Marc Armitage - Thought Crime

I made a three-year old laugh today

A genuine, deep-down, fighting for breath belly-laugh.

I made a three-year old laugh today. I was out for my afternoon constitutional close to where I live (that’s a ‘walk’ to you) when I crossed paths with said three-year old and her grandmother. They were coming out from grandma’s house and crossing the footpath to reach the pocket park opposite with the little girl, head down, concentrating on balancing on her scooter.

I have a habit of giving way to children especially when they are so busy that they cannot fully pay attention to what is happening around them so I veered around the youngster and grandma so as not to interfere with their route or the amount of concentration being shown. Unsurprisingly, grandma saw me so said,

“Let’s watch out for this man, shall we?”

Three-year old looked up, eyes almost covered by helmet and tongue sticking out in effort, and said loudly,

“Sorry!”

Clearly the scooter trip to the park had been only one part of the day with grandma because her face had a fair covering of chocolate on it and without really thinking about it I answered her apology by saying,

“That’s ok, chocolate-face.”

That’s when it started. She let out such a belly-laugh that I thought she might wet herself. And it was no contrived, over the top laugh either – it was a genuine, deep-down, fighting for breath belly-laugh. We had just shared a natural, spontaneous moment of no real importance that no doubt in time will be forgotten. But for at least some time to come I could picture this three-year recounting the story among her three-year old friends with a, “And then he said … ‘That’s ok chocolate face!’” and ending with a snort. It was an unpretentious, uncontrived and agendaless moment.

Photo: the scene of the 'chocolate incident' - Darling Square, Melbourne Australia

The true test

One of the true tests of an individual working with children of all ages is in the nature of the interactions we have with them and that includes children who we do not usually work with. That may be with our own children and those of close relatives but the real test of our ability to relate comes from those interactions with children that we do not really know and who do not know us.

It is not difficult to see adults struggling with this. I remember being at a family occasion many years ago when one of my younger relatives pointed to someone and said, “Who is that?” I told him that it was a relative of ours from another branch of the family. “Is she a teacher?”, he asked. She was, and he could tell. We just seem to present this aura that children can sense and it can make them feel uneasy and guarded in their moments when we are present.

When children and teenagers are in an uncertain social situation or have people around them that they do not know very well their interactions with each other can appear artificial too; they will laugh hysterically and loud in a forced over the top-way on hearing something funny – we’ve all heard it and sometimes we scoff at it. But spend some time watching the same children when they are in each other’s company without the need to feel guarded and their laugh may still be loud but it becomes more subtle and real. It’s the same with their conversations and sharing, turn taking, supporting, helping, and a whole host of other interpersonal actions and reactions within a group of peers. The less contrived the situation the more likely they are to be spontaneous and real.

Tricky and contrived

Working with children in many organised settings can appear tricky in this context: an institutional setting is in itself a contrived circumstance full of smaller contrived situations that we, as the adult,  are largely in control of;  our very work-role and job description may be encouraging us to act in this contrived, deliberate manner in our interactions because we have an agenda and the children around us know that. This tends to make us rather guarded too in our exchanges with them.

Yet the interaction between us and children need not be so contrived. If we appear to our children as simply one of a group of people that happen to be in a shared space at the same time, without an apparent agenda, whether it be kindergarten, school, adventure playground or just on the street opposite a public park, then there is more possibility that we will occasionally, when these uncontrived moments occur, just possibly be part of them. These occasional moments are not in themselves special – they are just natural and spontaneous which is of course the very thing that makes them ‘special’.  

I’ve lost count of the number of times children in schools and other settings have accidentally called me ‘dad’ (and in some cases ‘mum’ too) yet the real indication of a successful relationship between child and adult comes not when they see us accidentally as a parent figure but when we simply become another person sharing a moment. This is not the same thing as trying to become ‘a friend’ or even seeing ourselves as another child because not only is this impossible (as we are still an adult and no degree of relationship building will change that) but because such interaction itself can still be contrived.

When, however, we are seen as someone who is simply sharing a ‘moment’, then the relationship changes completely. What has actually happened is that for a brief moment the aura surrounding us has disappeared and it has allowed everyone involved – everyone – to let that slip that uneasy guard.

 

Marc Armitage

28/12/2016

What uncontrived moments have you shared with children and young people? Where were they? What were the circumstances?

 

Pam says:
Agree whom heartedly. It brings to mind a moment which didn't involve laughter but I hope you'll agree was just as valuable as an example of sharing a moment and children being unguarded.

My friend and I are childminders. We were off duty, taking our own children to a local soft play venue. We became aware of an incident where a mother was a but frantic, son in arms, he'd knocked a tooth out. My friend and I naturally stepped in to assist, as the mother was emotional and appeared in shock. My friend took the boy on her lap and instructed the staff at the venue to get the First Aid box. I, meanwhile, focussed the mother on gathering her belongings and getting in touch with her dentist to make an emergency appointment for him to be checked over. The interesting thing I relate to your article is that both mother and son allowed us to step in, the boy did not resist my friend's comfort and the mother was grateful for us taking control and helping her. They welcomed us. Perhaps because, like you say, we give off an aura. It is indeed special.
Elizabeth Paschall says:
I teach preschoolers. Recently, they were eating lunch as I was headed out the door. A boy said. "Bye, Teacher Marissa (calling me another teacher's name, with a big grin on his face). I said, "Bye, George!" (his name is Alan). Laughter erupts from the class. He says, "Bye, Teacher Megan!" I say, Bye, carrot!" Back and forth we go, with the other students chiming in. The kids,are in hysterics as I send my best and last zinger, "BYE, MACARONI AND CHEESE!!!!" I decided I'd better go before someone choked on lunch, but, it was tough to leave, as I was having as much or more fun than my littles! I still laugh about that exchange. This is a moment, shared with my students, that bonded us in such a special way. It's not of those times I cherish, and, that keeps me coming back to class every day!

Oh! One more:
Another lil guy came up to me, rubbed his tummy, and said, "Teacher! I got a baby in my belly, and HIS name is, Elsa!"
I had to swallow my burst of laughter, so as not to embarrass him. "WOW!", I,said. "That is awesome!"

Ahahahaha...I love my job!




Therese says:
I thought you called the Grandma Chocolate Face!
marc says:
@Therese ... now THAT might have got a different reaction! ~Marc
Jenny says:
So, for context: I am an Australian living in China.

I was sitting in a local public square yesterday when a little (local) girl, maybe 18 months old, came toddling up to the fence near me. She sat there watching me for a while, I gave her a smile, she watch for a bit longer, then came running (as best she could, it was so cute to watch!) over to me, rested her hands on my knees and stared at me for a moment before giving a huge cheesy grin and running back to the fence.
She did this a couple more times, then came back and started investigating my bag (Paul Frank, so it has a cartoon monkey stitched on the front). She would point to the monkey's ears, then to her own; the monkey's mouth, and then to her own. Then she started getting impatient with me; she grabbed my hand and started making ME point to the monkey and then to her.
She then tried to sit in my lap, so I picked her up and she sat there for a minute before running off again, and playing peek-a-boo with me around the corner of the fence.
It was very sweet; I'd never seen her before, and probably never will again. I couldn't talk with her or her grandfather at all, because I don't speak Chinese, And yet, we shared this beautiful half an hour playing together.
marc says:
@Jenny

That's a very nice story - thank you for that, Jenny. ~Marc
Raewyn Ings says:
I work with young children daily and love these moments of real laughter. Sharing moments is so special and something that is being lost in our "rush, rush" world. As the old saying goes "take the time to smell the roses" and I can add that if a child is holding your hand, smell the roses at their level.
Cassie says:
On the train, I sat across the aisle from a young family. I was enjoying watching the girl swinging on the overhead rails (as I've done or thought of doing in the past). I smiled her, but her dad told her not to do it. She looked at me and we shared something of a secret smile, probably because we were both confused/conflicted - I felt unsure about encouraging something that I thought was great but which went against her parent's request, and I imagine it might've been confusing for her - having another adult appreciating something that was supposedly bad.

Gotta say that it was pretty fun to have that little secret though.
Cassie says:
On the train, I sat across the aisle from a young family. I was enjoying watching the girl swinging on the overhead rails (as I've done or thought of doing in the past). I smiled her, but her dad told her not to do it. She looked at me and we shared something of a secret smile, probably because we were both confused/conflicted - I felt unsure about encouraging something that I thought was great but which went against her parent's request, and I imagine it might've been confusing for her - having another adult appreciating something that was supposedly bad.

Gotta say that it was pretty fun to have that little secret though.
Cassie says:
On the train, I sat across the aisle from a young family. I was enjoying watching the girl swinging on the overhead rails (as I've done or thought of doing in the past). I smiled her, but her dad told her not to do it. She looked at me and we shared something of a secret smile, probably because we were both confused/conflicted - I felt unsure about encouraging something that I thought was great but which went against her parent's request, and I imagine it might've been confusing for her - having another adult appreciating something that was supposedly bad.

Gotta say that it was pretty fun to have that little secret though.
Steve Goode says:
I do it all the time where ever I am I wave at babies or toddlers smile at children and comment on what they are doing. At work I also do it all the time I am lucky being the boss and being old so I can get away with it. Just a few minutes ago playing chase and being chased with three preschoolers the ones chasing enjoyed hitting me smacking my bum etc and me making loud noises of pain. One boy said I'm going to hit you in the willy I said you are not and we got into rough and tumble with me running away.
Its is the everydayness of being playful that is valuable for children they get to see the would as a little better place than if these contacts had not happen

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