Is that child crazy?

So, in one of my other roles, I’m training to be a trainer on recovery from mental health problems. On Tuesday, I co-facilitated an intro session for the first time, and it gave me-the-parent a lot to think about.

One of the exercises we do in that session is to ask participants what helped them to recover – from anything: a broken leg, a bereavement, whatever – and write up the answers on a flipchart. Usually, we have everything from long walks to chocolate and brushing the dog. Then, we ask people how they’d act if they didn’t have access to any of those things. The point of the exercise is to show that anyone might react in a way that, for someone with a mental health diagnosis, would be seen as “a symptom”, if they felt out of control and unable to look after themselves, which is a situation often imposed on people in, for example, hospital.

But that second list – the “how might you behave” one – always looks a lot like how a small child behaves a lot of the time. People call out things like: angry, shouting, crying, withdrawing, panicking, being un-cooperative. And if you argue that parallel: how much of the time are children behaving in the way an adult would if their life were like a child’s life?

If you lived in a world where you were constantly confronted by new things, which you were expected to assimilate and understand quickly and without showing concern? If you pretty much never got to choose your own activities? If you were regularly touched, lifted and restrained without your permission? If you lived at the mercy of, however loving, people who were in total charge of your comings and goings, your access to food and drink, your access to activities you enjoy?

I’m not trying to say that we all traumatise our children horribly for no reason. This is not mother-blaming central. But too often we don’t see children as people; we don’t think, hey, if I were taken from something I was absorbed in, strapped into a pushchair and hurried down the road without anyone checking I understood what was going on, would I scream and struggle? Probably.

Parents need to protect their children from harm. We also need to get things done. Children don’t have the rich, hard-won, slowly acquired knowledge we have that sets everyday things in context. And so, sometimes (often) we can’t let our kids have the sort of freedom they want. I’m just saying, when I remember they’re humans in a difficult situation, I find it easier not to see my kids as demons; I’m not their torturer (or their psych nurse), but I am someone with immense power who must seem to them to be capricious and not always kind. Sometimes, being myself a human in a sometimes difficult situation, I am capricious and not always kind. But me and my kids, we three humans, we’re in this together.

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13 Responses to Is that child crazy?

  1. Arwyn says:

    Can I co-sign this? Like, a hundred times?

  2. Ika says:

    If you were regularly touched, lifted and restrained without your permission?

    Yes, yes! I (34) was talking to my gf J (60) recently about How It Was In The Old Days, and I had a complete lightbulb moment when we figured out that men used to feel they had the same right to touch women as adults currently feel they have to touch children. Which has resulted in me noticing how my fingers twitch when I see babies and toddlers – and also being very careful about not touching/lifting/kissing/hugging my niece and nephew without their permission. But then that’s easy for me, as I’m never alone with them and they’re old enough now not to need picking up and removing from dangerous situations, so all I can do is hope if I was their mum I would think about it, pretty much in the way you do here.

  3. Ruth Moss says:

    Personally, I think this should be required reading on any parenting syllabus ;)

    But seriously though – is excellent. Also co-signed.

  4. [...] of Rebel Raising speaks truth in Is that child crazy? ‘How much of the time are children behaving in the way an adult would if their life were like [...]

  5. PharaohKatt says:

    Yes! So completely true!

    In our childcare course, one of our tutors told us how incredibly important it is to treat children with respect, as human beings. She told us of carers who will just pick up a child without a word and move hir, or will talk about a child as if zie is not in the room. She stressed to us how important it is for us to talk to children, ask them to come get their nappy changed, not just move them about like furniture.

    I always try to follow these principles, but I see carers every day doing exactly that, treating children like furniture. It breaks my heart.

    Great post!

  6. [...] of Rebel Raising has something to say in Is that child crazy? ‘How much of the time are children behaving in the way an adult would if their life were like [...]

  7. herb says:

    As a pediatrician for three decades, with sub-specialties in child abuse diagnosis and treatment and the care of incarcerated youth, I welcome this insightful observing of how we relate to our children.

    We live in a sick, toxic society where virtually all our children are harmed in manifold ways and adult discourse and decision making is conditioned by these antecedents from childhood. With this point of view I observe that designated “crazy children” tend to be forced into scapegoat roles so that the rest of us can continue with our denial of our own draining wounds. If we identify certain children as “crazy” the implication is that the rest of our little darlings are OK by definition.

    It is hard for an individual to develop insight. It is harder yet for an entire society to develop insight. When our society-wide symptoms of mental distress – support for aggressive, racist wars, a massive prison population, endemic interpersonal violence and a whole host of other readily identifiable problems – are so much in denial and systematically hidden or discounted insight the chances for insight become remote. Perhaps when we finally reap the fruits of our moral underdevelopment, when we have an inclusive national “Katrina” experience (2-5 years to economic collapse by many experts) we will be shocked back into our senses and challenge the received “wisdom” that privileges ruthless competition and begin to understand that the golden rule does not just apply those we like and are like us. Certainly, in the face of immanent world wide environmental and societal collapse (a condition of billions of us right now on this planet) all bets are off and no one can prognosticate. Welcome to the most interesting of times.

  8. [...] Rebel Raising: Is that child crazy? If you lived in a world where you were constantly confronted by new things, which you were expected [...]

  9. [...] a final one from Chally – Is that child crazy? posted by Kate at Rebel [...]

  10. [...] children special protections doesn’t mean children as a class are not still oppressed, still considered “ours” to do with what we will or [...]

  11. Jen says:

    Thank you. This is one of those posts everyone should read.

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