Updated: Aug 25, 2019
By Aminah Abdul Latif
As soon as I became a homeschooling mum, I started to conscientiously think of strategies to foster all areas of my child’s development: physical, cognitive, emotional and social. Even so, it took me close to a year to realise that the area of emotional development was not receiving as much attention as it deserved.
The realisation only hit me when my four-year-old nephew reached out to his mum, my sister. He said, “Why are you crying, Mum?” My sister, who was then living in Cairo, had a friend who had returned to America. She replied, “I miss my friend. I feel lonely here.” My nephew hugged her and said, “I’m here, Mum. You have me.” I was amazed by his ability to acknowledge his mother’s feelings, empathise with her and deliver a comforting response. This inspired me to find ways to nurture my son to be a caring and empathic individual.
IMAGE OF THE CHILD
I started observing how my sister facilitated her children as they communicated their feelings and thoughts. I also reflected on the way she spoke respectfully with and about children, demonstrating that she perceived children as competent individuals. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, mentions that, “Our image of the child inside us orients us towards the way we approach and interact with the child.” This may be the reason some adults respond to children’s requests with annoyance: “What is it now?” or “What else do you want?”
It is only when we acknowledge that children deserve to be respected as competent beings that we are ready to listen to them actively and guide them as they develop skills to express their feelings and needs. Immanuel Kant, the great German ethical philosopher, believes that “The more magic gift is not love but respect...To respect a person is to treat them as beings who are morally self-determining.”
A couple of months ago, my three-year-old son, Umar, was approached by a thirteen-year-old boy, Hassan, at the basketball court. Hassan invited Umar to play with him as he offered my son a soccer ball. Now, Umar usually takes a while to warm up to somebody new, so it was no surprise that he ignored him. I was anxious that Hassan would give up and return to his teenage friends. Hassan persevered. He spoke calmly, allowing Umar to process and consider the invitation. Then he smiled and walked away, giving Umar time and space to think. I knew from the smile, he would come back. He approached Umar a couple more times, each time moving away to give Umar time to process.
While Hassan was away, I asked Umar, “Are you feeling shy?” Umar gave a tiny smile. “That’s alright,” I told him. “I think he was being kind. I’m sure he’ll be very happy if you play with him.” Umar remained quiet. I knew he was taking in everything that was going on. Much to my delight, Hassan walked up to Umar again and offered to play with him. This time, Umar’s face lit up and both of them played together merrily.
Later at home, Umar said, “I was feeling shy. But Hassan was kind. I want to play with him again.” From the beaming smile on his face, I could tell that he was proud of his interaction with Hassan. I replied, “I thought that was really brave and kind of you to play with Hassan.” That encounter showed me that children are capable of recognising emotion and showing empathy. A little time, a little space and a little hand-holding from an adult (or an older playmate) is all that it takes.
After this experience, we regularly speak with Umar about how he feels when someone approaches him. We have avoided using the word ‘shy’ because we do not want to label him. Instead, we tell him we understand his need to take some time to warm up to someone new. Umar has shared with us, “Maybe I will say ‘hi’ when I’m older.” He probably believes his confidence level will increase as he grows older. We shall take that as a good indication of self-awareness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aminah Abdul Latif worked in the preschool industry for ten amazing, enriching and emotional years - seven years as a preschool teacher, two as a principal and one as a supervisor. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Early Childhood Education as well as a Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Leadership. Aminah is thankful that she has been given the opportunity to spend her days (and nights) with her two lovely boys aged 3 years old and 3 months old. She is homeschooling her elder son, Umar. It keeps her passion burning and helps her stay in touch with her knowledge and experiences in Early Childhood.