Trust is perhaps the most important condition to find our bearing in the world at all. That applies with regard to children but also our everyday practical life — and it does so to a far greater extent than its opposite, control.
— Henning Kullak-Ublick (2019)
I have felt unable to write as of late due to a scarcity of freedom. Words must out however, in spite of circumstances. What follows will be lament, not shout; what follows will be an invocation, and solutions for those with the ability to hear. The issue at hand is the trust of- and communication with- children and, by extension, comprehension of them as competent, inquisitive, loving, questioning, exploring, experimenting, bright and beautiful people. We, adults, do not or should not hold all the cards: we are not, cannot and should not be, the arbiters of all knowledge or action.
Relationships of positive regard are essential: such connections are two-way conduits, channelling all manner of mutual understandings, previous play interactions, situations and locations, feelings and thoughts which may not even be fully formable in anything other than internalised shapes. Where arboreal, high up to low down, power dynamics overwhelm the potential of the system, all of this possibility is destroyed. The deceit of the order of control is in its promise of security, but how can there be security where there is no trust? So it is with us: we could relate with positive regard, be trusted, but we must also trust. Children deserve this, at the very least.
What is it that can be said, or could be said, or what could be explored and where and why, and how far is too far, how high too high? Children know these things. What look or gesture or expression of what it is to be this person, now, with this other, might be right or possible, or experimentable? Children know this too. The opposite of all of this is children walking quietly, not thoughtfully, but unthought-unfully, or filled with a fear or trepidation. I have seen children walking as if on eggshells because of a lack of trust, because of the arboreal presence of adults.
. . . the existence of his society . . . depend[s] on the continuance of a fundamental, unadmitted profit-contract. Not a relationship of mutual aid and solidarity, but an exploitative relationship; not organic, but mechanical. Can true function arise from basic dysfunction?
— Ursula Le Guin (1974, 2002)
Down, down, at the level of the ground, or at the level of the children, the world can look very different: firstly, everything might be softer there (whispers, gifts of daisies, laughter, blossom falling from a tree). It always helps to see eye to eye with those we’re in communication with. We forget that trees grow outwards too: at the levels of our sights and underneath our feet. Here is the favoured analogy: we are rhizomatic, root-like, reaching out to one another, or we can be, irrespective of our nominal ages. The arboreal verticality of power need not be.
Children learn to compensate for the deficiencies of their lives (deficiencies such as a lack of a say, perhaps), but these compensations can be inauthentic strategies: I was told recently, by a nine year old I know well, that the reason she affects a sudden mood swing sometimes is so that then, she ‘wins’. There is a degree of lament in this alone. I said, but sadly, that it wasn’t all about this winning and losing, rather it was or should be all about a communicating. We walked and she shrugged. We talked of other things.
[Neuropsychologist, A. K. Benjamin] argues that patient sensitivities are overlooked by health professionals. The way first consultations are conducted is, he says, ‘hugely important in setting a tone and raising awareness’. In his opinion most doctors are terrible at it, because they’re too intent on establishing their authority rather than assessing the patient’s psychological or emotional needs.
— Andrew Anthony (2019)
What say children truly have is not even debatable. Opinion and need might not always be actionable but they should always be actually listened to. We, adults, must desist with the persistent desire to be solely important. The quality of the communication is in the way and the where and the why it is said, amongst other delicacies, and children can say some beautiful things, sometimes without the use of words. We just have to know how to listen.
There are many, many tales I could tell here, because they fizz. I won’t, right now, because I’m keeping them safe, in a box with a lid, which I’ve just construed, here on my desk.
Do we enable children to ‘live in our souls’ without reservation or do we let them down in their trust through our behaviour and force them to withdraw into themselves at much too early a stage?
— Henning Kullak-Ublick (2019)
Each of us, adults, must bear the responsibilities of our actions, though we may tell children this and not practice what we preach. In truth, our communications and behaviours are both instant fires and slow-burns in children’s minds: I see this in their actions, in response, and I hear this in their words. It trickles underneath. Children’s resilience is, often, in spite of adults, not because of any of their teachings, necessarily. Our communications and behaviours, adults, still trickle underneath.
It is of all the greater benefit for the child the more they can live not in their soul but in the soul of the surroundings, in the souls of the surroundings.
— Rudolf Steiner, quoted by Kullak-Ublick (2019)
We must trust so that they might find.
[A] security for [a child’s] soul [is] through attachment and a relationship in which we take the time really to see the children, listen to them, tell them stories, laugh with them, love them as part of our life in a very practical and reliable way.
— Henning Kullak-Ublick (2019)
How is it that we might be: in ourselves and in our reciprocalities?
Anthony, A. (2019), Tales of unravelling minds: a neuropsychologist’s darkest days. The Guardian [online]. Available from:
www.theguardian.com/global/2019/feb/10/tales-of-unravelling-minds-a-neuropsychologists-darkest-days-ak-benjamin (Accessed April 23, 2019)
Kullak-Ublick, H. (2019), Trust — the miracle of being human. Erziehungskunst: Waldorf Education Today [online]. Available from:
www.erziehungskunst.de/en/article/trust/trust-the-miracle-of-being-human (Accessed April 23, 2019)
Le Guin, U. (2002), The dispossessed (first published 1974), p.99. London: Gollancz