As a society, we often examine a child’s behaviour from a very limited perspective. 

If we were being honest and introspective with ourselves, how we take seriously the opinions of children themselves, let alone their ‘antics,’ can attest to this narrow-mindedness. 

“Because I said so.” 

“I know better.”

“You’ll grow out of that opinion.”

These adultish statements could very well be true. After all, with the years of life experience we have on our much younger counterparts, it would make sense. We aren’t disputing that–we’re instead trying to challenge how these mindsets, enforced with an obstinacy so characteristic of us adults, begin to hold us back from getting to the root of the issues our kids are experiencing as we actively limit our own worldview.

Nowadays, as discussions surrounding family, societal, and educational dynamics begin to welcome the idea of respecting child autonomy and become slightly more commonplace, we begin to acknowledge the full humanity of our kids; as opposed to the all-too-often singular lens of us adults and our perspectives on their behalf; focusing on what we think they should be doing, rather than truly understanding what they are feeling and experiencing. 

This isn’t intended to be a shaming device–but a look into how approaching child behaviour through a multi-angled approach is simply a win-win situation. 

As individuals with their own internal experience, informed by a large variety of factors we could only begin to guess at, and the external environment that fosters those factors, it would only make sense that we broaden our viewpoint to include a key actor who is so directly, primarily impacted in this equation: the child. 

A child’s behaviour may not always be what it seems on the surface. What we’ve learned in our years of working closely with a diversity of children and learners is that, in truth, this is rare. Taking the time to delve deeper than what presents itself at first glance isn’t just essential, it’s absolutely necessary for the quest to earnestly deliver impactful education, for one, to each child and their unique needs, whatever they may be. The same applies to whatever lies outside of the learning environment, because of the interconnectedness of these factors which house the complexity of a child. Understanding this symbiosis, falling into step with it, and finally, articulating it through a keen wish to interpret these needs, is key. 

With the knowledge that every child is unique, and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding their behaviour, comes the imperative for adults to act accordingly. We know that each child has their own set of experiences and needs, and taking the time to get to know each one on an individual level requires that we put ourselves in their shoes–a principle we often teach to children, yet forget that the same should apply to the adults around them. Moral imperative aside, it just makes sense. And when we bring it back to the context of education at Imagine If, for all the tailor-made curricula in the world within our walls, it cannot be done without a similarly unique, multi-perspective approach to achieve a thoughtful, bespoke experience.

Otherwise, how do we get to the root of the issue and clearly identify desired outcomes?

It’s simply essential, if not just sensible, to see their behaviours and attitudes from all angles, posing a necessary challenge to adults to expand our ideas of perspective itself. Not just aerial, not just as a third party, but all of them. A child who appears to be disinterested in books and lessons may actually be struggling with a particular subject, or its presentation or feeling anxious about other children in their midst. Perhaps it just does not resonate with them. We should then ask why and examine the many other variables at play–the alternative would sadly burden the child to internalise conditions they can’t possibly take responsibility for. 

One crucial aspect of this approach is to include children in the decision-making process. We often make assumptions about what is best for them without truly understanding their needs. But when we involve them in the decision-making process, we gain a deeper understanding of their needs and work together to create solutions that work for everyone; this can be as simple as offering choices of where to sit, which activity to do, which shoes to wear, how much dinner to finish or which route to take to their favourite destination. These small “choices of empowerment” as we call them at Imagine If,  build up their voice and sense of agency to better articulate their needs and issues to find solutions. In doing so, we include them as active participants and authorities of their experience to empower them. 

It would make sense that children were welcomed in more decisions that directly impact their welfare. This way, we create a more compassionate approach to parenting and education. It helps us build better relationships with children, leading to healthier development and more positive outcomes in the long run. There isn’t a guarantee that it’ll necessarily be quicker–but at Imagine If, we don’t compromise quality for convenience. Taking the time to dive deep is another labour of love when it comes to working with growing human beings, which also encourages adults to ask hard questions and make the decisions that ultimately lead to their child’s well-being by first, telling them that their voices matter. This is why we pride ourselves on truly defining child-led learning at Imagine If in all the ways that speak to the term.

Our mission and purpose lie in empowering our learners to be at their best; it takes the hard, fiercely fulfilling work of taking the effort to know them and tailoring their education accordingly. A tailor-made curriculum that is inherently so beneficial to a learner cannot be done without our own patient study of each child and the centring of their experience. And when we observe how much higher they fly, how liberated they are from the expectations and standards which rob them of the protagonism they should be entitled to, we know that this is worth the time it takes. We owe it to all children, inside and outside the context of education, to hear them, and listen; we have started right here at Imagine If by being allies in the reclamation of child voices and experiences in education.

Empathy and critical thinking are required of us adults, too. Our approach should be as multi-faceted as they are, or at least just willing to be. Investing in our children’s well-being is certainly a task, but once we stop asking those questions, we settle for being as narrow-minded and uninformed as ever about the individuals we raise, and by extension, the world around them, and by another extension, them, reduced to passive actors in their own educational experience. 

Now… Is that something we want to model for our kids?