Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Our needs, their wants...

Everyone who knows me knows I am passionate about movement, in a lot of different ways. So this one will be about movement (yes, again ;), about freedom (again...), but maybe less about the joints and muscles, and more about this mind-reading game we are trying to play with our children...

I recently had a conversation that got me thinking (again) about movement, and how much of it can really be free. Free from the things that surround us, free from our own needs and wants, but also free from the expectations of those that surround us. We were sitting among the lovely autumn leaves one Sunday morning (yes, it's autumn here on the southern hemisphere...), and our son was happily crawling around, checking everything within reach. There was a lady sitting next to us with a little boy, about Antek's age. She kept looking at Antek doing his usual Antek dance, and finally commented: 'He's one acrobat that boy!'. This was not the first time someone made a similar comment, so we smiled and kept looking at Antek falling, crawling, turning and testing the legth of his arms and legs. The lady looked at him again and said: 'My grandson doesn't want to crawl. He only wants to walk. It's probably because he sees all these people around him walking all the time.' I looked at the boy  and honestly he looked like the last thing on his mind was walking. He also, to be entirely honest, looked like the last thing on his mind was sitting. He was trying to reach for things around him, but couldn't. He had that look on his face that I have often seen on children who are sat up and have no idea what to do next. Finally, when he stretched his arms again to reach for something the lady looked at me and said: 'See? Here we go again, now I have to walk him.' And so she did. Neither of them looked particularly comfortable.

Before I go further with all of these thoughts that were dancing in my mind at that point, I just want to say that we also tend to walk a lot around Antek. Sure, we crawl with him sometimes, but more often than not I walk to and from places. Is our son different? Does he not 'want' to walk?

I have already posted a bit about free gross motor development, and about letting our children develop at their own pace, on their own terms, in their own time. But this situation seemed a bit different. I realized that what that lady was doing is what we often do as well, although we try hard not to. We also sometimes measure our son's needs and wants by our own needs and wants, simply because that is all we know. We know what we want. We think we know what we need. So we take what we have and put it over our children's actions. It takes a lot of observation, patience and letting go to understand that our children are really separate people. Separate from the rest of the world, but also (maybe sometimes more importantly) separate from us.

In interfering with our children's motor development when there is no medical need for it, we are showing our children that we know better than they do what they should be doing with their bodies. That may be a dangerous thing. In the long run, they are the ones who will have to live with their bodies, accept themselves as they are, learn what they can and cannot do. I want my son to be happy the way he is, accept the way he looks, walks and moves. But for him to get there, I need to remember that my body is mine, and his body is his. And that he is the only one who knows (or is learning) how it works.

Letting go of our needs and wants (to have our child already sitting, walking, standing) is important on a number of different levels. To me it's a first step in realizing Antek's independence, but also realizing how wonderfully capable he is. Letting the children discover gross motor development freely is important to them, and not only on a physical level. It's a first step in connecting emotions with the physical. It's a step in understanding what we can and cannot do. In estimating our limits and realizing our potential. If we paste our needs and wants over those of the child, we effectively exercise our potential and not let them exercise theirs. As Magda Gerber put it children should be able to experience the world 'on their own, with our help'. 

Our bodies are an important part of who we are and how we are in the world. Being comfortable in our own bodies and with our own bodies seems to be a gift. We can make sure that our children get this gift very early on. How? By doing very very little. By not reading their mind and guessing what they 'want' to do, just because we do it. By observing. By not interfering if we don't have to. By not sitting them up, walking them, and 'helping' them in a number of different ways. Their lives will be so much easier, if so early on they get to figure out on their own (with our help) how their bodies work. For some people it takes a lifetime. Here, we can give them a head start.

A great post by Janet Lansbury about why we should not walk our kids can be found here.