Children are some of the most fascinating beings to inhabit our world, and often, people wonder why we must study their growth and development. Three of the most important reasons that I find to be true have validity in nearly every situation we encounter in modern society. In my experience, because I have a very mild case of cerebral palsy, many children hesitantly approach me and wonder why certain things look the way they do, but I have to keep in mind that children are genuinely curious.
The way that I approach them and quench their curiosity also aids in understanding the development of adolescents and older children as well as geriatric populations and the development of neurological diseases such as dementias.
Children like to have their environment explained. For this reason, I take a look at what they’re looking at. Did Johnny notice my legs first? Did Susie come up to me hesitant to shake my right hand? I start there. I begin the conversation by asking to find out whether or not the child understands that it looks different from his or her hand. Then we talk about the qualities that contribute to its difference. If I’m doing something with my right hand when they see me, I show them how I do the task differently. Depending on age, this almost always leads to “Why?”
Children are some of our planet’s most intuitive creatures. We know that they understand that something isn’t right. Tell them the whole truth. No, I never use terminology such as brain hemorrhage or shunt or hemiplegia. I do tell them, however, that my brain bled a lot when I was born, that I have a tube that helps to get water off my brain, and that one side of my body works better than the other. Later, they’ll be able to piece that together and put it into developmentally appropriate terminology when they hear about it in science classes or read a book about it. And they’ll remember. Aside from that, they will begin their journey to becoming well-rounded, well-respected individuals. Many children become so fascinated with the child or person that is different from them that they befriend them quickly. And that’s just an awesome phenomenon of childhood, if you ask me.
Emotional development is crucial at any age, but it is especially important during “inquisitive” stages. Children are very sensitive little humans. They sense the emotions of their parents and those that surround them, but they are often hypersensitive to somatic pain. They are unsure of how to react in painful situations or situations that may look painful or dangerous, and it’s our job to reassure them that we’re not in pain or danger. “Normal” is simply a relative term. To demonstrate the fact that we live happy, healthy, and productive lives is more crucial to the child’s development than his or her regulation between the fact that sometimes things can be painful and the fact that most often, things are not painful. The way emotions are handled in seemingly painful, dangerous, or other extreme situation helps the child to better understand his or her fears and anxieties regarding people who look or act differently from them.
Next time a child asks a question of you, think about the number of generations and the number of people and professionals you're supporting just by answering the question. Children are most definitely our most efficient trailblazers.
Portions of this post were taken from my personal blog Healthy, Unwealthy, and Becoming Wise.