Saturday, 30 July 2011

"What's your name?" "I don't know" Emotional neglect

When you reach your seventh decade, most news stories lose the power to shock. Sadly, most are variations of news that has gone before. This can be a cruel world.

Two reports did shock me this week:
1. Children attending school at four years old, do not recognise their names.

Children experiencing physical cruelty is horrible, shocking and criminal. Though it's not news, unless truly horrible and the media can play the blame game with social workers. Here I will plug my favourite and underfunded charity:   

Not recognising or knowing their name, may not, at first, seem to come under the child cruelty heading, but isn't it? It's not physical cruelty, but it suggests emotional neglect at a much deeper level. This report is not about one or two children either. It is about a number of children. It was that aspect I found shocking.

I am not naive. Thirty-five years ago, I recall the head teacher at the local primary school, asking the parents to make sure that their five-year-old children could obey simple commands, dress themselves, were toilet trained and hold a knife and fork. Eating together as a family at table was disappearing. She didn't ask that they knew their names. Nearly all the children that attended the school could be regarded as coming from middle-class homes.

Forty-five years ago, when I was helping at a private nursery school, a delightful, but silent three-year-old little girl attended. She didn't speak because her 'well to do' mother hadn't spoken to her.  She had been quite surprised that she was supposed to. Seen, but not heard perhaps?

The horrors of the schools in Charles Dickens's books also come to mind. Are we returning to Victorian times, despite our material riches?

As for blame, I note that television and computers are mentioned in the article. But are they the real culprits?

I'm going to suggest something more fundamental to childcare and very rarely mentioned in articles about children and communication.

Front-facing pushchairs. I dislike them intensely. Always have done.

Have a look around any city, town or village. Small children are being pushed away from their carer. There is no eye contact, let alone verbal contact. The child stares into oblivion. No wonder so many children have tantrums being restrained in them. 

The carer may stop to talk to someone or go into a shop. The child slumps, staring silently into space.

I believe that the front-facing pushchair was developed to make life easier for parents. I seem to recall the Maclaren's buggy being thought revolutionary, as it folded up so easily and was light. Other manufacturers jumped on board with their versions. 

Out of interest I thought I'd have a google. It would appear that front-facing pushchairs are expensive and more difficult to purchase. Then I found the following. Oh dear, the blindingly obvious again.

Choosing a reversible or rear-facing pushchair
Over the past twelve months we have seen an increasing 

number of reversible pushchairs on the market. Manufacturers

 have extended their range of rear facing pushchairs, and 

when you think about it, the reason is obvious. If you have 

ever tried to talk to the back of someone’s head whilst 

standing above them, conversation is virtually impossible!

A campaign run by the National Literacy Trust encourages parents and carers to talk more to children from birth to three. The Reversible pushchair allows you to face your baby towards you, especially useful in the early months as it’s nice to be able to keep an eye on your little ‘bundle of joy’. They enjoy having eye contact with you; recognize your face and you can talk to your baby as you stroll along. As they get a little older and start to sit up you can face them away from you, giving them a totally different view, watching the world go by – keeping them amused.Over the past twelve months we have seen an increasing number of reversible pushchairs on the market. Manufacturers have extended their range of rear facing pushchairs, and when you think about it, the reason is obvious. If you have ever tried to talk to the back of someone’s head whilst standing above them, conversation is virtually impossible!

It's almost laughable to read, but behind the comments are children lacking opportunities for communication. It's serious.

Now we have the mobile phone too. I'm a avid fan of the smart phone and use mine constantly. But not when I take my grandchildren to their local park. The London park is popular with mums and child carers. There are fenced off areas and children are let out of their pushchairs. The mums and carers sit and communicate...with their phones.

I observe so many lost opportunities for conversation. Though to balance the argument, there are parents who, perhaps try too hard. In the supermarket, everything is explained, sometimes laboriously to the child, while other people to complete their shopping. One particular mother from twenty years ago comes to mind and I inwardly groan. 

What the heck, parents can't do anything right can they? And to those parents with nameless children, we can only wonder at their role models. Where are the other people than could teach the child their name. Grandparents, neighbours, friends? I still wonder at the rest of the child's home life, if they don't know their own name. A headmaster was quoted elsewhere that some children don't recognise their name, if it is spoken softly in a normal tone. 

The headmaster's comment reminded me was walking behind a perfectly ordinary family a couple of months ago. The little boy ran on ahead. The mother shouted, "Oi!" The little boy stopped and looked back.  I mused then, if the little boy's name was 'Oi'. Not funny though.

A child who has not had their needs met for attention, love, fun and friendship or has them met unhealthily may survive in life, but they will not thrive and the consequences are likely to be experienced for decades.

2. The other report that genuinely horrified me, but wasn't surprising was:

My views have already been aired elsewhere on this blog, so I won't repeat them.
But anger can be a useful emotion if used properly.

I have made a decision to take my blog on the road, so to speak. In the autumn I will resume my talks. It may only be a drop in the ocean, but if we can make a difference to just one person, it's all worthwhile.


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