Every Child Matters – Making a Positive Contribution

Every child responds more favourably when they feel they belong. For everyone who makes a statement that they don’t need to be part of a group or a community, my challenge would be to say, “Of course you do; you just don’t know how to do that and still be you. You become a non-conformist and bang on about the freedom of the individual, but the most important thing that any of us can do is be a part of the whole and that’s a big thing.”

Formative years

 As children grow through babyhood into their early years they take their lead from those who raise and nurture them. They don’t come with demands or a wish list. They are happy just to be. So what can they be? Well, they can try to be anything or anyone they want. It just needs a lot of determination, dedication and spirit.

The social development of the child begins with understanding the rules that govern their small world: who is leader, and who looks after the other family members. They start to understand how each person in the family is viewed by the others – the grumpy one, the cheerful one, the clever one. It is interesting that the labels stick for many years and even when a family member has grown up and left home, they are often never allowed to be anything other than what their family members choose to see.

The influence of others

 Within this mesh of relationships, the child develops understanding of how family members support and look after each other, the social niceties of thanking someone for a kindness, the standards that are set for events such as family parties.

The child who says “Thank you” when offered a biscuit or drink is more likely to be invited back to play than the one who demands more biscuits or says that they want a chocolate one instead. Waiting to be invited to come into a friend’s house, inviting an older person to take a seat on the bus or tube, offering to help carry shopping or take away dirty dishes – all of these small almost imperceptible behaviours make up the corner stone that underpins the standards that the developing individual will take towards adulthood and the hope is that they will take their role in society seriously. They will treat people with courtesy; they will say “Please” and ”Thank you” In short, they will make a contribution.

Taking pride in the environment

 Making a contribution may link to taking pride in the environment or local area. A small child can appreciate in many different ways how a brightly flowered garden might impact on other people.  Whether it is their garden or part of a flower bed display in the park. They can be taught to respect the flowers and allow them to grow and bloom without pulling them up or trampling them. If they have a sweet or drink, they should be taught to put the wrapper or empty carton in the bin or take them home. That positive contribution to the community in which they live enhances the lives of all of the members of that environment.

If everyone did the same, the transformation would be astonishing. In some of the more run down places through the United Kingdom, there have been schemes which were initiated by local residents. They have made such a difference to the atmosphere and the safety record in those areas. Positive contributions do work if they are encouraged and supported

Technology can be a barrier to communication and community

 A couple of generations ago, before the real age of technology, local communities spent more time in each other’s company for entertainment and company. Television was still in its infancy and was considered very expensive and very few people had one set, never mind one in each room. There were plenty of children to play with, enough young people to make up interesting liaisons and relationships, more than enough adults to keep an eye on everyone and ensure that lines were not crossed too often.

There were still the rebels and those who set themselves outside of the group. They either moved away or lived in isolation or, kept their behaviour just acceptable so that the group didn’t reject them totally. There must have been a claustrophobic atmosphere occasionally when it appeared that everyone knew each other’s business, but there was something reassuring at the same time.

Communities and lives have changed in most cases for the better, but what has been eroded is the feeling of being safe and it has been replaced by a feeling that individual contributions within the different communities will be met with derision or intimidation.

A few months ago I listened to a programme on the radio about a private garden off Notting Hill. The garden was almost secret and gave exclusive access to the residents in a small close whose houses backed onto the gardens. There was a lockable gate leading out onto Ladbroke Grove, and everyone relied on each other to maintain the secrecy. This had worked very well throughout the many years until the houses were divided into flats and people became tenants rather than owners. A transient population began to develop and these people had little or no respect or affection for the garden or its carers. The gate to the street was often left open; very little if any weeding was done on the small plots around the periphery of the main garden and the place began to take on an unkempt appearance. The Garden Committee made the decision that a gardener would be employed to look after any part that let the rest down. This prevented bad feelings growing between the conscientious permanent residents and the temporary inhabitants. More productive and positive relationships revealed that some of the new people had suffered very badly at the hands of police in their own countries and their apparent lack of interest in the garden was due more to not understanding about gardening, which was not an activity they were used to.

Positive approaches

 Children must be supported and guided to develop an awareness of the needs of others and how to live within a community. It is unfortunate that currently, society appears to have abandoned us and we don’t know how to get back the trust and pleasure in belonging. Small steps such as setting positive role models for small children are pointers in the right direction. All we have to remember is that we as individuals can only make a difference if we acknowledge that there are many more people in the world besides ourselves and act accordingly. We must take responsibility for ourselves and each other. Our children deserve that much – don’t they?

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