Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I was at a party, professional people, it was about 10pm, adults mingling. The couple whose party it was had allowed their ten year-old daughter to stay up. She was in a frock standing in the hall sipping a coke through a straw. A steady stream of adults were drifting past in both directions. If they noticed her, people stopped and had a few words."Hello! Don't you look pretty!" "Oooh I hope there's going to be trifle! Do you like trifle?""Are there going to be games later? I love pass the parcel!"
They spoke using that soft baby-talk where your voice goes up and down, and the girl spoke back in the same whispy tones. I noticed that while she talked she had a slightly goofy smile and widened eyes.But I noticed that when alone, she would suck on the straw and relax. Her face strengthened, and her eyes either darted about or narrowed in deep thought.Then another pair of adults would descend and practice  their "kiddy skills" "Hello, ooo must be Samatha!" "Ik's not 'Shamamfa'... I wike to be 'Shammy' ".
A gap in the traffic, so I spoke to her myself."Hello" I said."Hewwo..." she started.I said "Do you not get fed up with people talking to you like you're brain dead?"She didn't bat an eye or miss a beat, didn't need to think about what I'd said. Her voice, her body language, her face, became who she really was."A bit. But it's what they want, and it's easier than talking to them as myself."We chatted for a while, me being me and she being she. Who was "she"? Just yet another ten year-old who, like the ten-year-olds we all were, is much more mature inside than people realise.
This is true of children in general, and it's even more true for children in care. You'll see powers of perception, social intuition, and negotiating skills that are well ahead of the national average for adults.
Why? Because from day one in their lives they've needed those tools to be as good as they can be, just to stay afloat. Skills they teach psychology students and law graduates, these youngsters need in buckets at their mother's knee. If mother was there at all, that is.
As a general rule I talk to all looked after children as I would a sharp-minded, world-wise if uneducated adult. Such as a Premier League footballer, for example. Speaking of footballers, let's talk about bad language next time.


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