Volume: 8, Issue: 2

15/12/2016

Respect for the child
Шустова И.Ю. [about] , Шустова Дарья [about]

KEYWORDS: child’s personality, respect, development, social education, child-adult unity.

ABSTRACT: This paper is about the need for Korczak who defines social education from the point of view of the child. This definition is based on the right of the child to a serious attitude to himself or herself, the right to trust and respect. This paper is an attempt to reveal the role of the family in the child’s upbringing in accordance with Korczak’s ideas. The kind of respect that adults should pay to children is understood as trust in their ability to act independently and purposefully. The paper emphasizes the support of the child-adult unity where children acquire universal human values and strengthen their personalities. The paper contains many children’s statements as well as an interview with the author’s daughter who, after reading the book King Matt the First, wrote her own version of the Children’s Manifesto.


Let him eagerly drink in the joy of the morning and look ahead with confidence.

Janusz Korczak

I am very excited to write this paper. It is practically about the key things I have understood in my life, and I want to share them with the reader. Children come to teach us feel and understand this world, see its colors, be surprised with tiny details, believe in miracles, be happy and joyful in the present - just for fun!

I am writing this as a mother of three children, and I am using my thoughts and records made within all the years of my maturity and development. Now I understand that in bringing up a child we need to trust and respect him or her as a unique personality (practically, since the very birth), support the child’s independent attempts and aspirations, the wish to understand, try, manage, create, and think. The image of such upbringing is wonderfully presented in Janusz Korczak’s works. One of Korczak’s key ideas is that children have the right to be treated seriously, the right to trust and respect.

How do we understand respect? Respect is one human being’s attitude towards another, the recognition of one’s merits and accomplishments. It is the ability to value people and to take seriously their abilities, aspirations, and personal viewpoints. In terms of morality, the society’s respect implies justice, equal rights, respect to another person’s interests and convictions.

Most often respect is expected in the world of adults, coming from children to adults and elders. How can we understand respect of an adult to a child? I guess it’s the same. Respect expressed to the child is a conscious attitude of any adult (parent, mentor, teacher, etc.) to the child, recognition of the child’s personal merits, importance of the child’s inner world and personal concerns, wishes, aspirations, actions, and errors. It is the ability to understand and feel the child’s mood and emotions, fears and failures. Adult’s respect to the child implies more trust to the child, faith in the child’s ability to act independently and purposefully.

Thus, adults need to take an additional effort: to observe, understand, slow down, wait, be patient, and let the child try and learn by himself or herself. This is hard, because we want to receive immediate results, so it is easier to do something ourselves, be faster and more efficient than the child – to say, feed, dress, clean, etc. Respect is patience and ability not to insult the child with our distrust, ability to respect the child’s effort and attempts, it is our wish to understand, take interest in the child, it is the ability to be a friend and an equal partner in joint actions, in joys and sorrows.

The child lives in the present. Children are really concerned about what is going on here and now. And it is important for us to support children’s emotions in such situations. Tomorrow the child will find all this to be irrelevant, there will be a different situation and different emotions. Korczak wrote wonderful words about this:

“Respect for the present moment, for today. How will he manage tomorrow, if we do not allow him a conscious, responsible life today… Respect for every single instant, for it passes never to return, and always take it seriously; … life is a procession of dying and reborn moments. A year is no more than an attempt to understand eternity for everyday use. An instant is but the duration of a smile or a sigh… Unintelligently we divide years into less or more mature ones. There is no such thing as present immaturity, no hierarchy of age, no higher and lower grades of pain and joy, hopes and disappointments… Repudiation in the interests of tomorrow? What sort of an idea is that?” (2, p. 17).

Children need our trust and respect today; they want to be independent and expect to be treated seriously. These are just some of children’s statements to prove this point:

  • Mom, I have three requests to you: never be cross with me; let me always take my things; and let us find Dad.
  • I’m not empty-headed, and I know what to do.
  • Mom, why should I obey you?
  • Now, Dad has come. So for three days he will be teaching me life.
  • Children may not always be held responsible for their actions, so they need to be forgiven.
  • I have my own opinion.
  • Dad, your talks about flogging are insulting to me.
  • Everyone is teaching me! It’s awful!
  • I don’t want to admit my mistakes!

And this is the cry of indignation. Meet Dasha. She is 7. This is her written message to me, her mom: “I am a personality, named Dasha! Iam calling on Inna Yuryevna. Mom! Wake up! I am sick and tired that you and Dad are always making decisions for me! D[asha]Shust[ova].

Revealing trust and respect to a child creates a special nature of mutually enriching relationships, the child-adult unity. When it is interesting and exciting for a child to be next to an adult, the child is not afraid to try something new, to act and even risk, exploring his or her abilities. And the adult finds it amazing to observe the child’s rapid growth and development, and to become part of it, being on the same wave with bright and exciting thoughts and feelings of childhood. The child reinvents the mystery of childhood, the discovery of the world and its laws.

Here are these happy moments described by Korczak:

“Either the adult’s life is a supplement to the child’s life or the child’s life is a supplement to the adult’s life. Will this happy moment come when we, both adults and children, begin to treat each other with equal trust and respect?” (1, p. 24).

Family is the key child-adult unity with the most comfortable environment for the child’s inner world. Here the child acquires universal human values and meanings, shapes attitude to himself or herself, and other people, and develops ideas about the world, life, and death. It is here where the child develops and strengthens character, individuality, and talents.

We, parents, must understand and value the developing child-adult unity. This unity is born in mutual emotional experiences, shared interests and activities, in an open, deep, and equal conversation about life. It is here where the adult and child may be equal in their rights to discuss ideas, discuss and argue asserting their viewpoints. This fellowship has a great value both for children and adults. Children need it to understand and explore the world where they live, to find consistent and important points, to understand and feel themselves. Adults need this fellowship to recall some truths which they have already forgotten but what makes the meaning of their life – to live full life in the true meaning of this word, to be open, spontaneous and live. Children are often closer to the truth, more accurate and prompt in explaining their thoughts, and more specific in what they expect from life.

I am offering an example to illustrate the abovementioned ideas. Having read King Matt the First (together with me), my daughter Dasha (7 years old) decided to write the Children’s Manifest.

THE CHILDREN’S MANIFEST

Dear adults! I want children to have more rights, to be more independent of adults, and to be as much of personalities as you are.

The child is a PERSONALITY!!!

The child can be independent!

The child is a human being, is proud, and has self-respect!

Children live in the present, not in the future; it is important that everything should be fine now!

Children must not be deprived of the right to speak out!

Children’s willpower must not be suppressed by adults’ instructions!

Children must not be shrieked at!

If children have been asked to do something, adults must not do it instead of them!

Adults must not take children’s things without children’s permission!

The child must go to school and do homework.

The child is able to make friends and understand others.

Children are able to do anything if they like it and find it interesting.

Children have their own secrets.

Children suffer a lot without affection, children should be pampered so that they may feel loved rather than be angry.

Dasha’s ideas evoke surprise and great respect. This is her standpoint. I felt it was important to support this initiative, to discuss the ideas together and to understand what was behind these slogans. We role-played an interview in which Dasha was the author who tried to express and assert her standpoint.

- Dasha, may I ask you some questions about your Manifest?

- Yes, you may.

- How did you get the idea to write the Manifest?

- We are just reading “King Matt the First” by Janusz Korczak. The book contains Matt’s thoughts about children’s rights. I thought that I needed to write a manifest that would record children’s rights relating to what children can and may do on their own. Besides, I do not always like how parents treat me, so I’ve written the Manifest to tell adults that we, children, also have rights.

- What does the Manifest mean to you?

- This is my call for a better treatment of children! It is like an address and an appeal! It is addressed to both children and adults! I ask adults not to suppress the child’s personality, to give children freedom. It often happens that adults do not grant freedom to children; children are told what to do and how to do it; children are always corrected and not allowed to make their own decisions; adults always interfere with children’s affairs.

Children must understand that they are not forgotten, and they are also personalities. Having read the Manifest, children will have more opportunities to express themselves and to assert their standpoints. Some children may start offering advice to adults and come to the same level with them. I would like children to unite in order to defend their freedom, but I’m afraid this is impossible.

- Why should children unite?

- For example, if some adults are not affected by the Manifest, they will treat children even worse. If children unite, they and adults may support and protect the suffering child. Moreover, children love to make friends and to be together – it is interesting and fun to be together!

- Do you think children and adults could be friends?

- This is possible if adults try to understand children and treat them as personalities although just not fully mature personalities.

- What is the way to treat the child?

- With respect! Do not shout at the child. You should talk things over with the child, and both parties should feel equal.

- What is the difference between children and adults?

- Children feel joyful more often than adults. Children are carefree. Children live in the present; it is interesting for them to live at the present moment. Children are able to be friends. It is important for children to have brains to be able to think.

- Dasha, what does to live mean to you?

- To live in order to be useful to the world. To live means that our planet may prosper and give joy to all.

- If one lives only in the present, how can one think about the world prosperity?

- The child cannot live only in the present – he/she also thinks about the future and the past. The child asks questions like who you are and what you have done for the world. I am thinking about what I will be when I grow up.

- How do thoughts about the future come to your mind?

- Well, let’s say, I’ve done something, and then I start thinking: what’s next. Or I went to a musical school to learn to play the violin, so I’ve secured concert and joy in the future. With the help of the violin I began to understand that the world is not exactly what you want it to be. The real world implies that children have obligations. Children must go to school in order to get knowledge. They get knowledge in order to think, live, and go to college.

- What should the 21st century individual be like?

- The 21st century is the era of great discoveries. Every individual should be skilled in computers and technologies. He/she must not lag behind his/her time. The 21st century individual needs to read more in order to learn new things and to contribute discoveries to the world.

- Dasha, in your Manifest you say, “Children must not be deprived of the right to speak out!” What do you mean?

- Well, for example, a child is talking to mom and maybe telling her a rhyme. Suddenly Dad comes in and starts speaking to mom. No one is listening to the child, and this is offending. That is why, dear adults, I beg you, when you come into the room, and the child is saying something, don’t interrupt the child! Because this is very insulting; and the child feels bad. By neglecting the child’s words you offend us greatly. The child may have his or her own opinion, see the point and be willing to speak up. Do not deprive the child of the right to speak out! Please, try to understand it!

- How do you understand a child’s independence?

- A child’s independence is in being allowed to do what he or she is able to do. Adults often say, “You will not be able to do this”, but the child can already do it. If adults nevertheless do not let the child do it, it means that you don’t let the child be a free individual. But when a three-year-old child says, “Let me go out on my own,” and adults do not allow, this prohibition is fair and does not mean suppressing the child. Growing up means more freedoms when the child decides what to do and how to behave. Independence implies that the child does what he or she wants and is able to do, and the child feels interested and comfortable.

For example, I remember I couldn’t play the violin. Then, when I began learning to play it, I understood that I could and wanted to do it. I still like it although no one is happy with my play, and sometimes it is rather hard to make myself practice. Besides, I want to get excellent grades in school, and I am able to get them. However, I’m not always in the mood and it requires effort.

- Would you say that all children are personalities or only some children are?

- Each child is a personality, and each child has a character. The personality is revealed in what the child does independently. Not just what I want but what I am able and want to do. It may happen that a child does not know about something, and so does not want to do it. Only after trying the child may get the desire to do it and understand himself or herself.

- How does the personality develop?

- The personality develops in any activity when the child attends different extracurricular classes. It happens even during school classes, and even while doing boring homework. The personality develops when the child likes and is able to do something. By the way, the child may not necessarily tell this to adults.

- How does your personality develop?

- My personality develops when I play the violin or piano; it develops in school, when I draw or mountain ski. Because I already can do more than I used to. When I mountain ski, I develop courage; but I love to mountain ski, so I am already not afraid, and I can ski better and from higher slopes. The personality also develops into patience and ability to make friends. It develops in all people’s qualities, even in eyesight, in ability to see farther. Besides, the personality develops in the skill to speak and think beautifully and correctly.

- And the last question. What, in your opinion, is the most important thing in life?

- I can play the violin and, indeed, I can already do a lot. My family is important. It is important that I have my favorite class group (1 “C”), my teacher, my best friend Alyona. I like that I may not be very brave, but I’m trying to be brave. It is important that I actually exist in this world.

Dasha’s answers revel the essential thing, independence, when you do what you want and able to do; the personality develops in activities, etc. Her replies demand respect for her opinion and her personality. Children deserve more respect from us. They understand and feel the key and essential laws of life. Listening to children, asking them for advice, we may preserve more humanity and kindness in our world and, most importantly, help them to gain their freedom and their talents.

Dasha’s replies correlate with many of Janusz Korczak’s thoughts and his vision of children’s rights: the child has the right for respect, the right to live in the present, the right to be taken seriously, the right to have his or her own secrets, the right to protest against injustice.  

It is important to support children and their effort in “the difficult work of growing up”, as Korczak calls it. But we often do just the opposite: we are annoyed with children’s obstinacy, their independence, and with the fact that they are so unlike us. Probably, our shouting reveals our helplessness against children’s obstinacy and their will.

Children are often right in their obstinacy. As a mother and as an adult, I am often struck by children’s logic, their ability to see a situation from a new light, to see other more important things that are really no less important for them than for us.

It is harder for us to deal with an obstinate child. Such a child will be rude and break all ethical norms. It is hard to cope with children’s obstinacy – they just don’t hear you but do what they want. The question arises: “What should be done?” Maybe, we don’t have to fight with the child? Maybe we should direct the child into a more productive route or let the child do what he or she wants – let the child see the results, understand their own mistakes and pay for them? For example, Dasha also had such a period when she was five. She refused point-blank to say, “thank you” or “excuse me”, to return adults’ greetings or answer their questions. I tried to talk to her and even punished her. All was in vain. It just increased her anger. Gradually everything worked out by itself when we stopped focusing our attention on it. She became very polite and civil with others. However, she constantly talks back to her Dad. And the fact, that her Dad cuts her short, just “winds her up” more. She will put out her tongue towards him and mocks him. We have constant quarrels at home. Her Grandpa told Dasha a story about a crossbar, a birch branch across the river. It turned out that she does hear us, but she understands everything in her own way.

In the evening, we were talking on the way to a bus stop.

Dasha: Mom, let me tell you a story about the crossbar. Once there lived a little birch tree. She was always arguing with everyone and was always doing just the opposite. Everyone was angry but she just laughed. It was fun. Soon everyone found out that it was fun, and they began to do everything back to front.

Mom: Dasha, how did they understand each other if they did everything back to front?

Dasha: The little birch tree understood that it was not always fun, and she explained that to others. And then things got right and everybody was happy.

At this age children understand very well what adults expect of them. But children cannot always cope with their behavior and their obstinacy. Let us look for resources together. Dasha gradually realized how she could tune herself to work, how to reflect on her own behavior, how to control herself, and achieve good results.

“Obstinacy is good; it means revealing one’s character and developing one’s personality,” her mother says to herself and remains patient, explains, discusses, and analyzes various situations with her child, turns them into a game and allows the child to “have a bump on her own head”. This is Dasha’s life, her experience, and her obstinacy – and it must be respected. It is more terrifying if the adult (being stronger and having authority) will suppress or crush the child’s willpower with a punishment. It is terrifying to kill the child’s self-confidence and faith in being right. Children are sure to grow and learn to make their own decision, build their own lives without orders or control.

Obstinacy most often starts when adults begin to raise their voices, dictate their will and teach children. But there is a different way – through respect, conversation, jokes, and mutual agreement – considering the fact that children are perfectly aware of what they need to do. But the second way takes more time and effort.

Childhood is a special world with its own laws; and this world is full of amazing discoveries. This is the World of the present! Yes, of course, children are selfish and obstinate, but this is a necessary resource for their growth and discovery of their own personality. They have a great will to be themselves, to assert their freedom and independence, their wishes and interests. This may probably constitute the strength of life – aspiration to be, live, wish, assert, and create. With time all this may be polished into cultural forms. It is important not to lose this aspiration, this free initiative and these impulses because the individual and his/her creativity begin to fade without them.

Finally, according to Korczak, and it is my deep personal conviction as well, children are poets and philosophers, and it is necessary to preserve these vital abilities both in children and in ourselves.

Korczak wrote:

“A poet is a man who is very happy and very sad, who angers easily and loves deeply – a person who feels strongly, gets very emotional and feels compassion. And such are children. And a philosopher is a man who thinks a lot and definitely wants to know how things really are. And again – such are children. Children find it hard to say what they feel and what they are thinking, because speech requires words. And it is even more difficult for them to write it down. But in truth, children are poets and philosophers” (2, p. 267).

In support of this, I’m going to quote children:

When I eat bitter things, I am a highlander [Translator’s remark: in Russian the words “gorkoe” (bitter) and “gorets” (highlander) sound bitter]; when I eat sweet things, I am a sweeter; when I eat sour things, I am a sourer. 

Mom, the streetcar sings chastushkas [two-or four-line humorous ditties] – just listen to the tune.

There are three kind individuals inside me: old man Hey, a little elephant, and a forest spirit. There are also three evil beings inside me. But the good will certainly defeats the evil ones.

This is a camel, he is thinking about a swamp and a river, and he dreams of being a water spirit.

The crocodile is made of a sunset. He lives in the sky and dreams of going down to the earth. First he is yellow, then he turns blue and green; and later he turns into the night and becomes black.

I wish stars had different colors. Then it would be more beautiful.

Everything sings in the world.

Pine trees are sweeping the sky.

Russians don’t weep!

I believe every human being consists of two selves – good and evil. They are constantly fighting. I am the boss, I am the best, I! I! I! - cries the evil one. This one is called Yakolka [the selfish I]. And the good one can think, feel, understand, and rejoice over achievements of others. This one is called Mykolka [the We-being].

Only children may feel the world and themselves in this way. And we, adults, should realize this and find children in ourselves. And, of course, respect the Child, protect children, support them in their work of growing up, trust their talents and value each moment spent with them, each step and an independent thought.

When the interview was over, Dasha added,

“I have forgotten to say the most important thing. Dear adults! Please, remember that children bring more colors and joy into your life. And they may sometimes teach you something that you are not able to do”.


References

1.    Demakova I.D., Janusz Korczak: zhivaya pedagogika izmenyayushchegosya mira [Janusz Korczak: live pedagogy of the changing world]. Moscow: ANO «TSNPRO», 2013.

2.    Korczak Ja. Kak lyubit' rebenka: Kniga o vospitanii [How to love a child: A Book on education]. Moscow: Politizdat, 1990

3.    Korczak Ja. Korol' Matiush [King Macius]. Moscow: AVLAD, 1993

4.    Shustova I.Yu. Situativnaya pedagogika, ili Deti zhivut nastoyashchim  [Situational pedagogy, or Children live in the present]// Narodnoe obrazovanie, 2014, 1, 228 - 234.

5.    Shustova, D. Moia kniga [My book]. Ulyanovsk, 2012.

1 Shustova, Inna Yuryevna [In Russian: Шустова Инна Юрьевна], PhD, leading researcher of the Strategy and Theory of Personality Social Education Center, Strategy of the Education Development Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia; Shustova, Daria [In Russian: Шустова Дарья], a daughter and a coauthor, at the moment of writing her Manifest she was a first grader, School-gymnasium #1, Ulyanovsk. 

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