Do We Really Trust Children?

Sometimes when I read about or observe other methods within early childhood education, I wonder what their image of a child is. If asked, what would they say? Would they have an answer? If I were asked prior to my discovery and development of my own approach, what would I have said? From pre-set curriculum, to assessments and testing, to stoplight and other punishment and reward systems – I can’t help but want to scream.

Children are human! They are not a sub-species. They are not aliens. They are human. Just smaller.

They don’t need to be trained through punishments or rewards. They don’t need to be entertained, distracted or occupied with shiny things. They are just like us expect they have fewer experiences to draw from and a brain that is still developing.

But why then do we treat them so vastly differently than we do adults?

If your sister stubs their toe or gets a paper cut do you say, “Oh, you’re okay, it’s not a big deal.” or do you sympathize with them, “Oh, I hate when that happens!”

If a friend drops their hat do you scold them, “You should’ve known better than to walk around with a hat on with the wind blowing like this. Now you have no hat.” or do you try to chase it down as it blows in the wind?

If your mom doesn’t like fish, do you insist on cooking it for her regardless? Then coerce her to “just try it, you might like it this time.”?

No. We treat adults much differently because we have this false belief that adults and children are vastly different from each other.

The reality is they are not.

We are much more similar than we realize. We both want our feelings acknowledged, our needs met, our problems understood. We both want caring, loving relationships filled with respect and understanding.

We are all human, just in different stages of our lives. It is time to start treating children as they are – capable, whole human-beings.

When interacting with your children, ask yourself, “Would I speak like this to an adult? Would I approach an adult in this manner?” I can promise you you will find that we often speak very differently to children, in a way that would be considered rude or disrespectful when talking to adults.

I also warn you that once your position shifts, you will find it almost unbearable to speak or treat children as “just kids” or hear or watch other adults do the same.

If you follow the Reggio Emilia Inspired approach, you already treat children as capable of directing their own learning. You facilitate them, acting as co-learners. You document and reflect with them and others. You probably are like me and find yourself constantly in awe of just how amazing children are.

Yet so many of us still think children aren’t capable of falling asleep without a hand on their back, eating when they are hungry, recovering from strong emotions, regulating their own peer relationships, or evaluating risk. We still tell them how they should feel (“Oh you don’t have to be sad, you’re okay.”) and what their body need (“You have to eat snack or you’ll be hungry later.”).

We claim that we think children are capable, but do we really demonstrate that image in all areas, or just in the ones that require the least amount of trust?

4 thoughts on “Do We Really Trust Children?

  1. I love your blog posts. I, like you, am intensely self-reflective and question everything. Thank you for putting more of these questions out there. We need people to ask the questions and live into the answers.


    1. Thank you! I agree that questioning ourselves and challenging others to do the same is so needed in our field. I think childcare particular is a field were we tend to get used to doing the same things over and over again, year after year. And I hope to be a wrench in that cycle, and I hope others will be mine!


  2. i agree with most of this except the ability to evaluate risk properly when they are young. Do they really understand at two years old just how dangerous a moving car is and why they shouldn’t walk out into the street. Do they really understand that leaning out or pressing against a screen on a window could result in the screen being forced away and them falling to the ground (if so why are so many small children killed or injured every year in such incidences) I do think that an adult is needed to exercise reasonable boundaries to their exploration. Other than this point i think it is dependent on what risks you are referring to.


    1. Michele,

      What you are describing are not risks but hazards. Those are events that would lead to death or severe injury and ones an adult should help a child navigate and understand. A risk is an event where one evaluates the situation, understand they could get hurt and must decide if they are okay with that. For instance climbing on a tall playground structure, or on a wobbly stack of blocks. They could get hurt – but most likely nothing more than a broken bone at worst.

      Of course, as they start to understand hazards I think we should trust them with looser boundaries. But that will be dependent on the individual child, not necessarily their age.

      Thanks for commenting!


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