A very young child’s responses to the external world

I walk into a crowded room. Looking over his father’s shoulder, a 1-year old notices me, and keeps looking. I return his look as I approach him. I smile. He gives me a small smile. He is not committed to this new friendship yet, although he is clearly courteous. ‘We know each other, don’t we?’ I say to him. In response, he cocks his head, and continues to examine me. This is one very alert child, I think to myself. There are so many children like that, who observe people with interest.

A different manifestation of an alert child is one who observes things. Carried by a parent, such a child will point frequently at something of interest. But, where and how did that very young child learn to point with a forefinger? Such a child seems to be saying ‘Look at that.’ Or, ‘What is it?’ Of course, there is not much scope for observing freely lots of new things in a childcare centre. In a low employment area, however, little children can explore an interesting world in the company of their mothers. Regretfully, I have known too many little children whose mothers have not been available to them to point out all those interesting things; but they would not know what they had been denied.

Yet, I have observed little ones who do not seem to be interested in anything. Yet, such a child could appear healthy and well cared for.

What determines the variations in approach by little children?

A new parent’s experience at school. Part 1

When my Australian children began to attend school, they could read. But they had not been able to get into kindergarten because demand exceeded supply of places. While they missed the socialising available at kinder, they were well prepared by by my wife and I. Purely as an aside, 15 of us parents in our catchment district then undertook a door-knock survey of the expected demand for kinder in the following 5 years. This forced the relevant bureaucrat to get off his perch and solve the problem. That was lesson no. 1 for me.

At the first Annual General Meeting of the Parents & Citizens Association I had ever attended, I asked a question. By the end of the meeting, I found myself a vice-president of the P&C. Lesson no. 2 – keep trap shut at meetings. Because my 5-year old daughter and her classmates had to sit on a cold concrete floor during a very cold winter for some classes (why?), I proposed that the P&C buy little carpet squares to protect little bottoms; whereas the principal wanted the money spent on curtains for the school hall. The parents won. After another similar difference of opinion, I resigned (to work on my thesis). Lesson no. 3 – go with the flow, or get out.

In those days, parents had no status, and no rights. Question a teacher, and be known throughout the school as a difficult or, worse still, an ‘anxious’ parent! At an early stage, my daughter read from a text book that Marco Polo had discovered the Silk Route to China; and that he had travelled in his uncles’ caravan. She pointed out to her teacher that, in the circumstances, the uncles must have known the route. (She did say that her dad had agreed with her.) The teacher agreed with her too. Lesson no. 4 – beware such a perceptive child. But, as a good student, she was popular.

Who cares for the psychological needs of the children?

The ethos of individualism of nations such as Australia may have leached into rights-filled communities, aiding those who are inclined to be whingers. The following story is, I believe, an indication of the partial deterioration of society in modern Australia.

I knew a man who had established 5 businesses. He managed one, and his wife managed another. One day he found himself locked out of his home; and his wife walked away from the business she was managing (so he said to me) . This left him with a huge debt, resulting in him sleeping in his car for a few months.

He was fortunate, his friends thought, that his wife had not taken out an Apprehended Violence Order against him. That seems to be the practice when a wife chooses to be vindictive. There may, of course, be situations warranting such an order. When one of these is delivered at a man’s work, the damage to his reputation can only be guessed at. A magistrate in Australia’s national capital once wrote in that city’s newspaper that he would issue the order when requested; but he could not investigate the need for it.

The man in this story went with the flow (so to speak), which enabled him to collect his children for a day’s outing each Sunday. One Sunday, he was sighted sitting in his car, outside the family home, crying; the children were not allowed out. They were little children. They were the innocent sufferers, perhaps with only one of their parents morally responsible for their unhappiness.

The feminists would no doubt argue that the woman had the right to do what she did. Others might claim that it is better for the children to be denied the father in order to live without turmoil in the home. Why turmoil? Isn’t civilised behaviour appropriate and possible? Or, would that diminish certain adult wants, whatever they might be?

Two serious questions arise: Why not separate sexual freedom from family responsibility? Does the lifestyle wants of an adult always over-ride the psychological needs of children?

Family, society and the State

As a staunch anti-communist (through bitter experience), with the highest security classification available to a federal official in Australia, and as an anti-colonial (from experience again), I do not want the State to tell me how to live my life. I do not also want my politicians and their bureaucrats to intrude their religious prejudices into my freedom. My antecedents did not put up with the shenanigans (antics) of those they referred to as ‘upstarts,’ the British colonial administration, for me to have my life as a free citizen, in an allegedly free country, constrained by those with a sectarian religious bias. And there is plenty of that in public policy, where it shouldn’t be.

Yet, while some of Australia’s key social policies are influenced by the values emanating from Rome, Australian society is being stressed by the breakdown of family; by the re-definition of family; by the expanding dependence on the State (that is, on hard-working taxpayers) by proliferating single-parent families; and by very, very young children (even infants) brought up in institutional child care, thus deprived of the love and guidance that is available only from a mother at that early stage. While a father or a full-time nanny is a reasonable substitute, the issue is simple: in whose body did that baby develop? And do not most mothers yearn to cuddle and caress their babies and little children? This is beautifully brought out in my low-employment district where mothers are seen with their little ones in public.

But then, was not institutional upbringing the norm in communist-controlled nations? There, it was the productivity of the State; here, the wants of adults prevail. In Australia, in spite of the whingers, there is financial security. However, expectations (more likely, demands) over-ride reality; the reality which was experienced by their own parents and their antecedents, and shared with the rest of the world.

‘There is no such thing as society’ is an utterance attributed to Mrs. Thatcher of the UK. Will someone now intone that there is no such thing as family? Read Francis Fukuyama about the deterioration of family in the USA. Since Australia is a reliable follower – from wars, to food, to accents, to foreign policies – why not societal behaviour?