It was an ordinary day of work in my third month at the Inkiri School, when one of the dear educators calls me and subtly tells me a phrase that would be last weeks of reflection in my mind: “She’s bossing you around, in case you haven’t noticed.”
She was referring to a 3-year-old child, which I will fictitiously call Victoria in this post. With a strong personality and very closed, Vitória was a difficult child to relate during my arrival to the school. Suspicious about myself and insecure with my presence, she did not measure words and gestures to send me away and ensure that I would not pass the physical limit of getting to close to her body.
After a few weeks, in our rhythm, we were gaining our intimacy and a surprising space of confidence was stablished between us. Vitoria started to demand a lot of my attention while we shared that same school space. To read a story, to watch her climb the tree, to help with the puzzle, to put on a costume, to hold her, to peel the orange, I often heard the sweet voice of the little girl calling my name.
And it was the apparent security of Victoria with my presence that was giving space and mirror to my own hidden insecurity to show itself. I have been constantly observing that relationship with child has the power to bring to the surface my need to be accepted (in general), and bringing that need to the ‘educator-pupil’ relationship can be very damaging. When Victoria asked for help to do something she had already mastered, it was my role to kindly say no and encourage her to do it herself. When Victoria did something she could not do, it was my role to remember the agreements. When Victoria forgot to arrange her toys, it was my role not to allow her to follow her wanderings without taking care of space.
In all these small daily interactions, which seem to be simple, I could observe my insecurities wanting to come out and manifest. They came in different forms: sometimes I just wanted to leave from there to avoid conflict with her, sometimes I had total inability with words, sometimes fear, sometimes memories. The point that has become clear to me is that mediation of relationships with young children is also the mediation of the memories and unresolved issues of our own inner child.
And in all this insecurity, without me even realizing it, there she was bossing me around. She said, “Read to me!” and in seconds I was already there with a book in my hands. She said “come” and I would just follow her. An inversion of paper that unhealthy for Vitoria, and for which I needed an outside looker to realize what was happening.
“She’s bossing you around, in case you haven’t noticed.”. This phrase kept floating in my head for days, for the power of their truth and for the depth of everything that is involved in a situation like these. What discomfort to hear it! What a challenge for me to get out of this situation! Today I look back and find it simple and stupid, but at that moment, with the experience that I (did not) have with education, I remember that was quite a challenge.
The reason I am bringing this situation here now is that after traveling more, getting to know more schools, more parents, more children, I realized that this situation is not a privilege of mine. There is a lot of children, in every corner of the world, very confused by being able to rule the adults around them.
Many parents and some educators are insecure, either because of their childhood, or because their ideals about raising their children, or because they are in constant debt to the children as a result of their troubled lives. The reasons may vary, but insecurity often generates the same effects: inverted relationships, difficulty in setting the boundaries and limits for children, difficulty in maintaining decisions and their consequences. Adults who forget their roles of parents, educators and etc and assume the role of best friends of kids, at any cost.
This relationship is not healthy for children. They are discovering this planet, its social dynamics, its order, through relationships with the people around them. They do not yet have the emotional structure to decide and sustain certain things; they do not yet have the discernment of what is right and wrong, of causes and consequences. They are asking for these answers from the adults around them. Giving them that space of freedom and command is also giving them a greater responsibility than they can bear. It’s too heavy for them.
I am not surprised that the most innovative spaces I have visited (with “new age parents” and “alternative schools” radically rethinking the formats and roles of education), are also the spaces where I have found many examples for the situation described above. It is a challenge to find a path between freedom and lack of boundaries. A path between autonomy and lack of order.
When we botch the cooking, children feel the consequences. They become insecure, aggressive, defensive, competitive. Again, we are giving a very heavy responsibility to them, because of our own insecurities. Sometimes a firm position in imposing limits may be necessary, precisely for the flowering of the child’s freedom. Sometimes clear agreements and rigorous order can be the best gift we can give for a child’s autonomy development.
I thank Victoria for ruling me enough to show me that this was not fair to her. In the name of all the Victories I have encountered on my journey, I invite all adults to pay attention to this: are we taking responsibility for our own insecurities? Are we assuming our role with full commitment to the whole development of children?
Let’s keep our eyes open to not to give children more weight than they can carry. It’s not fair, it’s not healthy and the consequences do not look very promising.