Torturing Kids

At Z’s 3rd month check up and immunisation, the doctor asked if Z could raise her head when she was placed on her tummy.

We said we never placed Z on her tummy.

So the doctor took Z, carried her face down, and ask PL to call to Z to see if she could lift her head.

PL called Z a couple of times, and then instinctively squat down to see Z’s face.

“That’s not the point,” I told PL.

And the doctor smiled.

“So you can try this at home to let Z develop her neck muscles,” the doctor told us.

“Ok,” I answered. “We’ll go back and torture her.”

“Oh, no need to torture her,” the doctor said, in alarm and wondering if she should call Child Protection Services.

(For info, we started placing Z on her stomach and her side, and rolled her side to side. She seems to like the new experience and she can lift her head for a while.)


So a week later, PL and I were having a conversation.

(Yes, we still talk to each other. We are SO OBVIOUSLY still in our honeymoon phase.)

And we were talking about torturing children.

Well, actually no. I was saying how to communicate with children, you need to engage emotions, not just intellect and reason.

I said, sometimes to communicate with children, to have them remember your prohibitions, you need to elicit fear from them. And I said, some people might consider it torture to frighten children.

But, I remember many years back when one of my nephew was very young (about 3 – so this was about 8 years ago). My brother-in-law (nephew’s father) had parked at United Square (IIRC) and we were making our way to the lift lobby. My nephew, M, was walking by himself, skipping along, and in the manner of 3-year-olds, was oblivious to his surroundings.

My B-i-l spotted a vehicle coming and a possible danger, and being too far to physically stop M, yelled at him to stop.

I remember that there was a fear in his voice, and he somehow managed to communicate this fear and concern to M, and M somehow got the message, sense the fear and STOP DEAD in his tracks. And cried. In fear.

My B-i-l ran to M, to console him, and to keep him safe.

The point is, it is much better to elicit that fear in my nephew – it was to keep him from a greater harm.

The point is, emotion is a way of communicating, and for very young kids, it may be the only way to communicate.

There is a saying in Human services (or social services), “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

This is somewhat but not quite similar: I don’t quite understand what you are saying, until I understand what I’m supposed to be feeling.

Emotions are basic. Reasoning with a child before he is ready is stupid.

A few years ago we were visiting my brother in Calgary, and his home had a basement and an upper level. The stairs to the basement looked… dangerous. To the adults anyway. We (my sis, B-i-l and me) thought the youngest one, a toddler, K, probably should stay away from the stairs.

They tried telling him, cajoling him, whatever.

Finally, his crazy uncle (me), whom he was a little wary of (if not outright afraid of) looked him in the eye, drew an imaginary line in the carpet just before the stairs and told him, “you cannot cross this line.”

He of course immediately tested this new boundary, and his crazy uncle immediately said no. When he persisted, the crazy uncle grabbed him, brought him to the couch and blew on his tummy. This happened a few times.

This was at first fun and funny to K, but he later found it… unentertaining.

But now, when he approached the imaginary line, someone, anyone might just say, “K, don’t cross the line”, and K would stop. And often he would cry.

But, he would stop. Because he remembered. And he remembered because of the emotions elicited.

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