The effusive kiss. Misbehavior files. Case 2.

this picture belongs to our family album and is used only as an illustration.

This picture belongs to our family album and it is used as an illustration. It does not represent the real children mentioned in this research.

Warning: You are about to depart into an incredible flight. This is a longread post, much worth every word of it. Get yourself a coffee, turn off your phone and be ready to enjoy one of the most healing love stories ever. It is 100% real, I only changed the children’s names.

The effusive kiss. Alice, 2 years 9 months. Pete, 2 years 11 months.

Hypothesis: when a young child attending a play group is seen and accepted for what she is, and not for what she is missing, her self-confidence is meaningfully fostered and a proper field is opened in the group for shared love and compassion.

Alice has come to play for 8 months. She is a big sized girl, usually wearing colorful cloths. Her big black curls frame her enormous black eyes and her beautiful chubby cheeks face.
It took her around 5 months to be ready to stay within the play area and move around leaving her mother´s lap. Before that she only played here and then with the toys that were near her hand reach. At snack time she would gently move her mother´s hand as an extension of her arm to make her grab a cookie and feed her into the mouth. She would also use her mother´s arm as a tool to reach and interact with toys.
No eye contact, no words, no further interactions.
I thought socialization might be an intimidating challenge for Alice in a particularly active, talkative, enthusiastic two years old play group, whose leader is Pete. He is the little one the rest admires and fears at the same time but I will tell you more about him later. Back to Alice now.
I asked her mother whether at home she played in the same way as in the play group. Her answer made me a bit concerned:
– No, she enjoys here. At home she is even more still.

Then I talked to the mother.

She told me when Alice was 14 months she had asked the pediatrician whether her child had Autism. He said: “I don’t think so, give her time”. I felt relieved. Giving time is my favorite choice. It includes accepting the child as she is, sending an acknowledgement message to her which I firmly believe will nurture her best potential.
But what if that time was over and she really needed some early diagnose now? I made a few suggestions as to “stop doing for her” the things she can do for herself (mainly feeding and playing) and fostering a new vision of her child: as a capable, trustworthy little human unfolding her own self at her own time.
Simultaneously a professional started diagnosing Alice, saw her for about two months once a week and then offered parents some guidelines that really helped.
In the meanwhile I tended to approach her differently than how I did with the rest of the children (regarding free play, autonomy and social interactions). I felt tempted to “help her out” a little, little bit (that is what I said trying to convince myself).  She has the sweetest way of getting you to do what she wants but I knew this was not the best for her. So I had a big challenge to face.

One day she wanted to grab a toy beyond her reach. So she pulled her mother´s arm wanting her to grab it for her.
I said:
“No, mom is not grabbing that for you. If you want it, you can grab it yourself”.

She got distressed. She went to the ground but not in the normal tantrum way (facing earth with body and face). She did it as a little baby would do when placed down by a parent, on her back. She started mourning. It was a deep and at the same time suffocated mourning.

Heartbreaking. My mouth and lips got dry. Other parents got restless; the mother was clearly trusting me but suffering within.

I approached Alice and broadcasted her situation with a blind confidence in what I have learnt. I wanted to console her, to soothe her, to do for her, to solve her struggle with all my heart. But this time I just described what was going on: “you want mommy to grab a toy for you, I said she wouldn´t, you did not like that, you are laying down mourning, I can understand you, I am here for you to cry all you need to”.
The mother looked puzzled and sad. We all were. Time run out and they left leaving a bitter taste in the air.
That week I would think very often of what happened and I convinced myself I did the right thing repeating a mantra within: trust her… trust her… trust her.

Thereafter Alice started getting into the play field with autonomy and she demonstrated that even when not talking nor looking into the eyes of her playmates, she was 100% into the group interactions.
Week 1:
Someone asking for a drum stick? She would pick it up and approach it to the requesting child. (Mom still inside the play area).

Week 2:
Someone running about with a just grabbed toy looking back and searching for a follower? She would get into the running circle and run, run, run. (Mom sitting with other parents and only exceptionally needed back from then onwards).

Week 3:
Someone playing with a different set of socket toy? She would slide her toy next to a boy´s hand and grab his puzzle to give a try to new combinations of sizes and shapes. She clearly enjoys sitting and indirectly exchanging with this particular child: Pete. He is the most talkative, risk-taking, active, expressive and puzzle solver genius in the group.

Then two weeks ago Alice´s father came along (mother too). He had the day free. Alice looked particularly happy about this.

After the “running circle marathon game” this group had created and enjoyed for many weeks, Pete approached Alice form one side and grabbed her firmly from the neck. His mother stood up and called out his name loudly wanting to stop him. It was not the first time that Pete expressed his inner impulses in a strong physical contact with a playmate and his mother worries about that.

I stopped her as fast and best as I could. Alice was not afraid. Pete was not in a rage. Something different was going on. This interaction was gold for me.

Pete was still holding Alice from the neck with his left hand. Now he embraced her with his right arm and pulling her face towards his mouth he sink his lips into her chubby left cheek and KISSED her. Just like that, a capital kiss.

Everyone got still.

Alice remained processing the experience for a few seconds. Still facing front (without turning face to face towards him), she bend her chest and lowered her left shoulder towards his face, reaching his lips with her cheek. And he kissed her, kissed her and kissed her one more time.

Grownups breathed relieved, the other children resumed their play, Alice mother´s was holding a giant smile in her face and her father was experiencing in an early stage what most fathers have to wait until their kids are 15… Another boy loved his girl as much as he did.

What a debut to enter socialization! This was the first time (in her life?) Alice offered her own body to get in touch with another child in a direct way, having a clear intention and expecting an interaction. No intermediary. No third-party adult to do for her.

From then on, she has a first sketch to construct her own path into life.

How is Alice doing?

Are there words? Only murmurings… for now.

Is there eye contact? Very little, very short… for now.
But I don’t worry a bit about that. I have other intrigues.

My main question is: what made Alice available to dare entering into socialization?

There is not a single answer for that, for sure.

I know. Anyhow, which where the main influencing factors?

Was it time and trust?
Was it parents asking for professional help?
Was it Alice meeting frustration in a respectful and caring environment, that day that I remained really firm for the (probably) first time?
Was it Pete?
And what, what, what made Pete do what he did?

Was it love?

Everything infants and toddlers do meets a developmental need. That is why we set a safe environment for free movement and play, we do not over-stimulate nor interrupt free play and we do our best to acknowledge feelings and struggles with respect.
If everything a little child does is a reflection, reaction and resound of his inner map towards unfolding humanness, then what if being humane, compassionate and loving IS a human developmental need?

What if in a free educational environment not only physical, emotional and mental unfolding is manifested? Could we infer that a spiritual unfolding need pushed Pete to interact with Alice as he did?
If Pete´s mothers would have succeeded in stopping him grabbing Alice from the neck we would have probably not known. And the mother would have admonished him for “misbehaving”, Pete´s natural spiritual impulse would have probably been interrupted.

But this is not what happened. He was given time and chance to manifest his inner urge.
So for now my answer is YES. Spirituality is a human developmental need.
And I only can prove that by empirical observation and experience.
What would happen if we realize spirituality is the missing key to revolutionize education?

More of that in a future post.

Returning misbehavior: welcome back, Martin. Misbehavior Files Case 1

Misbehavior files series. Case 1.

papa retando hablando mirada a hijito

Hypothesis: parental over control may inhibit a young child´s hability to accept firm calm limits and learn new social skills. When the over control is turned into trust children may gain a sense of self-control.

Martin, 2 years and 7 months is a sensitive, creative, intelligent and very communicative child. After a few months coming to the play group he got irascible. Even when his emotions were validated and he was offered a respectful and firm limit, he was very upset most of the play time and he tended to insult verbally, to hit and pull from the hair. In the last month his father, Gabriel, decided to come himself (instead of the mother) to be with him during the play group and he constantly looked at his child as if his eyes were an effective way to have Martin´s behavior “under control”.

Martin has been able to “behave” ever since. But eventually his inner impulsive urges would manifest. Being very conscious he was “doing the wrong thing”, he would immediately turn round and look for his father´s eyes with a worried, tense face.

I felt quite uncomfortable about this. I wondered…

Was his father´s presence  a positive support for Martin? Doing so, would his father help him know that he loves him, that he will accompany him while growing, showing him the correct path to go? Would Martin “internalize” his father and find him to be his inner guide while growing up?

Or was he overexposed and misunderstood, considered as rude and bad-mannered and admonished for what he said and did, when what he actually needed was a basic trust on who he is and what he is struggling with?

And in the end, who was I to judge? Should I try to help? Or should I just accept, honor and respect?…

I talked to the father two weeks ago. I told him what I observed about Martin. I suggested him to trust his child and let go, avoiding to set unnecessary pressure on him.

Last week the father took a sit with the other parents and chit chatted with them while Martin played. With his father out of sight, he quickly picked up his lost time: he pulled a friend´s hair; he pushed, hit and grabbed toys from other children. He was being himself and continued his social skills development from where he had left it.

Misbehavior was back. But there was a difference. In the room his father had really changed his message: he was supporting and trusting him. Now, when firm and calm limits are set Martin is able to accept them and move forward into play. True Martin is back and I cherish that.

With my hand on my heart: where are you taking me, dear Education?

julia margaret cameron niñaI visited my friend and colleague Alejandra last Thursday morning.

Sane people would have taken around 5 hours to process the enormous amount of information we exchanged. But we both work in education, so we pushed contents forward and fit the whole thing into intense 90 minutes, before the bell rang.

Time and again I directed the conversation towards free education. I can´t help it. Since I have memory I feel an urge for change. For transformation. I can almost visualize the image of a renewed humanity born from the re-education of adults learning to allow the self-education of infants. As if a revolutionary spirit would revolve within my self, frustrated and satisfied concurrently… Much has been seen and said, but I sense much more has to be done yet!

It would be easier not to feel like this, but I do.

Then I came back home to pick up my husband and our youngest child. We needed to drive him to a health center. He got bitten by a cat, which is stuff for another post to warn you why you should not allow your child to caress stranger cats. But that would drive me off the story and since our boy is ok there´s nothing to really worry about.

So, now we are in the car and Ricardo asks me how did the visit to my friend go.

– You can´t imagine!… She has been working in public infant education for 25 years. She tells me… the little ones, from 1 and 2 years old are asked to sit at the table with their hands held in their backs, while teachers place the materials to “work” with in front of them – I can almost see the image I am describing; innocent children handcuffed in the back in some kind of concentration camp camouflaged by good intentions. The one who moves hands, is the bad guy, the one that misbehaves. They are so automated that by K5 they do it by themselves, she says…  no one has to tell them.

I sense within an emerging indignation that ignites while I speak… Is perchance a sin to move little hands around? This is so far from what I dream infant education to be… I am outraged and my disapproval is evidently expressed in the pitch of every word I say. 

PGP%20EPS%20100

Unexpectedly, from the rear of the car reaches us the soft voice of our 5 years old boy:

– Yeah mom, but it is not as bad, you know?

– Do YOU have to put your hands in the back when you sit at the table at school???

– Yes, but I don’t mind, he wisely answers. It is just like keeping them still on your lap.

Our little boy is far from being automated, flattened by education, destroyed in his uniqueness… He is far, far from that. He is one of the most self-determined people I know, if not the most one. But he knows how to lay his hands on his back without further psychic damage.

Then I ask myself. I ask my self. I ask myself.

Am I exaggerating?

I would like to end this post with this question. Right here.

But I can´t.

I am not pretending you to give me an answer…  if I do exaggerate, if I don´t… I am not expecting anything from you (even though I would definitely appreciate your comments).

I want to throw this question within, let it resound and observe wherefrom its echoes resurge.

Am I exaggerating with my vision of actual education? I ask my self and wait…

julia-margaret-cameron2

I am what I am, I am not going to tell little children to lay their hands on their backs. But I believe I can give me the chance to lower my hypersensitivity and look at formal education with better eyes.

The Education… I imagine her as a distinguished lady, standing in front of me, no age or time yet as old as humanity itself. I look at her in the eyes and new words surge from my lips…

– Education, until today I was bound to you by my anger, my desire for you to be different. Now I see you and accept you as you are…   I take what you have for me and that is enough… I wasn´t able to acknowledge you before. I apologize for that… And I thank you.

She is standing there, calmly looking at me. She smiles, in glowing eyes.

I feel the desire to go closer. We hug.

Me from underneath her arms, she embraces me over my shoulders: I feel her generous hands surrounding my back.

I feel sheltered, I am a little one.

I am free.

Thereby, fueled by a new inner force I turn and look into the future, towards my own destiny.

If there is to be the revolution, so be it.

After the Manner of Perugino_Cameron

Photos by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879).