Saturday, 26 November 2016

Thought Picnic: Don't mistake a troubled child for a bad one

Not a conversation
By happenstance, I was recently privy to a conversation and that is in the broadest terms between an uncle (Julius) and his nephew (Fabier) on the nephew’s birthday. There was probably a case of me eavesdropping, but it provided the opportunity for some reflection.
The first part of the conversation which we agreed in the end, was not a conversation covered the general issues of the vociferous against the tongue-tied. Julius in what looked like a conversation asked seemingly leading questions and Fabier in cantankerous mode answered in striking monosyllables in either the negative or affirmative.
A stifled freedom to talk
Now, I have experienced that with my niece times before where my labour of attempting to get her to string a 5-word sentence together at the minimum was literally ineffective. The fact is, these nieces and nephews are neither that shy or tongue-tied, we just have not developed the setting for a free-flowing interaction and communication that comes with the freedom of our younger relations to express themselves without fear or inhibition.
I find the need to work on this relationship building activity the more because there are critical elements of the childhood development experience that we might miss which could have lasting consequences on the life and outlook of the child.
I say this because, the questions veered into areas of Fabier’s school, how he was enjoying classes if he was making friends and whether he was settling in fine, all which Fabier suggested in his monosyllabic answers was alright.
Fabier is a bad boy
Fabier passed his phone back to his mother (Mary), and there Mary regaled to Julius her brother how Fabier was really not fitting in at school, his personal hygiene levels had declined to the point of concern and excoriation, the report gave Julius the leverage to demand a change in attitude from Fabier or else Fabier would lose the promised presents and possibly some goodwill of his uncle.
The long and short of the second exchange where Fabier literally said nothing and Julius said everything was Fabier had been, a really bad boy.
The telling off of Fabier would have been pleasing to Mary, but I do not think in my heart of hearts that it helped Fabier one bit.
I was Fabier again
That second conversation between Julius and Fabier was a replay of a similar conversation I had with many elderly relations of mine 40 years ago when I was sent to a secondary boarding school half a country away from my parents in the hope of my parents that I would be toughened up and will learn more of our culture, language, and traditions.
My first term was hellish, I was consistently bed-wetting, I took no baths seeing that we had to fetch water from a forbidden grotto in the forest just before dawn, my night was disturbed by apparitions and ghosts that had me reciting Psalm 23 hundreds of times in the night. My life was a nightmare and it was a nightmare to my fellow schoolmates.
I know that of all the real help I needed, I got nothing, there were mental, psychological and emotional issues at play that received no professional help, I was supposed to be like others, stoic, responsible, able and applied to the duty to which I was called, to excel at school.
Not one solution worked
The solutions proffered included animist rituals, spiritualist entreaties, amulets, and shamanist cuts into which concoctions of varying potency were applied, none of which addressed a fundamental issue.
A child who had suffered emotional trauma some months before who had already for the first time spend 5 months away from the structured environment of home where again the matter of child sexual abuse by the servants never got addressed, was now flung to the winds for fend for himself and you expect him to perform to expectation?
A child does not bed wet just as an act of rebellious vandalism, there are fundamental psychological issues at play, using shame, disgrace, deprivation of comforts or corporal punishment, as weapons of dissuasion might appear to work in the immediate term, but it also internalises unresolved issues.
Can we try something else?
In most cases, what a child needs is understanding leading to encouragement to express themselves freely of their fears and their hopes, not the full weight of adult imposition exacting punishment and price to force them to do our bidding.
Children are in and of themselves free and independent moral agents, they are no mules. They are can be positively moulded with affirmation and approbation over criticism, comparison and condemnation.
Whilst in the face of the labours of parenthood, parents might not seem to have time to attend to the emotional needs of a child, those are probably the most critical needs of a child above anything else and it rarely gets addressed.
In the quest to make our children fear and respect us, we have lots an essential channel of communication that sometime in the adulthood of that child would be an unrelenting indictment of the kind of parenthood they endured.
Some parents wonder why their children are estranged and a lot of it points to the things they considered insignificant, in mistaking a troubled child for a bad one.
Are you the playful adult?
It goes without saying that a child needs at least one playful adult in their relationships, one whom they can trust, in whom they can confide, with whom they can find the freedom to be themselves and know that they are not only being listened to, they are being understood, encouraged, given advice and helped along in the most difficult times.
40 years ago, I was not a bad boy, I was a troubled child who needed more help than anyone was able or ready to appreciate or understand, and today too, Fabier is NOT a bad boy, yet, he has been cast as a recalcitrant and irresponsible boy, we as uncles, aunts, parents and guardians repeating the mistakes of generations past where the child was only to be seen but never heard.
Stop the generational abuse
I cried rivers of tears for Fabier as that ‘conversation’ developed, he was not going to get the present promised him if he did not change and his mother was going to report the progress on his conduct for further action to be taken.
Let’s stop the generational abuse pretending to child rearing and upbringing already and humble ourselves to stoop to the eye level of the child, offer a hug, offer comfort, offer assurance, offer to understand, and offer a listening ear, the time for standing over and talking down to the 'miscreant' is over.
We had tough parents, it does not excuse us being tougher obdurate parents, guardians, uncles, aunts or older relations too.
Give the child the chance to glow and blossom, this will only come with giving them full personhood and respect for their individuality, views, and circumstances.
Postscript: I asked the permission of Julius to write this blog, we had a discussion on this matter and he agreed that there were valid issues to discuss.

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