A Child’s Bill of Rights: To Feel What They Feel

I’m in a local Reggio Emilia Study group! How amazing is that!? The chair person, Kathy, asked if I would write a story I shared with the group for the next Rochester AEYC newsletter.  I was honored, and it was so much fun to write! Here’s what I wrote:

A Child’s Bill of Rights: To Feel What They Feel
By Corinna Lake

It happens every day. You’ve seen it happen or it’s happened to you: A screaming disruptive child in a public place. If it happened to you, you probably started to feel your ears get hot and heartbeat speed up. If you were the lucky person an ear shot away, you began to think-or should I say judge-, “I wonder why that child is screaming?” “I wonder how the parent will handle it.” “What’s their home life like?” “How do they discipline or bring up this child?” If you weren’t actually thinking that as the stranger watching the scene, let me share a little secret: The parent was thinking about you thinking that! Weird, right? Or do you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about?

This has happened to me numerous times, but one time stands out more than the rest. My family and I were in a busy, and rather loud restaurant. My three-year-old daughter kept telling us it was too loud from the start. But we really wanted to eat there and my husband and I thought we could find a “quieter” area or corner. We placed our order and as we waited for our food, my daughter lost her patience. She started to cry and scream, “IT’S TOO LOUD!!” My husband whisked her up in his arms to carry her outside. I could feel the glares from those around us begin to pierce my face. My 8-month-old baby in my lap began to cry as a result of the chaos. When I turned to stand up, my elbow knocked a glass bottle of baby food- CRASH- onto the floor. Now the spotlight has turned on me. . . .

As a previous classroom teacher and tutor, I am passionate about children, their growth, and their development. I have a deep passion for the Reggio Emilia Approach and as soon as I discovered a local Reggio Emilia Study Group, I joined in! Learning more about the Reggio approach has made me a better parent. Recently, our study group has been discussing The Image of the Child, a key facet of the Reggio approach. More specifically, we discussed Children’s Rights: Do children have rights? If so, what would they be?

Let’s take a look at some quotes from The Hundred Languages of Children (1998):
“The child is understood to have rights to ‘civility’, ‘civilization,’ and ‘civic conscience.’”

p. 8, Edwards, Gandini & Forman.

“If the children had legitimate rights, then they also should have opportunities to develop their intelligence and to be made ready for the success that would not, and should not, escape them. These were the parents’ thoughts, expressing a universal aspiration, a declaration against the betrayal of children’s potential, and a warning that children first of all had to be taken seriously and believed in.” p. 58, Loris Malaguzzi discussing the beginnings of his school in Reggio Emilia.

“This approach requests that adults- both teachers and parents- offer themselves as resource people to whom the children can (and want to) turn. The task of these resource people is not simply to satisfy needs or answer questions, but instead to help children discover their own answers and, more importantly still, to help them ask themselves good questions.” Rinaldi, p. 115.

 

“One point among many appears to us fundamental and basic: the image of the child. The cornerstone of our experience, based on practice, theory, and research, is the image of the child as rich in resources, strong, and competent. The emphasis is placed on seeing the children as unique individuals with rights rather than simply needs. They have potential, plasticity, openness, the desire to grow, curiosity, a sense of wonder, and the desire to relate to other people and to communicate.” Rinaldi, p. 114.

Expressive Beginnings Child Care at Toddler’s Workshop & Railroad Junction created their own The Rights of Children for their center and community based on these beliefs. One of the rights of children they came up with is To Feel What They Feel. Let that sink in. Do children have the right to feel what they feel in certain situations or ALL situations? Do WE ourselves, as adults, have the right to feel what we feel in certain situations or ALL situations?

I can tell you that in my restaurant scene, I was on the verge of tears myself, but I took a deep breath, looked up at an older woman staring at me, smiled and said, “It’s just one of those days.” I let someone know about the spill and I sped-walked outside in search of my husband and daughter. On a bench outside, I saw my husband hugging my daughter and rocking her in his arms. The restaurant was kind enough to deliver our food to another area that was MUCH quieter. I saw my three-year-old daughter wipe the tears from her eyes and begin to eat. She said, “This is much better, Mama.”

We are constantly increasing our knowledge about children and their development every day. I, for one, am learning more and more about my children’s sensory needs, or I should say ‘sensory rights.’ This moment at the restaurant came up at our Reggio Study Group meeting when we began to discuss the Rights of Children. I feel compelled to share my story, and relate it to the right for children to feel what they feel, so that we as parents, teachers, caregivers, and adults in the lives of young children can become more responsive to their needs. So many times we expect children to behave as little adults, especially in public, but they’re not little adults. They are children trying to figure out this big world in which we live. They are children with needs, and I challenge you to see these needs as rights. How does this shift in thinking change your relationship with children? How does thinking about children’s needs as rights change how you respond to children? I truly believe the possibilities are endless when children feel listened to, respected, and most of all, loved.

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