Not a different species

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Just like adults, children’s personal preoccupations and troubles, no matter how trivial they seem to us, can get the better of them


Michael Pettavel: 'For a child starting their new nursery class it can be like going to a party where we don't know anybody'

The longer I work in the sector (or perhaps the older I get), the similarities between children and adults become more obvious. Feelings, reactions and responses run in parallel, it’s just that the priorities are different. Of course, as adults we believe our priorities override theirs.

When I am trying to unpick why a child is behaving in a certain way (shyness, becoming easily overwhelmed, upset or excited), I see a mirror of how we behave as adults. I often explain to parents that for a child starting their new nursery class it can be like going to a party where we don’t really know anybody. Our relief at a familiar face walking through the door or knowing a routine (think party games) makes the difference between feeling relaxed or being an ‘outsider’.

You just have to look at the dynamics of a training course – when the delegates arrive they cluster together in groups from the same workplace, save each other seats and all have lunch together. As adults we are better at maintaining the internal dialogue to rationalise the unfamiliar, but then we’ve had a lot more practice.

It isn’t a huge surprise then to see that the new study on ‘school readiness’ has recommended that we pay more attention to what children think is important. It supports what many of us already know: if we are socially adept, have experience of developing a social persona and know how to seek out support then we can attend to the wider expectations of our world.

If you have had a row before getting to work, overslept or even just lost your mobile, it is hard to stop your emotions from distracting you. Personal dialogues can preoccupy us to such an extent that it can sometimes be very difficult to push them to the back of our mind and ‘carry on’.

Sometimes we treat children like another species, but taking a moment to reflect enables us to realise that many of those fears, challenges and anxieties are very similar, but about things that we no longer value as adults.

If you’ve lost your handbag or wallet it can make even the most relaxed person distraught. How will you find the time to cancel your cards; what if somebody steals your identity? Not so different from a child who has lost their glove or snugly – just a different priority.

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