I profile children. I don’t mean to. I wish I didn’t. But I don’t know how to stop myself.. I see children exhibiting behaviors or symptoms or characteristics and, chances are, after 30 years of working with children, that I’ve seen those same traits and they usually accompany other traits that always seem to cluster together.
For instance, the child with eczema can’t focus. The child with puffy dark circles under his eyes is a delayed talker. The child who talks nonstop has educated working parents who have believed in “stimulating” him all along. He is a child who knows he can get attentions from his parents by saying intelligent things and asking questions.
Some children come into my class having lost all sense of agency. I put food down in front of them and they keep their hands at their sides but open their mouths ready for someone to shovel it in. They may sit on the bench when I’m helping them change into the cloth underwear we wear in our toddler class and instead of trying to put the pants on, they just look at me and lift their foot. I tell them “you’re going to need hands” and they stare at me blankly and lift their foot higher.
When I see a child who’s lost agency , I always wonder if she had so much done for him and has been given so little opportunity to do for herself that she has developed her self image as someone who doesn’t “do” so much as someone who is “done to.” She doesn’t even try anymore. She just waits for someone to pick her up and plop her down where she’s supposed to be next. She waits for the food that is put on a tray in front of her or spooned into her mouth. She is changed, bathed and fed like a baby doll and that is how she views herself. Often she is an extremely delayed taker. And often that is just what the parents wanted in their lives – a living baby doll.
Yet, sometimes, if I work long and hard for months and years sometimes I can get parents to change how they think and to build a new relationship with this child. Certainly it helps that it is clear from the get-go that we expect her to use her own agency to function in our toddler community. And so, occasionally, the will that wasn’t allowed to have voice is discovered and, sometimes overnight, we see agency. We see will. We see a walking talking human with a voice and opinions and skills and preferences. It’s a beautiful thing! And yet, the will displays confusion. The will displays anger. The will tests, for the first time, to see what the limits are. But this may be two years after other children are learning about limits, boundaries and self control. So, again, this child is behind.
So consider this. If you love to have a living baby doll. If you hate to see your child struggle. If you’d rather not see your child frustrated so you do it yourself, please be aware of what could result and the self image your child may create.