Monday, March 4, 2013

"I just want to be a Princess," he said.

Since I don't have children of my own, nor have I worked with them in a childcare setting, I am truly enjoying my Early Childhood Education (ECE) class.

On the first day of class, the instructor told us that even if none of us decided to work with children, we would still gain much from the class that we could apply in our day to day lives in some way. Yes, I feel that my windows of perception are already opening wider; at the same time, I am revisiting my own childhood experiences in a new way.

During our last class, we got into discussion about how sometimes teachers meddle in a child's self directed learning, where they should really allow them to explore without disruption or redirection where it's not called for. Our instructor had an example of her little girl. She was dropping her off at day care and was chatting with the teacher when the little girl went in the direction of the blocks and began playing with them. The teacher then said something to the little girl along the lines of, "honey, why don't you go play in the dolly corner." Since the teacher is a source of authority and the little girl didn't think to say she'd rather play with blocks, she went to the doll corner as was suggested. Our instructor bit her tongue, after all, she must respect the teacher's classroom. She told us that her little girl didn't look like she was playing and was just going through the motions to please the teacher. She probably would have been interested and engaged in real play had the teacher not interfered with her choice to play with the blocks.

Another story that a student shared caught my attention. She is a nanny for a five year old boy. The boy's father is in the construction business and most of the boy's toys consist of big construction trucks and tools and such. One day the boy said to her in a way that demonstrated his long sought desire, "I just want to be a princess." She told him that she would bring him a princess outfit next time. Later when she was leaving she spoke to the mother in private and told her what her son requested and that she felt that it was important to honor his request and that she was going to buy him a princess outfit and bring it next time. The mother agreed. The nanny knew she would have a challenge with the father, but she was adamant in fulfilling this boy's want. She took the father aside and put it right out there and assured him that this didn't mean his son was gay. Yes, how sad, that this convinced the father, but those were his fears. He also agreed. So, the little boy was allowed to play out the side of him that was tired of playing with trucks and wanted just to be a princess.

I admire this student very much for being able to know the best thing to do for the child and to be able to constructively communicate this to the parents. The boy was thrilled, of course, when she presented him with a princess outfit.

I also learned that it is not uncommon for preschool aged boys to come to school in girls dresses. I applaud the parents that are comfortable enough to allow it, and of course this may be more common in certain cities that are more liberal and open minded. Another student that worked in a preschool said that one of the other kids asked her why another kid was wearing a dress. She said that's what he wanted to wear and he likes it.

These examples make me think of countless children who are pushed in directions they may not be interested in for the sake of the caregivers and teachers; and, of course, parents are guilty of this too. It makes me think of how even though we've come so far as a society, there are certain behaviors that are ingrained on our minds and we act without thinking: what is good for the child? What do they want? What are their interests? What is the best way to respond?

So many things to consider and reflect upon.


Vincent said...

Indeed, you have given much food for thought, from the title onwards. I've often wanted to be a nun, but that's easy to say, of course, there being no danger that my wish will ever be granted.

I would have been just like that father except that I might not be so easily pacified by the ignorant assurances of some feminist liberal. If any of my children or grandchildren did turn out gay, I'd be a little sad and that's only natural and proper in my view.

Progressives want to change the world in a generation, and that should make us very scared, but fortunately they have their opponents.

And I take your (instructor's) point about the blocks and the dolly corner, but it's no big deal for a child to conform to adult expectations, or even to resist them. Children need to explore both interaction scenarios, not just be left to play with whatever toy they want to, which sounds like less of a learning experience in some ways. In any case, it was "day care", not five-minute care, so there is space for all those things in the day.

Children can thrive on all kinds of things is my point!

Vincent said...

I just discussed the princess outfit with my wife, who's Jamaican. She was completely clear that the parents should not indulge a boy in this, as it goes against the norms of society and would make an ideal opportunity for a bit of education in the difference between society's expectations for boys and girls.

A view which I certainly support. Now if you did this, made the distinction clear between boys and girls, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, then you've done a good job as a parent. If the child despite discouragement continues to pursue girlish things, then you know it is not the fault of any liberal stuff, but its own intrinsic nature, which may persuade it to a lesbian/gay future, or more disturbing still, transsexuality and so forth.

But as long as you've done the right things as a parent you'll know not to blame yourself.

Rebb said...

Interesting that you've often wanted to be a nun.

I feel that humans will be what they will be and some will not be happy with that looks like. What's interesting, too, is how homosexual relations seemed to be the norm in the ancient days and when did that change take place I wonder?

I agree that children can thrive on all kinds of things.

On my way to work I realized that I forgot to acknowledge cultural differences in my piece, so I'm glad you added to your comments after speaking with your wife. It reminded me to keep this in mind.

Indeed there are always societal norms to consider and to instruct our children. It gets so tricky depending on tolerance and perspectives. What a society expects of boys and girls is not always the only answer.

But as you say, as long as one has done right to the best of one's ability, that is all we can do.

Thanks for sharing your views and giving me more to think about, Vincent.

Vincent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebb said...

Well, deleted it was...but I was going to add a few more things when I saw your comment.

About clothing choices in general, I've mulled it around in my head and I'm not sure what I would do. I don't know that there was a demand in the case of this example, it was more of a request and possibly having a father who surrounded the boy with too many of the same construction trucks and tools, etc.

On a personal note, my mother dressed me for as long as I can remember. I expressed interest in shoes and clothing, not demands, but yes I wanted a particular pair of shoes and they were quite practical and I just liked them. I'll never forget it. For some reason she wouldn't let me have them because she didn't like them.

She also used to dress me in overly fancy dresses on picture day and one time she sent me to school in a hideous boys pant suit. I felt miserable and embarrassed.

In hindsight, what's interesting for me, and it could be that I have creative tendencies from somewhere else in childhood, perhaps from my older brother, but now when I dress, I sometimes feel my tom boy come out, sometimes I want to wear a dress, but don't usually. I always like to mix things up, like I am a canvas for whichever clothing might match my mood for the day.

I don't recall ever wanting a princess dress myself and I don't think I'd want my daughter–if I had one–to want one. As a child, one thing I did always want was a pair of those silly plastic high heels. That made me feel like a grownup. I guess that's why I liked them.

Another odd thing is that when I was four, my mother tried to sign me up for both ice hockey lessons and ice skating lessons. I put up a fit and cried because I didn't want to put on the bulky ice hockey gear–and it was a boy's sport, after all. She conceded, but I did stick with ice skating for several years.

I think I was in fourth or fifth grade when I remember seeing a sweater that I really wanted and she let me get it. It could have been sooner, but somehow that sweater stays in my memory as the one.

Vincent said...

I deleted it because it seemed excessive. But I like your response, in the sense that we are agreed in our view on this matter.