THEME FOR THE YEAR 2000: RELATIONSHIPS
In our practice today, we may fail to help children to manage in their own worlds if we have provided resources and material goods which don’t exist for them back home. Rather, we try to offer "portable" gains, "take-home" skills, and ideas which will work in their world. We give them the ability to establish and enjoy positive relationships to make up for the hurt and mistrust of the past – so that they can leave us with trust and self-confidence. But engaging also means connecting kids to the universal things they will find in life and which are available to all of us – fun, games, sports, sea, mountains, walks ... and ideas and knowledge.
One of the things which make us secure and self-contained individuals is the fact that we have certain interests and abilities which we can learn about and devote our time and energy to. Isn’t it true that many of your friends are characterised by such pursuits – they are good at fishing or gardening or movies or at playing the guitar. These interests and pastimes are there for everyone – no limits or exclusions. I am known for the music I love, my son for his golf, a friend for his ability to fix motor cars and another for his jokes! Certainly one of the gifts we can give to the children we work with – something they can take away with them when they leave – is some experience and knowledge of the "free stuff" in the world.
Is it possibly a sign of our own tendency to expect the worst that we offer all those cliche skills to troubled children – conflict resolution, problem solving, anger management, self-defence ...? I wonder how necessary those things would be if we first offered them experience in playing, vegetable growing, soccer, playing bongo drums or fixing bikes. At the top of this page (have a look) an inspired child care worker has taken a couple of kids and let them loose amongst the rock pools on the beach. One of these kids may develop a lifetime interest in fishing, the other may be longing to get home for tea! Another may have delivered two children by truck to the open spaces of the countryside: one may become a committed amateur botanist or entomologist (what’s that?!) and the other may simply come to love the feel of the wind blowing in her hair. And all of this is free. There is no entrance charge, no age restriction. All we have to do is take the trouble to expose kids to these things which can entertain and absorb them today – and for the rest of their lives. In many cases these pastimes can be the things which help them through troubled marriages and job crises, through free weekends and empty afternoons.
As a child and youth care worker you must share the responsibility for this with the children themselves. If you talk with them you will discover things which you never suspected – that this one can sew beautifully and this one loves fishing; that this one knows all there is to know about pop music, and this one can cook up a mean toffee! When you find out the things they like (or, with deprived children it may be the things they think they may like and would like to try) your task is to offer opportunities. That’s all. "Seeing you like fishing, let’s go down to the river on Sunday," or "I’m off to the library this afternoon – who’s coming?" In a larger children’s organisation it is a good. idea to collect information about "who likes what" more systematically, and then the staff team can share out the activities they would like to offer. In most cases you will find that certain staff members also like cricket or climbing or sleeping in the sun, and this brings them closer to the children who share these interests.
You never know. You may start something which will last some youngster a lifetime. You may connect them to some interest through which they will grow wings and fly to heights beyond all of your hopes and dreams. Just ask!