘outside’ noises.
There’s an old saying from Aristotle (born 384 BC — died 322 BC) “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” Until recently, many believed that a person’s personality traits and basic knowledge were developed in the first seven years of their life. Today, it is suggested that the first 1000 days (or from conception to age two) is the crucial period. I guess my dad was onto something!
If we take the time to look into their eyes, look at their facial expressions, we can see how much they are taking in. Yet, we need to be aware that they are ‘taking in’ all that information from the perspective of an observer. A powerless observer who relies on us to provide them with food, shelter, love and safety. We are their world.
With all the knowledge and experience we have as adults, how do we feel when our world is rocky? Imagine how it is for a child who has no knowledge, experience or control over what goes on in their world.
Throughout the many years I worked in family support and domestic violence services, many people told me their children didn’t know what was going on because they were in bed. I don’t know about you but I know I heard and felt lots of ‘not so nice stuff’ when I was in bed.
I recall one night when I stormed out of my bedroom and said to my parents “Can you please stop your fighting? Some of us have to go to school in the morning and we need to get some sleep”. I felt proud of myself for a moment but then waited for my father to come and give me a whack on the backside! He didn’t come. Nothing further was said of the matter.
Even if children don’t hear what’s going on, they can sense things. They know when mum or dad aren’t happy. If they don’t know what’s going on, they will draw their own conclusions. Often putting the blame on themselves for something they have or have not done. They then try to make up for their ‘wrongdoing’ and if their parents are still not happy, they can torture themselves as a form of punishment. When all the time, it is possible the folks were simply arguing over which bill to pay first!
Communication with children is one of the most vital things any parent can provide. Naturally, food, shelter, clothing and love are in the package deal!
I’m not suggesting you tell your children that the bank is about to foreclose on your mortgage but letting them know that you have some problems that need to be worked out and that you may be a bit grumpy for a day or two, might alleviate some worry from their little minds. An added bonus is that they will likely give you a bit of slack and some compassion!
Naturally, none of this guarantees that your child will be a healthy happy adult. Numerous factors come into play. But if the communication lines are open and you talk to them about anything they approach you with (and maybe a couple topics you initiate) then they are likely to feel comfortable to come to you when they are in need.
I read something recently which said ‘listen when your children come to you with the little stuff and they will come to you with the big stuff’ or something like that! Be open and remember what it was like when you were their age.
I was told many times “you’re too nice, you’re too soft” and “they” were probably right. It is one of life’s many fine lines! Life isn’t easy, it isn’t fair and not everyone will be kind. We need to prepare our little ones for this whilst reminding them that life is worth living, there is lots to enjoy. We can be fair and kind, regardless of what others do. Not all people have experienced those aspects of life. I think it’s up to those of us who have, to share the experience.