In the society we live, as adults we get engrossed in the processes of socialization. Our accountability for socialization seems a serious business specially as parents. The fear that our children will mirror us follows like a shadow and we try to give our best. Of course the major driving force to discharge our role with responsibility is also the pride in our years of experience justifying the more experienced as bearers of knowledge. The little brains of children seem akin to small mugs where the big jug or the reservoir of knowledge held by adults has to pour into the little receivers.
This enthusiasm to illuminate the path moves smoothly and children recite ‘twinkle-twinkle little star’ regaling audiences of fond family and friends. This ‘follow the leader’ path takes a gentle twist when occasionally a child embarrasses with “stupid fool”, “befkoof” or “mausam kitna suhaana hai”. Such remarks bring home the understanding that the little mugs, in addition to zealously collecting the outpourings, also have competence for self-service. The little brains have the capacity to coordinate information, match it to many previous similar encounters and produce new meanings. Some verbal exchanges of course leave the adults baffled with their in depth insights.
Purabi was playing with her two and a half year old grand-daughter. Her heart was not there as she was mulling over some official tension. Surabhi the child was making a house, conveying some detail. Suddenly Surabhi stopped and announced, “Dadi smile”. Purabi quickly stretched her lips sheepishly. However, Surabhi left the play objects, held Purabi’s shoulders, threw back her head and laughed loudly. “Like ‘this’ Dadi NOT like this” and stood with a smile pasted with stretched lips.
Was the child taught this act? We don’t give lessons in empathy, children model it. Children arrive at certain inferences with their own will, perception and childhood analysis. This continues like an involuntary process. I was working with children of class III and class VII. Now my research entailed understanding childhood ideas and thinking. I had many games, sharing of stories and having post performance discussions. I did not realize that I would chance upon hidden investigative features of children who have a detective element to their childhood encounters.
The class VII was noisy as I paused to begin the next story. So I said that the Principal, whose room was nearby, would debar me from coming. Quite conspiratorially they said “she is not in school”. They continued, to my questioning expression, “Mam the curtain in front of her door is very still. When she is in, the door is open and the curtain keeps swaying.” They sat with a beatific smile knowing fully that they had charmed me with their sharp skill and observation.
In sharing such responses of children, I wish to focus our collective adult perspective to childhood sensibilities and sensitivities. Children have to be guided, taught, disciplined as well as instructed, however within the regime and rhythms of adult-child transactions, children are improving their own devices. They are self-skilling themselves as well, in preparation to deal with the larger social world.
In the Surabhi anecdote, the little mind is watchful of lack of spirit, notes the mechanical interaction and the inability of the grandmother to deal with absence of playfulness which makes her rise to action. She is already displaying ability to ‘solve problems’. In our educational setting, it would be useful to allow children to deal with challenges, ask questions, solve conflicts such that they keep refining their social cognition as well as emotional competence. What children see, hear and imitate is the key to their preparedness for growing years as they make their connections and test the evidence for confirming the truth. As adults allowing for watchful freedom within watchful regulation will help sustain a connect with blossoming minds. Just as children are making meaning from their physical social worlds, they can be amidst exciting experiments and texts that tickle the mind.
Dr. Asha Singh
Reader, Human Development and Childhood Studies.
Specialist Theatre in Education,
Lady Irwin College, New Delhi