Talking With Children

From the moment of conception there is a unique individual present and it is for this reason that the parenting of a child needs to start at conception, not at birth, as many people believe. Indeed, it is my own belief that parenting needs to start pre-conception. Unless each of us as adults learn to parent ourselves, develop a solid sense of our individuality and a consistent active listening and nurturing of ourselves, we are not even remotely ready to parent a child. The preparation of prospective parents for the unselfish task of mature parenting is an urgent issue. Much of what has happened in the dark religious, political, educational, social and economic history of Ireland, not only in the major downturn over the last three years, but since the founding of the state would not have happened if we had more enlightened and mature leaders.

Crises provide the opportunity for profound reflection and a deep examination by each person of their interiority. Such an examination appears to be only slowly emerging. What helps it to emerge more quickly is the acceptance by others of the unique and sacred presence of each person, the belief in and the encouragement to do the reflecting, and most powerfully, the absence of blaming and judging, which is so prevalent in the political sphere. When any politician condemns and judges a member of another party, he or she is in a serious place of denial and it does not bode well for any of us were that individual to get into government. Christ put it so well when he said ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Christ saw the darkness within individuals and knew that that darkness was unconsciously created by the person to hide the light of their true nature from those who were not in a place to affirm and celebrate it. It is not that Christ was excusing people for their dark actions, but he knew that no hope of change was possible, unless compassion and understanding were present. Currently, we need to see an abundance of unconditional love and compassion in order for the authenticity, accountability and personal responsibility to emerge so that maturity is what defines what happens within and between individuals.

I am sure you must be wondering what has all of the foregoing got to do with the title of this article – Talking with Children. The article was prompted by a recent initiative by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) whose members expressed concern for primary school children who are manifesting worries about the downturn in the economy, family financial difficulties, emigration and, no doubt, a change in their own financial situation – less to spend than before and, certainly, less being spent on them. IPPN members expressed wise concerns about the children’s expressed fears and depression. They decided that a response on their part was required and they came up with an initiative which they have titled ‘Positivity Week’ which it is hoped will take place in schools towards the end of January. The positivity week will focus on a celebration of children’s extra-curricular activities and talents, such as sport, music and art and the development of a ‘green’ environment.

Children, from their earliest moments of existence notice any threats – physical, sexual, intellectual, social, behavioural – to their well-being and they will automatically and unconsciously create defensive responses to those threats. Children are not victims to the threats they encounter, but they are certainly very powerful defenders of their sacred selves. What parents and teachers describe as troubled behaviour in children – fears, anxieties, depression, hyperactivity, passivity, shyness, isolation – are actually powerful defences against experiencing further abandonment threats or, at least, reducing the number of such sad experiences.

When I read about the ‘Positivity Week’ my first response was ‘it is great that teachers are noticing what may be going on in children’s interior worlds.’ That thought was quickly followed by ‘but there is a danger that the ‘Positivity’ initiative could become a whitewash, a masking of the very real fears that the children are having’!

My own suggestion is that a true ‘positivity’ response would be where children in small groups are allowed to express their fears, doubts and depression about what is happening currently in their lives and to be supported and encouraged – each child – to find their own answers to their current difficulties. The old saying ‘children should be seen but not heard’ also resonates here and we need to ensure that each child is personalised, that active listening is present and that there is no attempt on an adult’s part to reassure that everything will be alright, or to dilute, to neutralise what the child is experiencing and expressing. We know as adults that when we are going through difficult times, the last thing we require is ‘ad-vice’ (emphasis on the fact that it is a ‘vice’ to give advice), but what truly helps is a kind and patient active listening where it becomes possible for the confusion within to clarify itself and for you to create your own answers. In this regard, children have similar needs and abilities to understand and find their own answers. Talking with children is the most powerful way for them to feel a sense of being in charge, a sense of security and a sense that ‘I’m going to be okay.’

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author, National and International Speaker.  His recent book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s topic.