During a visit to an art gallery in Toronto,
Canada, I came across an area of the gallery devoted to introducing children to
the joy and excitement of painting.
There were several sayings displayed around the walls and when I took to
writing down some of them, one of the guards said to me: ‘are you a teacher;
many teachers take down those sayings’.
The sayings were not only relevant to teachers, but to parents, child-minders, play-leaders; anybody who has a responsibility for the education of children. I took down the following four sayings:
- “Inside each one of us is an artist and that’s what an artist is, a child who has never lost the joys of looking at life with curiosity and wonder”
- “To paint without curiosity and to live without seeking is to stop growing”
- “The outstanding quality that a teacher must have is absolute belief in the power of the child to live his own way”
- “There is no right or wrong way to paint”
As adults, we need to seriously reflect on whether or not we have held onto that curiosity and wonder that is so evident in toddlers, but so lacking in many adults. Furthermore, we need to examine to what degree have we held onto living our own way? It is not possible for parents or teachers or others to inspire children to retain their love and eagerness to learn and their unique way of being if they have suppressed these qualities in themselves. What led to this suppression is a walk down memory lane of their early learning experiences.
All sorts of hurtful events may have led to the loss of curiosity and wonder – not being believed in, lack of encouragement, humiliation, harsh criticism, impatience, comparisons, aggression, labelling as ‘slow’, ‘weak’, ‘average’, pressure to perform and unhealthy competitiveness. The frequency and duration of these defensive responses have a telling effect on the degree of loss of curiosity, excitement and individuality experienced. I refer to the response as ‘defensive’ because parents and teachers who perpetrate such behaviours do so from a void within themselves. That void represents the losses they endured when they were children. Unless parents and teachers free themselves of the fears engendered by their early hurtful experiences around learning, the sad cycle will keep repeating.
Recently, a young man described to me his greatest need when he said: ‘Tony belief is everything’. Belief is the affirming of another person’s limitless capacity to take charge of his own life. Certainly, the absolute belief in children to ‘live their own way’ is essential to a life-long love of learning. Children possess endless capacity to learn and to express themselves in their own unique way. Each child brings a giftedness and vast potential to his home or classroom. It is for adults to spot and nurture these qualities through showing belief in him or her. It is wisdom for parents to know that each child has a different parent and for each teacher to know that each child in a classroom has a different teacher. Difference is the manifestation of each child’s uniqueness; any attempt to treat all the children in the same way fails to show the absolute belief each child requires. Of course, the absence of affirmation of a child’s power to live his or her own way is also blocking of a child’s expression of his or her unique self and power beyond measure. To affirm children’s power to live their own lives does not mean giving children licence to do what they will. On the contrary, children need to be given freedom to live their own way but such freedom carries responsibilities towards self, others and the world. Again parents and teachers can only provide these opportunities for children when they have retained absolute belief in themselves to live their own ways. Such confidence, freedom and non-conformity are not common adult characteristics. It behoves all of us as adults to rediscover our power and right to live out our own lives in our own unique ways. It is central to effective parenting and teaching that parents and teachers take on the urgent and essential work of knowing and believing in themselves. The absence of the opportunities for parents and teachers to engage in this important rediscovery results in poor quality parenting and teaching. Ineffective parenting or teaching obviously brings considerable losses to children, but what is often not acknowledged is that parents themselves experience considerable loss. In such situations both parents and children need all the help and belief in them that they can get.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of Whose Life Are You Living?