Do we want Independence or Competence?

Dr Emmi Pikler knew the significance of an aware adult - "It is not just about technique but how I am with myself". This quote is very poignant.  It can help us reflect on 'how' we are with children's sadness and anger.  Do we allow the child to ride the wave of ‘e-motion’ and experience the real feelings without distracting them or stopping them due to our own discomfort? Do we stay present? Or are we too busy fixing it, sorting it, making peace?

The biggest gift we can give the child is our 'full attention', in good times and in bad times. 

When we talk about letting the child experience the real feelings it doesn’t mean abandoning them in their feelings in the name of independence. It does not mean leaving them to ‘cry it out’. With independence being a buzz word at the moment, we may want to reflect on this word and replace it with the word ‘competence’. What tools does a three year old have to work though it independently? You can’t expect them to be independent if they haven’t got the tools. Competence is all about giving them the tools. 

Just like children have to find their physical balance, they have to find their emotional balance.

Children don’t have the tools we have. They can’t put perspective to it, they don’t know that they won’t always feel like this and they certainly won’t recall how they have overcome this feeling before. 

If we view the child as a free and equal human being, how can we then ignore their feelings, and say “come and do a painting” when they are upset about mum leaving them behind in this new and foreign environment? How is that providing security? If we leave them to cope, either by letting them ‘cry it out’ in their own time and company, or ‘distracting' them from what is really going on, we are basically judging whether they have a right to be upset. We are also not giving them the tools to validate and find their own emotional balance. 

Viewing the child as inexperienced and needing our emotional support and a huge dose of understanding doesn't take away from their independence. We can acknowledge that being only two or three  years old sucks sometimes as there is so much you can't possibly know about yet in this big wide world. We can empathise and comfort, without judgment. 

Just notice your own default setting. The first place for healing is being aware. It is the same for children. Emmi Pikler, Rudolph Steiner, Maria Montessori and Joseph Chilton Pearce all recognised the importance of having a strong sense of self, emphasising that the whole child - body, soul and spirit is of equal importance. 

What a different world it would be if the adults could see, acknowledge, allow and be present to support the child through their feelings in this big unknown world. From this safe space that we would create, the child will be downloading 'it is OK for me to feel and be with this emotion'. It’s all they want.

From a child's perspective they are always asking - Do you hear me? Can you see me? Do you really know me? Can I trust you and do you trust me? Children need to have a strong sense of self. It is very important that they feel an innate sense of 'I am and I can and I am OK', even in times of sadness and anger.